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Arts Seen As Crucial to Healing Youth, Changing the Juvenile Justice System

LOS ANGELES — For Jordan, growing up in Jamaica, Queens in New York City left much to be desired. One of the few places he could go after school were the youth arts programs in his neighborhood.

“It was the thing to do after school instead of being outside or doing something that could possibly get you in trouble,” he said.

One of the programs Jordan was in is Neighborhood Opportunity Networks, or NeON Arts. It’s part of New York City’s Department of Probation and is managed by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.

“We did documentaries when I was a part of it,” said Jordan (who only uses his first name). “We did documentaries about kids dropping out and how it affects the community, teenage pregnancy and stuff like that.”

He was in Los Angeles as part of the Create Justice forum led by Weill and Los Angeles-based Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN). The initiative brought together youth leaders from around the country to share their vision for the nation’s juvenile justice system.

Programs such as those driven by the Weill Music Institute are providing space for young people to engage in the arts in a way that they may not have had otherwise.

“Because music is inherently expressive, when you invite young people in to participate in musically, and in other art forms as well, we hear stories and we hear voices that we may not have heard otherwise, or we hear them in ways that we can take in differently,” said Sarah Johnson, director of the Music Institute.

Space for young people to engage in the arts is an essential part of discussions on juvenile justice happening across the country.

Youth leader Brian speaks about his experience working with young people in the juvenile justice system to a crowd of adult advocates.

“The arts are uniquely good at creating a safe space and creating space for inclusion,” said Kaile Shilling, AIYN executive director. “A lot of the systems that young people butt up against are set up to be exclusionary, they’re set up to shut them out, make them abide by rules, and the arts gives young people, all people, really, a space to express themselves freely.”

The Create Justice event took place at the newly opened Campus Kilpatrick youth detention facility and the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, California, on Sept. 25 and 26.

Campus Kilpatrick in Malibu, California is part of a recent initiative called the LA Model that aims to overhaul the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles County, which has one of the highest youth confinement populations in the state.

“It is a big shift in LA County probation from a custodial, correctional model to a restorative and supportive model and really seeing themselves as a continuum of care for young people,” Shilling said.

The LA Model is an initiative spawned from the Missouri Model, which focuses on rehabilitation and positive reinforcement to reduce recidivism rates. According to Shilling, what sets the LA Model apart is its focus on the arts.

“Arts should be a real partner in how we are thinking about transforming and supporting young people, not just a program coming in and out,” she said. “One of the things that’s really unique about the Kilpatrick Model, the LA Model, that they’re using here is a real commitment to integrating arts in the facility.”

Youth leaders draft protest signs based on their experience of the juvenile justice system.

While the use of art to heal young people exposed to trauma, who make up the majority of the incarcerated youth population, is not new, the integration of the arts to heal young people within the juvenile justice system has emerged only in the last several years.

The California Arts Council’s JUMP StArt grant program started in 2013 to support arts education programs for youth who have spent time in the juvenile justice system. Meant to be an intervention in the school-to-prison pipeline, it requires grant recipients to demonstrate a direct collaboration between an arts organization and juvenile justice program.

One such grant recipient is Street Poets Inc., a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that uses poetry to build community and to heal at-risk youth and those who have been exposed to the juvenile justice system. Arts-based programs like Street Poets have been instrumental in changing the environment of juvenile justice facilities to foster healing.

“This practice empowers our youth to reclaim conscious control of their own stories, shifting them from the shadows where their stories may have previously controlled them,” Chris Henrikson, founder and executive director of Street Poets, said in an email.

Other youth leaders at the Create Justice initiative agreed.

“I do music, so it’s just another thing to relate to somebody,” said Brian, an intern at the Justice Scholars program in New York City. “It’s just another way to relate to a person. And the more you have to relate to a person, the more susceptible they are to opening up.”

Brian works with youth newly released from the juvenile justice system to give them support and help them find jobs.

“I feel like the problem with a lot of us is basically we don’t have an outlet,” he said. “Art can be used as an outlet and also art can be used as a vehicle to meet other people which will lead to internships, jobs, etcetera.”

Youth leaders of the Create Justice initiative gather to create art that represents the initiative’s aim to build a collective conscience of justice.

The ability of the arts to help young people gain job skills is paramount to the healing process for those who have been in the juvenile justice system. It helps young people see a future for themselves beyond facility walls by giving them job skills in creative careers.

