Thursday, January 30, 2014


Our post today comes from Colin Lentz, Communications Coordinator for Youth Justice Programs at the Center for Court Innovation.

Young people from Illinois with arrest and court records have an unlikely new resource available to them. The Mikva Challenge Foundation recently released an app that provides young people with information about what juvenile expungement is (the process that erases an arrest and/or court record), what’s on a juvenile record, and how expungement can help. The app then guides youths through the process of determining whether they are eligible for expungement and connects them with lawyers or a legal team that can help them navigate the expungement process successfully.

The app is, in part, a response to a report published last summer by the Mikva Challenge Foundation's Juvenile Justice Council, which found that in 2012, only 70 of the 25,000 young people who were arrested in Chicago got their records expunged. That’s less than one half of one percent: a miniscule .28%. Those who did seek to have their records expunged, however, were successful, which indicates that the low numbers are due not to the process but to a lack of awareness about this option.

The app also includes information related to the cost of expungement ($124 to expunge a single record, although in many cases this charge can be waived), the length of time an expungement takes (approximately three and a half months), and where young people can find their RAP (Record of Arrests and Prosecutions) sheets.

The development and release of this app is another solid step forward in making more effective use of new technology to support young people in making positive choices as they transition to adulthood. Here at the Center for Court Innovation, the Youth Justice Board is working with the Center for Urban Pedagogy, a non-profit organization that uses the power of art and design to increase meaningful civic engagement, to design a website that will provide disconnected youth— young people who have not dropped out of school and are not currently working—with access to resources that will help them get back on track.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Our post today comes from Colin Lentz, Communications Coordinator for Youth Justice Programs at the Center for Court Innovation.

For the past two years, the Youth Justice Board has been working on the issues of truancy and chronic absenteeism as they affect New York City public school students. One product of this work is a short video, produced by youth for youth, on why it is important for all students to attend school every day. The video is part of the resources offered at, the website for the Mayor’s Interagency Taskforce on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism & School Engagement. It is also available on the Center for Innovation website here and embedded below:


The Youth Justice Board is an after school program in which twenty high school-aged youth together work together on an issue that affects young people in New York City over a two-year cycle. During the first year, members of the Board research the issue, interview experts--including young people affected by the issue--and then write and publish a report with recommendations for policy-makers and stakeholders. During the second year, members of the Board build on this work to create resources, usually for young people, related to the issue.

During the 2012-2013 program year, the Youth Justice Board published a report with recommendations for improving school attendance in New York City. The report, titled From Absent to Present: Reducing Teen Chronic Absenteeism in New York City, was released at an event at City Hall with complimentary remarks from Dennis Walcott, then Chancellor of the Department of Education. This year, 2013-2014, the Board was tapped by the Mayor’s Interagency Taskforce on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism & School Engagement to create a short video with information about why it is important for all students to attend school every day.

Members of the Board each wrote scripts outlining what compels them to attend school every day, what they enjoy most about being in school, and more generally, why they think that attending school is important for all young people, and then filmed themselves sharing this information. Some members of the Board also traveled to the Greenpoint Youth Court, another Center for Court Innovation program, and facilitated a lesson in which members of the Greenpoint Youth Court wrote scripts with similar information about their reasons for going to school. Greenpoint Youth Court members then shared their scripts on camera. 

Staff and members of the Youth Justice Board are proud to have been selected by the Mayor’s Taskforce to create this video and share it with young people and their advocates. This spirit of collaboration is at the heart of the work of the Board. As member Jael says at the end of the video, “I want to change the world, and there’s no way I can on my own.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Our post today comes from Colin Lentz, Communications Coordinator for Youth Justice Programs at the Center for Court Innovation.
A report just released by the Vera Institute of Justice calls into question traditional approaches to status offenses – offenses like truancy and curfew violation that constitute criminal or delinquent behavior for young people only – and makes recommendations as to how communities might respond better. The report, titled From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses, details the causes for concern: between 1995 and 2002, the number of status offense cases that ended up being processed in juvenile or family court increased by 59%, from 128,700 to 204,200 cases. This tendency to push status offense cases through juvenile and family courts was often due simply to a lack of alternatives, services that could help young people get back on the right track without entangling them in the justice system. The early 2000s witnessed a shift in approach, with a greater emphasis from justice system officials on connecting status offenders and their families to community-based services that might address the underlying causes of the troubling behavior. As a result, juvenile and family courts handled 33% fewer status offense cases between 2002 and 2010.

