For the past year, a team of Columbia University researchers has been looking at a landmark juvenile justice initiative in New York City called Close to Home. The researchers presented their findings to law enforcement, youth justice advocacy groups and others in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Close to Home began in 2012, as a five-year pilot program that allows juveniles to stay in small group homes closer to their communities — rather than in locked facilities in upstate New York. What researchers found was Close to Home was in many ways a success.
"We used to send 3,800 kids to the state system. Now we send none," said Here’s Vincent Schiraldi, senior research scientist and co-director of Columbia University Justice Lab. Schiraldi said crime also went down.
However, the researchers stated areas in which the Close to Home approach didn’t remedy persistent problems that plague the system, such as racism and recidivism — a tendency to relapse into criminal behavior.
"Racial disparities did not move," said Schiraldi.
Despite shortcomings, researchers are confident that there are valuable takeaways from the Close to Home initiative. The researchers visit to Wisconsin comes as the state is trying to figure out how to close the two juvenile prisons in northern Wisconsin.
"For the entire history of Wisconsin's juvenile justice system, like much of the rest of the country, you are over-reliant on big distant harmful institutions like Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. You’ve now decided we’re done with that model. And now we want to create a new model," said Schiraldi.
Researchers hope that by sharing New York City’s story, they can offer a roadmap for states like Wisconsin looking to realign their juvenile justice systems.
However, the plans for closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are unclear. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers reportedly plans to put on hold closing the facilities. He’s expected to give more details in the budget he introduces Thursday evening.