“They also develop really important skills that are essential in the world today,” Weill’s Johnson said. “Creative problem-solving skills, they build confidence, they build collaborative skills, a lot of those social skills and behaviors that are essential to success in life.”

Shilling agrees the arts are important in helping young people find jobs once they leave the juvenile justice system. She notes that one in every six jobs in Los Angeles is in the creative economy.

The support of this arts-focused model has been instrumental helping arts programs expand their outreach. As a result of collaborations with AIYN, and grantee of JUMP StArts’ statewide and regional networks program, Street Poets has been able to build its programming to reach multiple levels of the juvenile justice system.

“We have expanded dramatically our outreach in the LA Youth Probation campus – going from three probation sites once a week to close to as much as nine to 10 twice weekly,” Henrikson said. “We’ve also started training probation officers in our methodology and have led four trainings for approximately 300 probation officers over the past two years.”

Awareness surrounding the effectiveness of the arts in healing young people and reducing recidivism rates has not gone unnoticed.

“This year, the legislature included a line-item provision of $750,000 in the Senate Budget Act to expand the JUMP StArts program. That financial infusion clearly speaks to their belief in its value,” said Josy Miller, arts education program specialist of JUMP StArts. 

Conversations about how the arts can heal young people who have been in the juvenile justice system continue to be at the forefront of the nationwide awareness of the ways institutions are failing young people, and how leaders can go about changing these systems.

“There’s a very, very, real struggle around how do we improve systems for young people and how do we really questions those systems in the first place,” Shilling said. “The arts are actually central and foundational to struggling with really hard, complex issues.”

This story has been updated.


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Plummeting Youth Crime Demands New Solutions, Thinking

In 1990, in California’s 15 largest cities, 373 youths (in a population ages 10 to 17 of 850,000) were arrested for homicide. In 2015, in those same cities (now with 1.1 million youth), 21 youths were arrested for homicide — a rate decline of 94 percent.

Over the last 25 years, gun killings of teenagers in California’s urban centers fell nearly 80 percent; in New York City, they declined by 90 percent.

Such impossible decreases look like typos, but they’re real. They are repeated in city after city and state after state, where growing, racially diversifying youth populations accompany astonishing reductions in crime and other serious problems.

The millennial generation, forecast to bring “adolescent superpredators,” instead brought a stunning anti-crime revolution that challenges long-held assumptions.

From 1990 to 2016, juvenile arrest rates declined by 73 percent nationally, including large declines in all reporting states. Arrests for violent offenses plunged by two-thirds. Homicide arrests of youth decreased from nearly 4,000 per year in the early 1990s to under 900 in 2016. Twenty of the 35 reporting states – including California, Texas, New Jersey, and Michigan – saw youth homicide arrests plunge 75 percent or more.

In California, a harbinger of national trends, the justice system is rapidly disappearing from young lives. As the youth population grew by one million from 1980 to 2016 and became increasingly diverse, juvenile arrests plummeted from 286,000 to 63,000. All offenses — felony, misdemeanor and status — have fallen to all-time lows. California’s state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice, has seen its budget cut 70 percent since 1995 as youth incarceration dropped 93 percent and eight of 11 state detention facilities closed. In juvenile halls and camps, more than 7,000 beds lie empty.

No one knows why these hugely encouraging trends are happening. Instead, we’re seeing more recycled "teenage brain” and “adolescent risk" nonsense of the type that has proven devastatingly wrong and perpetrated destructive policies. Like a Greek play with predetermined lines marching to inevitable tragedy, we let outmoded agendas and prejudices stifle honest debate again and again.


Figure 1. Declining rates of criminal arrests of youth (under age 18) by state, 2016 v 1996 (includes all violent, property, drug, sex, other felonies and misdemeanors, and status offenses).

Source:  FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, 1995, 2016.  Notes: This figure includes the 35 states with reports to UCR for both 1996 and 2016. Arrest totals are adjusted by the proportion of jurisdictions reporting to UCR by state and year. U.S. Bureau of the Census data for populations ages 10-17 are used to calculate rates.


Even though 21 percent of teens live in poverty compared to 11 percent of middle-agers, more Californians age 40-49 (186,000 in 2015) and 50-59 (128,000) are now getting arrested for felonies and misdemeanors than those under age 20 (123,000 in 2015; 105,000 in 2016). Adolescents can no longer be called “crime-prone.” Crime rates among 18- to 19-year-olds resemble those of 35-year-olds; age 15-17 is like 50.