While this decline is encouraging, the report notes that courts still handle far too many status offenses, approximately 137,000 in 2010. More than 36% of these status offense cases are the consequence of truancy. Most courts, already overburdened, are not well equipped to evaluate the underlying circumstances that lead to such behavior and have few options for responding appropriately. While there is little research about outcomes for status offenders who go through the court process, we do know that youth charged with similar low-level delinquency offenses benefit greatly from early diversion from the court system to community-based programming.

The report suggests five components of an effective community-based response to a status-offense charge:

Diversion from court – There should be a mechanism in place that flags and diverts these cases before they get to court.

An immediate response – Families often need assistance right away to de-escalate a worsening situation. This might include access to counseling or to a respite center that provides a safe space for a youth to stay while the family cools down.

A triage process – To best target services to the particular challenges of a status offender and his/her families, organizations must work together to ensure that careful and thorough assessment occurs.

Services that are accessible and effective – Easy access for families is key to ensure that they make use of the services available to them.

Internal assessment – Organizations offering community-based responses must continuously monitor themselves to ensure that they are operating as smoothly as possible and taking advantage of the most recent research and best practices.

The report concludes by reviewing cases studies to support its assertion that community-based responses to status offense cases, when done well, do in fact work.

This report has particular relevance for work that we do at the Center.  For the past six years, the Center has been running a school-based chronic absenteeism intervention called the Attendance Achievement Program, working with kids who are often labeled “truant” by the justice system.  We know that what it takes to get that young person back in school is sustained support and attention from consistent, caring adults at the school, services for the youth and family to address the underlying causes of the behavior, and an age-appropriate approach to teaching accountability.  This type of intervention isn’t improved when the justice system gets involved.   

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Our post today comes from Colin Lentz, Communications Coordinator for Youth Justice Programs at the Center for Court Innovation.

At a press conference this week, outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that the four-year graduation rate for New York City public schools at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 school year was 66%. This number is a new record high and marks an increase of 42% since 2005, when the state began releasing the city’s graduation rates. The dropout rate was also cut in half, with a 7% decline between last and this year alone.

Chancellor Walcott highlighted the gains for black and Hispanic students, who saw the greatest increases in graduation rates. Since 2005, black students saw their graduation rate increase by 53%, while Hispanic students saw theirs increase by 58%. Black and Hispanic males, who have lagged in the past, saw particularly large increases,  of 75% and 76% since 2005, which some are attributing to the increased focus brought by the Mayor’s Young Men’s Initiative, a comprehensive program to help black and Latino young men build stronger futures for themselves and their families. An even greater increase occurred for students with disabilities, who saw their graduation rate rise 119%. “The record numbers,” said Chancellor Walcott, “would not have been possible without our incredibly dedicated school staff, our parents who are tremendous partners, and especially our students who have worked extremely hard to prepare themselves for college and careers.”

Graduation rates were not the only measures to see impressive indications of improvement. Since 2002, the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement (AP) exams has more than doubled, a number confirmed by data produced by the College Board, the company responsible for coordinating and grading AP exams. Similarly, participation and performance on the SAT has risen, with a 53% increase in the number of seniors taking the SAT since 2002. From 2012-2013, New York City also had performance gains in all SAT subjects while scores across the nation remained the same or went down.

Historically, yearly data on school attendance and graduation is not released until the following year, but the city was able to confirm this information earlier than normal and wanted to make it publicly available. Of course, sharing the information also served to underline the success of the departing mayor and the education policies used during his tenure. But not everyone was persuaded. A reporter from NY1 pointed out at the press conference that the city’s graduation rate the last three years has been mostly stagnant and that the touted gains actually occurred before that. In a follow up article about the event, NY1’s Lindsey Christ elaborates: “When the state first calculated the four-year graduation rate in 2005, just 46.5% of city students earned a diploma by June. By 2010, 61% graduated on time. Now, it’s 61.3%. When students who graduated in August 2013 (instead of on time in June 2013) are included, 66% of city students graduated.”

GothamSchools, a news organization covering New York City public schools, also pointed out that in 2012 the graduation rate actually declined, though that was the only year it declined under Mayor Bloomberg. They further note that while the gains in graduation rates among black and Hispanic students are noteworthy, “each group still lags roughly 20 percentage points behind the rates of white and Asian students.” In their coverage of the press conference, Schoolbook, a WNYC affiliate focused on news about New York City schools, quote Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia Teacher’s College, who recognized the significant increase in graduation rates, but indicated it would be hasty to attribute such growth “to any particular policy or practice.” In the article, he goes on to express concern that the presentation of the data in during the press conference ultimately “obscures the face that a great many of the students who enter ninth-grade emerge not ready for college… and that’s especially true for black and Latino students.”

