Testimony delivered before the City Council’s Committee on Juvenile Justice on the City’s plans to implement Raise the Age

Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Youth and Strategic Initiatives at the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice - December 6, 2017

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Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
New York City Council
Committee on Juvenile Justice
December 6, 2017

Good afternoon, Chair Cabrera and members of the Committee on Juvenile Justice. My name is Dana Kaplan and I am the Executive Director of Youth and Strategic Initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (“MOCJ”).  Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am joined by the Administration for Children’s Services Deputy Commissioner Felipe Franco and others from the administration to assist with answering questions.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice advises the Mayor on public safety strategy and, together with partners inside and outside of government, develops and implements policies that reduce crime, reduce unnecessary incarceration, promote fairness, and build strong and safe neighborhoods.

The topic of today’s hearing – the City’s plans to implement Raise the Age – can be seen in a larger context. In the last four years in New York City, we have seen an acceleration of the trends that have defined the public safety landscape in this city over the last three decades. While jail and prison populations around the country increased, New York City’s jail population has fallen by half since 1990. And in the last four years, the jail population dropped by 20% — giving us the lowest incarceration rate of any big city and the steepest four-year decline in the size of the jail population since 1998. Since 2014, the number of 16 and 17 year olds in custody in particular has dropped approximately 65% (from 409 to 143), and the number of children in secure juvenile detention has dropped approximately 61% (from 150 to 58), even as our crime rate has continued its downward trend. Meanwhile, last year was the safest year in Compstat history, and low-level enforcement has also reduced dramatically. This is unique proof that jurisdictions can have more safety and smaller jails.

Mayor de Blasio and the commissioners of our Administration for Children’s Services, the New York City Police Department, Department of Correction, Department of Probation, Department of Education, and the Law Department have repeatedly affirmed the City’s support for raising the age of criminal responsibility prior to its passage. Additionally, Elizabeth Glazer, the Director of my office participated in the Governor’s commission and was integral in developing the initial proposal for Raise the Age in 2015.

Since passage in April 2017 of Raise the Age, the City has been working intensively to prepare for its implementation. We have formed Working Groups focused on Court Processing, Programming and Diversion, Data/Analytics, and Facilities, with participation from the Courts, District Attorneys, Public Defenders and all city agencies responsible for implementation. We have begun engaging with our non-profit partners and providers to prepare for implementation, and have brought in local and national technical assistance providers to assist our efforts. New York City has been aggressively focused on preparing for the opportunity that Raise the Age presents to build on past reforms to develop a best in class juvenile justice system, while continuing to deliver better outcomes for youth and public safety.

In particular, and specific to the topic of this particular hearing, City agencies have been working intensively to ensure we meet the statutory timeframe required while providing age-appropriate housing, services and programs in facilities that are safe for both juveniles and staff. We believe the City can meet the ambitious deadline for moving juveniles off of Rikers Island, but meeting that deadline and the law’s objectives will require specific assistance from the State. As we have shared with the State, the City’s plan for creating the “Specialized Secure Detention Facilities” (SSDs) required under Raise the Age and the assistance requested from the State to ensure the goals of the statute are met are as follows:

Renovate the City’s two existing secure detention facilities for juveniles

The City plans to renovate Crossroads, located in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn and Horizon, located in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx, to maximize their operational capacity, enhance programmatic, recreational and educational space and ensure needed health and safety improvements are made to the facilities. The City has already started $55 million of planned renovations to these two facilities.

Obtain the licensure from the State required by the statute to operate Crossroads and Horizon as both “specialized secure detention facilities” (SSDs) and secure juvenile detention facilities

After full implementation of the Raise the Age legislation on October 1, 2019, the term Juvenile Delinquents (JD’s) will refer to youth ages 7-17 who have been charged with misdemeanor and/or low-level felony charges, Juvenile Offenders (JO’s) will refer to youth ages 13-15 who have been charged with violent felony charges, and Adolescent Offenders (AO’s) will refer to 16-17 year olds with felony charges who remain in the newly created youth parts of adult criminal court. Dual licensure will provide the City with the flexibility to house JD’s, JO’s, and the newly created AO’s in these facilities. In a provision unique to New York City, we are also required to move off island all individuals who, on October 1, 2018, are on Rikers Island and who are 16 or 17 years old. We anticipate that we would also use the SSD’s to house this category of young people. Because age and security classifications may not correlate exactly to juveniles’ status as JD’s, JO’s or AO’s, we request that co-mingling restrictions within housing, education, recreation and programming be determined by the City’s classification systems, rather than their court status alone. The City’s classification systems are currently in development for finalization by the Raise the Age implementation deadline. To be clear, flexibility does not mean that we will co-mingle youth in a manner that compromises safety or the ability to deliver effective programming – it allows us to make those determinations based off of a targeted assessment of individualized needs and risks.