It’s a whole new world. How are authorities responding to the youth crime revolution’s exciting new opportunities? The prevailing view pretends the decadeslong plummet in crime by youth isn’t happening; that crime, guns and violence remain youthful stupidities. Reading major reports and commentaries these days is like retreating 20, 50, even 100 years into the past.

As teenage crime falls to historic lows, backwards-looking interests are reviving 19th-century myths that “teenage brains are neurologically wired" and “biologically driven" to crime and risk as some "new science." Malarkey. Real scientific reviews show that the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) underlying “brain science” cannot be reliably interpreted or replicated, invalidating thousands of studies.

The premature embrace of poorly grounded psychological and biological notions has the potential to harmfully expand youth and young adult detention by justifying investment in new and “better” lock-ups. For example, California hired a private firm (Campbell Consulting) to rehash developmental clichés and recommend yet another set of “therapeutic” prisons while ignoring young people’s massive crime drop.

Demeaning all 60 million youth and young adults as brain-miswired criminals in order to win lenient treatment for the dwindling few who commit serious crimes isn’t reform — it’s demagoguery. Self-flatteries that “adolescents are not like adults,” while great fun at conference workshops, dodge the uncomfortable reality that crime by youth is a function of adult-imposed poverty, abuse and its trauma sequelae, and troubled caretakers, not being young.

The few commentators who admit real-life trends typically credit their local initiative or pet solution. However, we now see there was no unique Minneapolis gun-violence reduction or “Boston Miracle.” (Nor can my group take credit for the unheralded “San Francisco miracle:” juvenile murders down 80 percent from 1992 to 1999, including 15 months with zero under-16 gun killings). Crime and shootings among youth fell substantially everywhere regardless of what locals did.

The behavior of young people themselves brought down crime and boosted education achievement dramatically. How else do we explain huge drops in youth crime, violence, murder and gun killings in Idaho and Connecticut, West Virginia and Washington, Oklahoma and California, New Jersey and Utah — states with widely varying conditions and policies? We elders did little to relieve unconscionable youth poverty, student debt and addiction and crime epidemics afflicting their parents. Grabbing credit for improvements sabotages reasoned evaluation.

This isn’t “superpredator” 1995, “broken-windows” 1982 or “biological-determinism” 1895. Is the adult brain capable of comprehending changed realities, or is it doomed to lag decades behind, indulging cosmetic system-tinkerings and pleasing orthodoxies to preserve archaic institutions?

Of course we can change. Biological determinism doesn’t dictate thinking, young or old. We need the dynamic, modern discourse 2017’s young people deserve.

Mike Males is senior research fellow for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco. He is author of “Teenage Sex and Pregnancy: Modern Myths, Unsexy Realities.”

Retired NYPD Officers Propose Arming 500 To Protect Schools

Michael Reilly, a former member of the NYPD who drafted a controversial school safety plan, greets students outside P.S 55 The Henry Boehm School in the south shore of Staten Island on a recent Tuesday morning.

NEW YORK -- It’s a frigid morning on Staten Island’s South Shore, with the temperature struggling to crack 20 degrees as a stiff wind buffets the Eltingville neighborhood. The elementary school students showing up at P.S. 55 are cocooned in puffy jackets, gloves and hats as they jump out of warm cars and onto the sidewalk towing large backpacks, some adorned with the face of Justin Bieber, others with the logo of the New York Giants.

Amidst an ongoing school bus strike, it’s a fairly orderly scene on this Tuesday. Parents drive up to the curb, let their children out and move on to the rest of the day. Directing traffic, and gently scolding the occasional parent who pulls a U-turn on Koch Boulevard, is Mike Reilly, a former New York City police lieutenant who is a few days shy of his 40th birthday.

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Reilly is outside the school each morning mostly to mitigate traffic. But, as the co-author of a controversial school safety plan that calls for the Department of Education to use retired cops armed with guns to protect city schools, he’s also found himself in the middle of the contentious debate over gun control and student safety that has erupted in the wake of the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At a White House ceremony last week, President Barack Obama, speaking in front of an audience that included children who had written letters to the president asking him to take action against gun violence, introduced a broad set of gun control measures and policy initiatives to make schools safer and crack down on mass shootings. The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, has vowed to fight any effort to regulate firearms.

