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Return on Investment: New York State Juvenile Justice Reform

In 2011, transformational change was needed in order to dramatically reform the New York State juvenile justice system. A large state with a hopelessly complicated system that served tens of thousands of young people each year, it was woefully in need of a plan. Facilities were dangerous and unsafe for both youth and staff, all youth over the age of 15 were automatically sent to the adult system, and state, county and city leadership were not working together toward any unified goals. How could such a challenge be addressed?

It began with a public/private funding partnership. The New York State Juvenile Justice Advisory Group (JJAG), appointed by the Governor of New York, serves to supervise the development and implementation of New York State’s federal juvenile justice plan, review and approve all grant applications for federal juvenile justice and delinquency prevention funds, and to consider and advise the Governor and the Legislature on juvenile justice matters of importance in New York State. The JJAG was perfectly positioned to take the lead on building a strategy to reform the system. But it needed to begin rapidly, and state procurement processes are notoriously cumbersome and lengthy. So the JJAG partnered with one anonymous donor and a group of seven private foundations to raise the money to begin formalizing a statewide vision for the system. 

Working with FSG, the steering committee came up with a clear, concise vision: Across New York State, the juvenile justice system promotes youth success and ensures public safety. This vision became the foundation of a strategic planning process that helped the group to create a set of shared goals and measures. The plan was grounded in the elements of collective impact. The implementation of that plan has been led by a backbone staff supported by the Governor’s office, with the help a large corps of volunteer stakeholders from across the system. Three years later, all funders are more than satisfied with their return on investment.

Here are some of the key results:

  • Between December 2010 and June 30, 2013 the number of youth in state custody declined by 45%.
  • Between 2010 and 2012, juvenile arrests dropped by 24%, and the total number of juveniles admitted to detention declined by 23%.

The story of how it was done and the essential elements for success are told in the New York State Juvenile Justice Progress Report. It has been a process of building relationships, gaining trust, sharing responsibilities, tackling challenges, and celebrating successes. The backbone team keeps the work on task and the group continues to meet regularly to advance progress toward the goals of the plan. The results have been rapid and extensive, leading to opportunities for widespread transformational systems change. And the momentum remains strong for new and more ambitious reforms to come.

"When I came on board in November 2011 to help implement the State's juvenile justice reform efforts at the staff level, having a clear vision and set of shared goals and measures in place enabled me to effectively work with high level professionals from both within government and externally in a relatively smooth and efficient manner. Over the past few years, we have been able to drive change forward through a specific set of action steps tied to those goals and measures, which has really kept us on point. I think if you ask anyone who has been involved in juvenile justice reform in New York State over the past few years, we've really made a tremendous amount of progress as a result of this plan."

- Thomas R. Andriola, Director of Policy and Implementation, NYS Office of the Deputy Secretary for Public Safety, and Member, NYS Children’s Justice Task Force
 

Watch: Collective Impact in Action: Reform in the New York State Juvenile Justice System

Emily Tow Jackson is the Executive Director of the Tow Foundation.

Emily Tow Jackson

Executive Director The Tow Foundation