This is an important point. The rise in graduation rates both in general and among black and Hispanic students is not something simply to brush off as more political posturing by an exiting Mayor with an eye on the history books.  It is certainly suggestive of positive trends among New York City public schools students, trends worth exploring and supporting. But it is also crucial that focus on these trends not distract attention from the challenges that still face students, especially black and Hispanic students, attending school across the city.

Friday, November 22, 2013


Our post today comes from Colin Lentz, Communications Coordinator for Youth Justice Programs at the Center for Court Innovation.

A recent report from Transportation Alternatives, a New York City transportation advocacy organization, examines the consequences of perceptions of neighborhood safety in low income neighborhoods on resident participation in physical activities, including walking. The report, Safe Streets are Healthy Streets: The Role of Crime and Traffic in Neighborhood Health, compares measures of public safety and physical activity in two Brooklyn police precincts with differing levels of crime: Brownsville, a neighborhood with higher rates of crime, and Cobble Hill, a neighborhood with lower levels of crime. In particular, the report explores the negative consequences of higher crime, and thus diminished physical activity, on young people.

Physical activity is crucial to the health and well-being of children; being active as a child, moreover, reduces long term cardiovascular disease risk factors and the likelihood of developing chronic health conditions in adulthood. Regular physical activity is also, the report notes, a critical tool in preventing children from becoming overweight and reducing obesity, a growing problem among youths across the United States.

Neighborhood perceptions of safety and prevalence of crime can, however, influence the amount of physical activity children get. Heightened fear of crime from personal experience of victimization as well as witnessing criminal behavior and social and physical disorder in the neighborhood can cause parents to limit the amount of time their children to spend outside running around, substituting indoor sedentary activities like watching television, playing video games, and going online. The consequences for children’s health can be significant.

The report demonstrates the impact of this pattern by comparing two very different Brooklyn neighborhoods, and the results are unsurprising. Brownsville, the Brooklyn neighborhood with more crime, had higher perceptions of crime among residents than did Cobble Hill, the neighborhood with less crime. Brownsville had higher rates of obesity than both Cobble Hill and the average for the borough of Brooklyn as a whole. More generally, the study found that children from Brownsville who participated in the study engaged in significantly less neighborhood-based physical activity than their Cobble Hill counterparts. In response to these findings, the authors offer recommendations to increase neighborhood physical activity, which include:

Build more centrally-located public recreation centers to improve access to physical activity
. In both neighborhoods, recreation centers exist but are located at the outskirts of the community. As a result, they get less use than they would if located more centrally. This is especially true in the Brownsville neighborhood, where perceptions of violence contribute to parents being less willing to allow their children to travel a great distance through the neighborhood to get to and from the recreation center. This finding was something the Center’s Youth Justice Board noted in its 2011 report on youth crime in Brownsville.

Reduce harassment of young people by police officers. This recommendation applied most to the neighborhood of Brownsville, where residents articulated the obstacles that police can introduce to young people playing outside. Young people in that neighborhood often feel disrespected and mistreated by the police and are less likely to spend time outside where they are more likely to have to interact with officers. The recommendation suggests partnerships between community organizations and local police precincts for activities that will build stronger relationships.

Support community programs and organizations that increase collective efficacy. Collective efficacy is the degree to which community residents share values and informally control their neighborhood’s public space. A higher degree of collective efficacy indicates greater cohesion among members of the community and has been linked to lower rates of crime and higher rates of children’s physical activity. Organizations that focus on strengthening the neighborhood, that bring people from the community together to discuss and work on neighborhood-related issues all increase collective efficacy.

The relationship between perceptions of safety and public health discussed in this report, especially pertaining to the welfare and well-being of young people, may seem self-evident, but it is an important reminder. It can be easy when working with youth to compartmentalize the various challenges they face, to overlook the broad range of impacts that come from, for example, living in a neighborhood with a high rate of crime. Additionally, our work with young people here at the Center has taught us the importance, when providing recommendations for how to protect and support youth, of articulating strategies that youth themselves can use. All of the recommendations above could easily include approaches to making changes that would empower young people to participate and take responsibility for improving the safety of their own neighborhoods and increasing opportunities for physical activity.