Reilly, who has two daughters at P.S. 55 and a son who went there but has since graduated to middle school, started volunteering at the school in 2007, after he retired from the NYPD because of an injury he suffered chasing a stolen motorcycle in Brooklyn.

Reilly has since joined Community Education Council 31, which covers all of Staten Island. He co-chairs the Safety and Transportation Committee with Frank Squicciarini, a 48-year-old retired NYPD sergeant. In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the two former cops have immersed themselves in the issue of school safety in New York.

Reilly and Squicciarini are the authors of a school safety plan that passed CEC 31 earlier this month and calls for the city to hire up to 500 retired police officers to serve as armed guards in schools. The retired officer would dress in plain clothes and carry concealed weapons.

The proposal, billed by CEC 31 as a comprehensive safety plan, also includes the installation of silent alarms, which would be linked to 911, and  “buzzer entry systems,” with video cameras, at schools around New York. So far, most of the attention has focused on the armed guards, with critics linking the plan to one proposed by the NRA about a week after the shooting in Newtown.

Even before it passed, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch gun control advocate, called the CEC 31 proposal a “terrible idea.” He had previously ripped the NRA’s proposal to put armed guards in all schools across the country as “dystopian.”
But with President Obama pledging to make federal money available to improve school safety across the country, members of CEC 31 say Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott should at least consider using retired cops to guard city schools.

“This isn’t coming from some lobby group,” Reilly said. “We’re trying to do the best we can to protect our kids and our teachers and our administrators. That’s all this is about. These things are going to happen, all we can do is put in best practices to mitigate them.”

Sam Pirozzollo, the president of CEC 31, said some parents were opposed to “armed guards” in schools, until they learned that the plan called for retired law enforcement. “I don’t think what we’re asking for is that radical,” said Pirozzollo, 48, who has two kids in city schools. “It’s not about the NRA. It’s about the kids of Staten Island.”

Squicciarini and Reilly liken their proposal to the federal air marshal program, which puts armed officers in plain clothes on certain flights. Their existence is believed to create a deterrent for would-be hijackers. Squicciarini and Reilly both said, ideally, they would like an armed security officer in each of the city’s more than 1,000 school buildings. But they argued that the existence up to 500-armed officers rotating through the schools would create a deterrent for someone considering an attack.

“Most people attack what are called soft targets, where they know there will be little or no resistance,” said Squicciarini, who spent 24 years with the NYPD and joined the counter-terrorism unit after the attacks of 9/11. “With this, the thought of someone being there, you may have taken away that soft target.”

Reilly and Squicciarini think it’s unfair to tie their proposal to the NRA. They believe they’ve staked out a more moderate position, with key differences between what they’re proposing and the plan pushed by the gun lobby. For one, the retired cops potentially hired by the city would come to the job with at least 20 years of firearms training and a background in law enforcement. And with their concealed weapons and business casual dress code, the security officers would have a somewhat lighter footprint than a traditional uniformed police officer, or armed guard, they said.

“Kids shouldn’t see a gun visible every day walking in an out of school,” Squicciarini said.
Reilly agreed.

“We don’t want this to look like a police state,” Reilly said. “It’s not a security guard, with the uniform on and the sling and the holster. We’re talking about trained professionals with experience in law enforcement.”

In criticizing the NRA’s plan to put armed guards in schools, and by extension the CEC 31 proposal, both Bloomberg and Walcott have argued that New York’s schools are safe. Unarmed school safety agents are present in the city’s school buildings and a DOE spokesman said the department’s close working relationship with the NYPD has led to a drastic reduction in school crime over the last 12 years. Major crime is down 48 percent since the 2000-2001 school year, with violent crime dropping 30 percent in the same time period, DOE said.

Reilly, Pizorrollo and Squicciarini are not swayed by the crime statistics cited by DOE. They understand that schools have gotten safer, by some measures, but worry about the schools’ exposure to the type of tragedy that unfolded in Newtown. They pointed to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, and the city’s effort to retool security protocols in its aftermath. They have not seen a similar change in school policy, despite a string of mass shootings around the country in recent years.

“Crime is the lowest it’s been, I understand that,” Reilly said. “This isn’t about crime. This is about preventing an active shooter.”

This story was produced by JJIE's New York City Bureau.
Photo by Craig Giammona. 