Partner with the State to develop an additional facility to act as an intake and reception center for the JD, JO and AO population

This intake facility will provide sufficient capacity for the City’s projected population of juveniles in detention post Raise the Age implementation1 and minimize the impacts of incarceration on young people who will be released within less than a week (comprising 63% of discharges and 46% of discharges of the current ACS and DOC populations, respectively). The City will seek licensure from the State to operate the intake facility as both an SSD for the AO population and a secure detention facility for the under 16 population.

Our standing request to the State is to partner to convert the Office of Children and Family Services reception center, Ella McQueen, for use as the City’s intake center

Ella McQueen, which does not currently serve young people from New York City as a function of the passage of Close to Home, is the only2 facility identified that would: (1) meet the objectives of Raise the Age to provide safe and supportive detention facilities for juveniles and staff; and (2) if provided to the City, would not be subject to the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which would delay the City’s compliance with Raise the Age. As you know, under the New York City Charter, a site that has not previously been used in a manner comparable to its proposed use (and will require extensive capital construction or renovation) is subject to ULURP, a process which takes approximately 10-12 months to complete whether or not the project has significant public support. Importantly, construction could not begin until ULURP is completed. Because of this reality, the City can only use a facility that will not trigger ULURP (i.e., a facility currently being used as a detention center) if it is to meet the October 1st, 2018 deadline.

Fund diversion programs to ensure that detention of adolescents is used only when appropriate and for the least amount of time possible

The City is investing in case expediting supports and a “second look” program to decrease the amount of time that young people spend on Rikers Island and identify adolescents who may be eligible for release to community-based supervision, expanded supervised release for young adults, and other interventions to target JD’s, JO’s, AO’s and the population of young people currently in detention on Rikers Island. New York City’s reforms aimed at safely reducing the number of detained young people have already been very successful – as mentioned, with an average daily jail population this calendar year of 143 adolescents in the custody of DOC and 58 in ACS secure detention. As we prepare for implementation of Raise the Age, we are expanding our efforts and have partnered with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to provide additional technical assistance to support this important work. As we develop the necessary detention capacity for Raise the Age, we are focused on ensuring that detention is used judiciously, only as appropriate, and for as limited a period of time as possible. Our implementation efforts are centered on building off of past supports and investments for community-based interventions, and identifying where we can be doing more to fill needed gaps in the continuum, particularly at the neighborhood level.

Implement a planned phasing of primary responsibility for oversight of adolescent offenders and Rikers 16 and 17 year olds from DOC to ACS

Raise the Age contemplates joint operation of the Specialized Secure Detention Facilities by ACS and DOC, but the law itself does not specify how this is to work in practice. ACS has agreed to assume responsibility for the delivery of medical and case management services, as well as recreational programming within the SSD facilities.  With respect to security, ACS does not currently have sufficient staffing capacity to manage the expanded population of older youth who will be housed in these detention facilities post Raise the Age.  As such, DOC will initially have primary responsibility for managing AO’s and the population that will be moved from Rikers Island (and who will still be subject to adult criminal court proceedings).   As ACS develops its staffing capacity to assume direct supervision of the AO population, along with related security functions, DOC will transition to an advisory role with the option to retain some operational responsibilities.  We anticipate a transition timeline of 24 months for transfer of primary responsibility. DOC and ACS staff are currently working together to develop a shared vision of facility operation, consistent with a juvenile model and principles of adolescent development, to ensure consistency of operations during this period of transition.

As outlined above, New York City has an aggressive plan for meeting the requirements of Raise the Age that matches our commitment to ensuring that young people in New York City receive the benefits of this important piece of legislation. As we have stated in our communications with various State officials over the last several months, in order to meet the requirement that New York City move its current juvenile population off of Rikers Island and into a Specialized Secure Detention Facility (a year earlier than a full transition is required for the rest of the state), we seek the State’s partnership and assistance.

