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Juvenile Detention Reform in New York City: Measuring Risk through Research

NCJ Number
Jennifer Fratello; Annie Salsich; Sara Mogulescu
Date Published
April 2011
17 pages
This report from the Vera Institute of Justice examines New York City's development and use of a risk-assessment instrument for use in informing the juvenile court's decision about pretrial detention for juveniles.
Following the risk of closure of New York City's only alternative to juvenile detention, the City's Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator began an exploration of new ways for handling pretrial detention for juveniles. This report examines the development and use of an empirically based risk-assessment instrument (RAI) for use by family court judges who wish to use community-based alternatives to detention (ATD) for young offenders who do not require secure confinement. Findings from the review show that family court judges frequently refer youth who score mid-risk on the RAI to ATD programs, reserving pretrial detention for youth who present the highest risk of failure to appear in court and/or rearrest; detention use at arraignment (first court appearance) has dropped from 32 percent to 24 percent since citywide adoption of the RAI and ATDs - a 25 percent decrease; low-risk youth going into detention dropped from 24 percent in 2006 to 9 percent in a post-implementation 2008 sample; and overall, there has been a 30 percent reduction in the rate of re-arrest for youth during the time their cases are pending, from 26 percent to 18 percent, between 2006 and 2008. These findings suggest that New York City's early reform efforts have improved outcomes for youth involved with the juvenile justice system, while at the same time improving public safety. Information for this report was obtained on youth who were arrested in the City's five boroughs and sent to probation for intake and screening between May 1, 2006, and August 15, 2006. Of the 1,782 cases referred for screening and intake, 1,053 were prosecuted through the filing of a court petition. The report describes identifying factors that correlate significantly with failure to appear and rearrest, and describes how these factors are applied to determine a risk score. 5 figures and 29 endnotes