Growing Movement Toward Localizing Juvenile Justice

Not since the opening of the first juvenile reform school in 1886 has our nation’s approach to confining delinquent youth experienced such fundamental and widespread change. From California to New York, states are reducing juvenile placements, shuttering facilities and shifting money and kids to county control. If done thoughtfully, it’s a trend that holds much promise.

This national realignment movement took a huge step forward on Sept. 1, when New York state’s “Close to Home” law went into effect. When fully operational, the law will ensure that all but a handful of delinquent youth from our nation’s largest city are cared for locally in New York City, rather than in large, distant and debilitating state institutions.

The passage of Close to Home was the culmination of more than a decade of work. Between 2002 and 2011, the city reduced institutional placements of delinquent youth by 62 percent, while experiencing a 31 percent decline in major felony arrests of juveniles.

Under Close to Home, New York City is creating a continuum of high-quality, community-based programs and facilities. City youth who were formerly placed in “non-secure” state facilities are being transferred to 35 small facilities run by non-profits located near their home; the same will happen next fall for youth in “limited secure” placement. By freeing up funds that were tied to antiquated reform schools, Close to Home will allow the city to fund more and better community-based programs, which will in turn improve public safety and further reduce unnecessary confinement.

The initiative, which was shepherded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and passed with bi-partisan support, has many advantages over the traditional state-centralized, institution-based model. Instead of being sent to large institutions far away from home, which often requires families to travel hundreds of miles, parents and guardians will now be able to take the subway to see their child, facilitating family therapy and helping the young person transition back into the community. Instead of being confined in state institutions with unaccredited schools, youth will remain in the New York City school system, assuring that they get credit for their work and improving their chances of staying in school.

New York state isn’t alone in maintaining public safety by localizing juvenile justice and reducing institutionalization. California reduced the number of confined young people from more than 10,000 in 1996 to fewer than 1,000 today. In California, 99 percent of adjudicated youth are now housed or supervised by counties, with county costs defrayed by $93.4 million in state funds last year alone.

A look at crime data from the California Department of Justice shows that these changes have not come at the expense of public safety. While the incarcerated state youth population in California declined by 84 percent from 1996 to 2008, the juvenile arrest rate declined by 32 percent. Meanwhile, as the adult prison population was increasing by 21 percent during that same time, the adult arrest rate declined by a more modest 15 percent.

In Michigan, Wayne County, which includes Detroit, had 731 youth confined in state facilities in 1998; last year it had four. When state and county officials agreed to realign care and funds from the state to the county, county officials contracted with five Care Management Organizations (CMOs), which are similar to HMOs. The CMOs receive a block grant for the youth in their catchment area, which incentivizes them to place youth in local, successful and cost-effective programs. Wayne County’s remarkable decrease in state commitments has been accompanied by a compliance rate that exceeds 90 percent while the young people are under care, and a felony reconviction rate of 18 percent for youth released from secure care two years after they return to the community.

In 1991, Ohio was home to four of the 20 most overcrowded juvenile facilities in the nation. In 1994 the state launched RECLAIM Ohio, which carefully incentivizes county innovation. Under the program, if counties safely reduce state juvenile placements in a given year, they earn more money the following year.

When RECLAIM was piloted in 1994, pilot counties quickly reduced state commitments (mostly for low-level felonies) by 42 percent, while commitments from the non-pilot counties actually increased. By 2011, the number of RECLAIM-funded programs initiated statewide topped 600, while the number of youth sent to state facilities dropped by 79 percent.

Since its inception, the training school model, which Mayor Bloomberg called a “relic of a bygone era,” has had disappointing results and been plagued by a never-ending cycle of scandalous abuses followed by cosmetic reforms. But, between 2001 and 2010, there was a 33 percent decline nationally in the number of youth in confinement, with declines in 43 states.  Through the increasing use of more effective risk assessment tools, evidence-informed programs, and creative fiscal incentives, local jurisdictions are creating a fundamentally more balanced approach to juvenile delinquency that may bring the juvenile justice system into modern times and end our reliance on the 19th century training school model.

Review: ‘The Central Park Five’

 

 An imperfect film reminds Americans of chilling crime and those wrongfully convicted

It’s often said that the more you know about something, the less you are apt to like a film about it. So let me state up front that I was living in New York City (in a single room occupancy hotel not far from Central Park, in fact — I went running in the park almost every day), in 1989, so I remember the Central Park jogger case quite well.