Specifically, New York City has requested that we receive the following from the State of New York to ensure compliance no later than October 2018 with Raise the Age:

1. Before the end of 2017, draft regulations from SCOC and OCFS that will govern the specialized secure detention facilities. New York City is already making necessary physical renovations, staffing, programming and operational plans to allow DOC and ACS to safely operate Specialized Secure Detention Facilities, as well as jointly planning facility operations based off of best practices in adolescent development. However, in the absence of the regulations from the State that will govern these facilities, the agencies cannot be certain the investments in physical infrastructure and planning will comply with the relevant regulations, particularly in light of the current inconsistencies between some OCFS and SCOC regulatory provisions. To the extent that the State regulations require modifications to existing plans the City agencies will need ample time and flexibility to respond effectively. In addition to review of the new regulations before 2018, the City requests substantial flexibility from the State oversight agencies in the early stages of implementation, including potentially a swift mechanism for obtaining waivers, when appropriate.

2. Expedited approval from OCFS and SCOC for licensure of Crossroads, Horizon and the intake facility as “specialized secure detention facilities” and re-licensure as secure detention facilities, if necessary. Given the 18-month timeframe in which New York City had to plan, renovate and operationalize facilities with the capacity to handle new and expanded populations of young people, the City requests that OCFS and SCOC put in place an expedited approval process to significantly reduce the timeline typical for licensure of a facility following renovations. Currently it takes approximately two-three months after submission of the request for SCOC and OCFS to approve licensure.

3. SCOC/OCFS approval for co-mingling populations, AOs, JDs, JOs, and 17 year olds (until 2019), where safe and appropriate. AOs, JDs and JOs, are classified based on age, charge and court process (family vs. criminal court). However, given other considerations related to security and the appropriate and efficient provisions of services and programs, the City requests approval to co-mingle young people on the basis of a classification system that takes into consideration all of the relevant factors, including age and consideration of risk. This will avoid needless inefficiencies that would be created through strict prohibitions against co-mingling based on court categorization alone, and allow the flexibility to mix populations in the safest and most effective way. The City has identified an expert on adolescent classification that is working with the agencies to finalize an age appropriate classification system that will be ready by the Raise the Age implementation deadline.

4. Approval to use Ella McQueen as an intake facility to ensure the City has sufficient capacity to appropriately house all juveniles in detention. The City has a pending request to use Ella McQueen as an intake facility, through the license or lease of the facility to the City for its use. Given that this facility is no longer serving a New York City youth population, the City would appreciate the use of this facility for long-term use but, at a minimum, requests the opportunity to use this facility as a stop gap measure until additional capacity can be developed at an alternative site. If the State is amenable to providing this needed support for Raise the Age, we would ask for expeditious approval for City agency staff and a design team to tour the facility before the end of the year. Our hope is that this will allow sufficient time for any needed renovations to be designed and complete by summer 2018.

5. State funding to support New York City’s plan to rapidly implement Raise the Age. The City requests the State maintains its longstanding commitment to finance a portion of the costs for detention, placement, and alternative programs that both the State and City recognize as crucial to the rehabilitation and reentry of youth into their communities. As a provider for the largest population of juveniles in the State, and with a tight implementation timeline, the City would like to be considered for any new funding streams that may be created related to the implementation. Additionally, the City asks for consideration for an increase of current block grants used to fund Detention, Placement, and the City’s STSJP (Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program) allocations.

6. State support for design-build legislation to expedite construction needed to support Raise the Age. The City will once again pursue design-build legislation, a streamlined process of procuring design and construction together, both for the development of specialized secure detention facilities and any other capital projects required for Raise the Age implementation, such that any necessary construction projects will be completed in the shortest timeframe possible and not impede timely implementation of Raise the Age across the board.

In closing, New York City has long supported reforms that treat 16 and 17 year olds as juveniles in order to produce the best possible outcomes for young people, their families, and for public safety. We are optimistic about the implementation of Raise the Age, and believe that we are well poised to build on the significant progress that we have made in New York City’s juvenile and young adult justice systems to date, for the benefit of our city’s children, families, and public safety overall. Yet we acknowledge that successful implementation of this important reform requires a great deal of effort and coordination, between City agencies, the Courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community and neighborhood providers, and between the State and local government. We are hopeful that with cooperation between the City and State and all stakeholders, we can jointly realize the goals of Raise the Age on the timeline set forth by the law.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today.  I would be happy to answer any questions.

1 The City’s population projections assume that following Raise the Age implementation detention is used with no greater frequency or duration than is current practice.
2 The City has reviewed and inspected over 70 locations city-wide, including former detention facilities, hospitals, residential centers, and City-owned vacant lots, as well as conducted tours with design consultants to determine the needed renovations and construction timelines at various sites. City sites reviewed included the Department of Corrections off-Rikers borough detention centers, which if utilized for this population would achieve the objective of moving adolescents off of Rikers but we believe would be a victory in name but not in substance, given the challenge of modification to a more juvenile appropriate setting within the timeframe allowed.