Policy Priorities

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Youth Justice

The Children's Defense Fund - New York is engaged in a multi-year, broad scale effort to transform the current New York juvenile justice system from one that relies on incarceration as the primary response to one where community-based intervention and treatment programs are prevalent. We believe these programs must be the norm rather than being seen as "alternatives" for young people who come in conflict with the law. New York is at a critical moment in which there is both the urgent need for change in order to guarantee better outcomes for our youth and the opportunity to accomplish meaningful reforms. Building off the momentum of the Governor's Task Force report and the U.S. Department of Justice report, New York has embarked on a journey of transforming our juvenile justice system.  Despite progress on some fronts, we remain one of only two states that charge youth as adults starting at age 16 (and in some instances when they are as young as 13).  We must act now to replace these injustices with fair and just systems that redirect our young people onto pathways to success.  


For many years, NYC youth have been sent far away from home to prisons in upstate communities where it was difficult and costly to remain connected with family members, where there was no guarantee that their academic credits would be counted when they returned home, and where struggling upstate economies were overly dependent on an industry that specialized in warehousing children – the majority of whom were youth of color from NYC.  

The NYC Close to Home Initiative legislation was signed into law in spring 2012. On September 1, 2012, youth charged with an act of juvenile delinquency who had previously been sent to non-secure, upstate facilities operated by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) or to private, non-profit contract agencies – began returning to placements in New York City. Youth who are assigned to limited-secure placements will begin returning to the City in September 2013.  

For CDF-NY’s full comments on ACS’s Limited Secure Plan, offered at a public hearing on April 23, 2013, click here

For CDF-NY’s key concerns and questions regarding ACS’s Limited Secure Plan, click here

For CDF-NY's full comments on ACS's Non Secure Plan, offered at public hearing on May 8, 2012, click here


Even as we celebrate some reforms to New York's state and local juvenile justice systems, there are thousands of court-involved youth who have not benefitted from the reform climate because they are automatically sent to the adult system. Since Connecticut changed its age of criminal responsibility to 18 in 2008, New York and North Carolina are now the only two states in the entire country that still automatically try 16-year-olds as adults.  CDF-NY is encouraged by recent public dialogue surrounding raising the age in New York.  We firmly believe that youth deserve to be treated as youth and not adults in the criminal justice system.  

For more information on the need for comprehensive juvenile justice reform that goes beyond raising the age for only some youth, click here

For more information on CDF-NY's work to raise the age, click here

For CDF-NY’s testimony on raising the age before the New York State Assembly, December 6, 2013, Click here


Senior Juvenile Justice Policy Associate, Beth Powers, submitted testimony to the City Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice for their April 2, 2013 hearing on violence in New York City jails. New York is one of only 2 states to automatically prosecute and incarcerate youth starting at age 16 for criminal justice matters.  On any given day there are approximately 800 adolescents ages 16-18 at Rikers Island.  Youth are subject to high rates of violence, inhumanely held in isolation, and are denied appropriate education and other vital services that they desperately need. Beth's testimony provides a range of recommendations related to the need for more data sharing and the need to provide more services for youth and more appropriate/comprehensive training for corrections officers. 

Senior Juvenile Justice Policy Associate, Beth Powers, testified at the City Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing February 28, 2013 regarding requiring the NYC Administration for Children's Services (ACS) to publish demographic data and incident reports on youth detained and placed in its juvenile facilities.  Requiring ACS to make data public about the treatment of youth in juvenile justice facilities throughout New York City is one of the most important mechanisms we have to fully understand the treatment, experience, and related outcomes of youth in our juvenile facilities

Click here to read our 2014 testimony on the treatment of adolescents at Rikers Island

Click to read our 2010 testimony to the New York City Council

Click to read our 2013 testimony on violence at Riker's Island

Click to read our 2013 testimony on data and incident reports on youth detained