In fact, if you lived in the city at the time, it was almost impossible not to hear about the case, including the controversy over the treatment of the young men arrested and later convicted of this crime. The case also received nationwide coverage, as did the fact that someone else later confessed to the crime, and that the Five’s convictions were overturned in 2002.

Apparently most Americans don’t know much about this case, however, and they may be better served than I was by The Central Park Five, a new documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon. The film begins with the taped confession of the actual assailant, Matias Reyes, so that there’s never a moment’s doubt that the Five were falsely convicted. The focus of the film is on how it happened — how five young men were arrested, interrogated, confessed, convicted and (much later) exonerated.

It’s a chilling story that points to one conclusion: after this horrific crime (a young woman was raped, severely beaten, and left for dead in the park), the police picked up some young men who were in the vicinity (and, in fact, were part of a large group of young men who had committed several assaults earlier that evening, although this is downplayed in the film), and interrogated and intimidated them until they confessed to the rape and beating of the Central Park jogger.

It’s no secret that police may use various interrogation techniques when they want to get a confession, that the person being questioned may not know his or her rights, and that under pressure, people may confess to all sorts of things they haven’t done. That’s what happened in this case, and when the invented confessions didn’t match, that didn’t cause anyone in authority to question whether something had gone amiss. It also didn’t matter that there was no physical evidence linking the Five to the attack — the confessions were enough to convince a jury.

The Central Park Five is a straightforward documentary consisting primarily of archival footage and talking heads (New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer appears so frequently that he serves as the de facto narrator). It creates a portrait of a city (white and African American alike) terrified of violent teenagers — “wilding” and “wolf pack” are terms particularly associated with 1980s New York — and who focused that fear on the case. The fact that the assault took place in Central Park, as close as you can get to sacred ground for New Yorkers, certainly brought more attention to the case, as did the fact that the victim was white and the accused African American and Hispanic. Those dynamics are not specific to New York, of course, and I’m not sure they’ve changed all that much over the years, but they are part of the story.

The Central Park Five has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, which I find somewhat mystifying — to me it’s a respectable but often tedious film that adds little to what is already well known about this episode. On the other hand, given Americans’ notoriously poor sense of history, maybe they need a refresher course in the facts of this case, and for that purpose The Central Park Five will fill the bill.

In the Eye of the Storm: Remembering the Most Vulnerable

As with most natural disasters, the attention of the media was initially centered on the havoc wrecked by Hurricane Sandy. We were drawn to its most dramatic images – the dangling crane at the construction site of a luxury high-rise in Midtown Manhattan; the New York City building whose façade collapsed, resembling the open side of a dollhouse; the half-submerged roller coaster, all that remained of an amusement park on the Jersey shore; the river of water running through the narrow streets of Hoboken; and the weeping mother who lost two toddlers amidst the flooding on Staten Island.

We watched cable news. We texted REDCROSS to 90999.  We donated canned goods and batteries.

Yet, consistent with human nature, our interest soon faded. As we resumed our regular activities, the media began another news cycle – focusing on the election results, the next nor’easter, a celebrity marriage or the latest grisly murder. It is unfortunate but inevitable.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans are left to pick up the pieces – just as they have after previous natural disasters, whether hurricanes, tornados, wildfires or earthquakes. They grieve for those who have died. They attempt to document the damage, file insurance claims and make repairs.  They grapple with shock, depression and post-traumatic stress. They try to move on.

What is absent from the narrative, however, is the particularly severe impact that such disasters have on those who are already among our most vulnerable – the poor, infirm, elderly and mentally ill, many of whom fit into more than one of these categories.

New York City’s “Zone A” was the first to be evacuated in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy. It includes the Lower East Side of Manhattan and has 26 public housing developments and tens of thousands of residents. City officials turned off elevators, heat and hot water to these multi-story buildings on the Sunday evening before the storm, giving residents less than 24 hours to find a public shelter or another place to stay.

One 87 year-old woman, Margaret Maynard, was alone in her 16-story building for several days.  Unable to reach family or friends by phone after the electricity went out, she wore layers of robes and wrapped a scarf around her head to keep warm. She said she’d been surviving on crackers and juice. Only after an NPR reporter shared a working cell phone was she able to arrange for someone to help her down the many flights of stairs and take her to her nephew’s home in Queens.

