We are excited to launch with this first post “Youth@Center,” a new blog from the Center for Court Innovation. The blog will be a forum for sharing ideas from both the staff and the youth participants in the Center’s youth justice programs, and we hope to hear back from others in the field who are thinking about some of the same issues and wrestling with similar challenges. Our posts will touch on current issues in juvenile justice and youth development, and also on developing, running, and evaluating good programs, from theory and concept to nuts and bolts.
Founded as a public/private partnership between the New York State Unified Court System and the Fund for the City of New York, the Center for Court Innovation helps the justice system aid victims, reduce crime, strengthen neighborhoods, and improve public trust in justice. In New York, the Center functions as the research and development arm of the state court system, creating demonstration projects to test new responses to persistent public safety challenges that have resisted conventional solutions. Nationally and internationally, the Center disseminates lessons learned to support local innovation.
The Center’s youth programs run the gamut from leadership and civic engagement programs to truancy initiatives to early intervention, diversion, and reentry programs for justice-involved youth. While diverse, our projects reflect a set of common core principles, in line with the Center’s overall focus on problem-solving justice and also with a growing national consensus that punitive and deficit-focused approaches have not been successful in reducing delinquency and improving long-term outcomes for youth. It is our belief that efforts to address the underlying challenges that can lead to justice system involvement should focus to positive youth development, providing opportunities for positive peer and adult relationships and building the skills and competencies necessary to succeed later in life. We attempt, whenever possible, to keep young people in the community and out of the deep end of the system, and to address the root causes of delinquency and youth violence at both the individual and the community level.
So what does that mean in practice? Here are some of the projects we’re running now, and what you might hear about on this blog in the coming months.
Youth Courts: The Center currently runs six youth courts, including five in New York City and one in Newark, New Jersey. Our youth courts are restorative justice diversion programs, tribunals of young people who have been trained to hear actual cases of their peers – referred by the police, probation, the courts, and schools – and provide sanctions that help youth respondents be accountable for their actions and build skills that will help them avoid trouble in the future. We are also working in New York and elsewhere to disseminate tools and resources for youth court practitioners and others interested in starting up programs. This year, we have begun working with New York City High Schools to help develop school-based youth courts as alternatives to suspension.
Alternatives to Detention: The Center runs two alternative to detention (ATD) programs, in Queens and on Staten Island. The ATDs keep young people who have been assessed as moderate risk for re-offending or failure to appear in court at home in the community and out of the City’s detention centers. They provide afterschool programming as well as links to services and support for families. In Staten Island, the Center has developed, with New York Foundling, an innovative respite program, which places young people who are at risk of detention because their family is unable or unwilling to keep them at home in short term therapeutic foster care.
Youth Leadership and Youth Engagement: In addition to training teens to serve as youth court members, the Center runs a number of programs that give young people the training and opportunity to participate as leaders in their communities. The Youth Justice Board is a citywide program for high school students which trains young people to weigh in on policy issues that affect youth in the City. Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO SOS) is a youth anti-violence initiative in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, part of a larger neighborhood initiative based on the Chicago Ceasefire initiative. Hard H.A.T.S. is a service learning program run out of the Center’s Harlem Community Justice Center. Youth ECHO is another youth organizing effort operating from the Center’s Red Hook Community Justice Center.
You will also hear from program staff working on issues of truancy, mental illness, domestic violence, and on juvenile justice reform in New York and elsewhere. We will highlight relevant news, links and research, and introduce you to some of the people and organizations with whom we are lucky to collaborate. And, of course, we will feature the voices and ideas of the young people in our programs, both in the blog and in our “Spotlight on Youth” section.
We are excited to begin this conversation about the people and issues and ideas we care about, and hope you’ll join us.
Youth Justice Programs