The Intervention: Alternative to detention for youth
Who is Served: Family Court-involved youth age 12–16 residing in the Bronx and Manhattan
Early involvement in the criminal justice system is a significant risk factor for future crime and poor education and life outcomes. Those young people who do become justice-involved tend to be overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic and male. Many of these youth have grown up in challenging family situations in neighborhoods with disproportionately high levels of crime and poverty. They have often become disconnected from school, falling far behind their age-level peers in critical literacy and math skills. Further, among incarcerated youth, national studies have found that more than 50% met criteria for a mental health disorder and 60% met criteria for a substance use disorder.1
Adolescents in Family Court are at a critical point in their young lives. They have become involved in the criminal justice system at a very young age. Many have negative patterns of behavior in their relationships with family and peers and lack the motivation and/or the opportunity to learn new behaviors that will help them begin to achieve traditional thresholds of positive development (e.g., at home, in school, and in their relationships with other teens). A young person’s experiences during this vulnerable time can determine whether he or she faces a long-term, cyclical pattern of involvement with the criminal justice system or has a real pathway to a productive, positive life in the community.
The Choices ATD Approach
CASES Choices ATD (alternative-to-detention) program seeks to use a young person’s early involvement in the justice system as an opportunity for interventions that prevent further delinquency while promoting positive, sustainable youth development. Research has demonstrated that the most effective juvenile justice interventions help young people build positive relationships and develop constructive behaviors rather than “scaring them straight.” Accordingly, in Choices ATD—serving youth age 12-16 involved in either the Bronx or Manhattan Family Court—we build service plans responsive to each young person’s risks and needs, with a focus on engagement with peers, family, and community. Choices enables these youth—all of whom have pending Family Court cases—to avoid detention in a City or State correctional facility, remain with their families, and continue in school. With locations in Central Harlem and the South Bronx, Choices helps youth re-engage in their education, access social services and recreational opportunities in their communities, build positive peer associations, and improve family relationships.
Choices ATD has been highly successful in helping participants avoid further justice involvement. Each year the program diverts more than 200 youth across the Bronx and Manhattan from ongoing detention, thereby keeping them in school and with their families. While in the program, typically more than 80% of Choices participants have no re-arrest and more than 90% have no failure to appear for a court date. These outcomes reflect the help participants receive during the program, which sets a strong foundation for building new lives. Choices youth:
- re-enroll in school and receive the academic support they’ve long needed including after-school tutoring
- attend individual and group counseling designed to reduce high-risk behaviors and promote better choices
- develop peer skills through recreational activities
- engage with their families in program forums and ongoing social services as needed, including help with housing and treatment for behavioral health needs (including at CASES’ Nathaniel Clinic)
- learn to navigate the consequences of their criminal justice involvement
- build skills and address needs so they can avoid recidivism and the prospect of long-term incarceration