In the wake of Sandy, people remained in public housing units, doing their best to cope with the precarious conditions. Tall buildings without emergency lighting presented a particular challenge for the aged and disabled, who were unable to negotiate the dark hallways and stairwells. Phone lines were not operating or were continually disrupted. Toilets wouldn’t flush without water.   Subway and bus lines were shut down and took many days to resume service.

In addition, thousands of low-income residents were unable to buy basic necessities – including groceries, paper goods and toiletries. Because power outages left vast swaths of the New York metropolitan area without electricity, many stores only accepted payment in cash. Yet those families and individuals who receive supplemental nutritional assistance (a.k.a. food stamps) do so electronically via debit cards, meaning that they lost the ability to make purchases.

It is undeniable that Hurricane Sandy has had a devastating impact on millions of people in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and beyond. It is counterproductive to try to calculate who suffered more, who lost more, or who needs the most help in the months to come.

Yet the extreme disparities in income that already exist in the United States are even more stark during times of disaster. Before Hurricane Sandy touched ground, most people of means could leave – whether by car, train or plane. In addressing its impact, they can turn to their insurance agents and lawyers. If they or their loved ones need physical or psychological treatment, they have private health insurance. If their homes are destroyed, they have options and choices – stay in a motel or with family and rebuild, or request a job transfer, relocate and make a fresh start.  None of this is easy, but it is easier with resources.

The media will soon direct its attention elsewhere, but let’s not forget those among us for whom the effects of the storm will continue to reverberate. For the most vulnerable, Sandy not only took away everything, but they have no means to get it back.

Professor Birckhead’s commentary is also posted at the Huffington Post

Nonprofits Leverage Goldman Sachs for Detention Programs

A set of New York City nonprofits are working together to keep Rikers Island juvenile detention center residents from returning, and are using money from investment banker Goldman Sachs to do it.

About half of the 16- to 18- year-old males who pass through Rikers Island will return within a year, according to David Butler, who’s heading the team working on the project at nonprofit social research organization MDRC.  “Anything we can do to change that is good,” he said.

MDRC will oversee the ABLE program, which will be mandatory for the young men at Rikers by the time it is fully rolled out in January 2013 for a four-year run. The Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience is a method of teaching things like personal responsibility, anger management and impulse control with the aim of restructuring the student’s way of thinking.

And it could not have been deployed on the Rikers scale, perhaps 3,400 students annually, without the cash Goldman Sachs agreed to provide.

The investment bank is putting $9.6 million into a so-called social impact bond to put MDRC to work at Rikers. An SIB is a new type of investment that grows only if some public good is achieved and shrinks if it doesn’t. The model comes from the United Kingdom and the New York City rollout is among the first stateside and something of a pilot program.

If MDRC fails to cut the recidivism rate, the value of Goldman’s payout falls. If MDRC succeeds, the investment grows.

The bank’s maximum return is capped at $2.1 million and its losses capped at $2.4 million. According to MDRC, the top payout would be triggered by a 20 percent fall in the Rikers recidivism rate.

At that level, New York City would save something like $20 million by MDRC’s math, savings from youth staying out of Rikers and trouble.

Once Goldman Sachs is repaid, any additional savings go into a social intervention fund administered by MDRC and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the vehicle for the charitable activities of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In fact, Bloomberg Philanthropies is also cushioning the risk to the bank by guaranteeing  $7.2 million of what’s technically a loan from Goldman Sachs to MDRC.

Yet if anything matches public disdain for jail, it’s suspicion of the honesty of anything to do with investment bankers.

“We understand that there are concerns about our connection with a bank,” said Butler, “but we are comfortable with that.”

He pointed to the long records of other nonprofit partners in the venture. The Friends of the Island Academy — dating from when the island’s school went by that name — and the 80-year-old prison-reforming Osborne Association will actually deliver the services to the youth.  And the Vera Institute of Justice handles the metrics that decide Goldman Sachs’ payout.

“The SIB structure only works if your evaluator is independent,” noted Reagan Daly, associate research director for the Center on Youth Justice at Vera. “We’re keeping that distance, independence and objectivity.”

Vera matches research, innovation, ideas and data about justice and safety to public leaders.

Daly explained that Vera’s calculations are more nuanced than whether a young man simply returns to Rikers or not.

“If they don’t come back at all, that’s obviously a success,” she said, “but if they return, it’s how much they stay there.”

And an inmate that goes through the MDRC program has to be measured against a comparable inmate, too, she noted.

The math “does take into account a kid’s individual factors,” like arrest rate, court history and other things, she said.

“We’ll control for those things” to get an accurate calculation, Daly said.

UK Advocates Turning to NYC as Model for ‘Saner’ Criminal Justice System

For decades, New York City was besieged by violent crime, peaking in 1990 when the city was ravaged by an estimated 2,245 murders.

But then something remarkable happened, according to Greg Berman, author of the recent report “A Thousand Small Sanities: Crime Control Lessons from New York.” Over the last two decades, New York City experienced an unprecedented turnaround in violent crime. In 2009, there were 461 murders in the city, a 79 percent drop from 20 years earlier. Other crimes drastically declined as well, with the city seeing significant decreases in rapes, robberies and car thefts. Berman quotes Frank Zimring, author of the book “The City That Became Safe,” who called the crime rate reduction in New York City “the largest and longest sustained drop in street crime ever experienced by a big city in the developed world.”

The report, released by the Centre for Justice Innovation, explores the possibility of applying the policies and practices implemented in New York City to communities in the United Kingdom - where in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, London’s Metropolitan Police tallied more than 170,000 instances of violent crime, including 113 murders and more than 2,800 rapes.

Berman praised New York City’s commitment to incarceration alternatives, stating that the city has “long been blessed with an infrastructure of non-profit groups” such as the Vera Institute of Justice and the Center for Community Alternatives, which he considers vital players in the development of community-based solutions. Another key to the city’s success, according to Berman, is its use of specialized court-based programs, such as drug courts and mental health courts, which give judges the discretion to eschew prison sentences for treatment and rehabilitation services.

Place plays a critical role in policing, Berman says, not just people. And New York City successfully expanded its focus through its use of localized “hotspot” patrolling - most notably, the New York City Police Department’s use of COMPSTAT, which zeroes in on specific precinct and neighborhood activity.  Also important, according to Berman, was the promotion of informal social control processes that encourage voluntary adherence to the law through implicit and explicit community and family pressure.

An example of community pressure, recently created, teen-led youth courts in some New York City neighborhoods allow local juveniles to hear actual low-level misdemeanor cases. According to Berman, youth court sanctions are intended to be restorative, not necessarily punitive.

“As valuable as they are in terms of training leaders and providing an early intervention for troubled teens, youth courts’ most valuable contribution is probably symbolic,” he said. “They are a potent symbol of the justice system being willing to cede a measure of authority to local voices and to engage in the co-production of justice.”

In his conclusion, Berman calls the United States’ legal system, and its often-overlapping federal, state and local jurisdictions, “notoriously labyrinthine,” but admits it sometimes allows innovation to bubble up. For New York City, Berman says most of the credit for the steep decline in violent crime should stay in the city.

“Very few, if any, of the programmes described in this paper originated among federal officials in Washington, D.C.,” he says in the report. “Indeed, most were the product of frontline police chiefs, judges, and other criminal justice reformers responding in creative ways to the immediate problems in front of them.”

But he also believes the federal government can help cities. He praises Congress for authorizing funding to put more officers on the streets of New York City, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice for supporting intermediary organizations that provide training and assistance to what Berman calls “would-be reformers” in the community. He said that, no matter which party was in power at any time over the last 20 years, federal investments in community courts and policing have remained relatively consistent.

“This may be the ultimate lesson of the New York experience,” Berman wrote. “The ability of local reformers to generate a thousand small sanities and the consistent willingness of national government to encourage and sustain them over the long haul.”

New York Road Runners Offering Grants

New York Road Runners (NYRR) seeks to make running a part of every child's school day by providing free running programs and resources to schools and communities in New York City and across the country. This school year, NYRR is excited to launch Events to Run, the latest resource from its suite of free youth running programs and teaching tools.

To celebrate this launch, NYRR will award a total of $20,000 worth of grants to schools and non-profits to help support youth running and fitness events. There will be 40 grants of $500 each awarded to schools or organizations in the U.S. Award recipients will be selected by NYRR based upon its evaluation of the comparative merits of the applications submitted for the awards, and NYRR's decisions will be final.

All applications must be submitted by 5 pm EST on Monday, February 13, 2012.