Legal Aid Chief Attorney And Juvenile Rights Practice Head Speak Out On The Importance Of The City's Close To Home Initiative
THURSDAY, AUGUST 15, 2013

In an essay published in the New York Law Journal, Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, and Tamara Steckler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Juvenile Rights Practice, supported of the City's "Close to Home" initiative to bring troubled children back to City facilities -- near their families and their supportive communities -- instead of placing them in expensive and failing juvenile detention facilities upstate.

Banks and Steckler noted that "for these young children being close to home means family visits, maintaining school credits and connections, and knowing that we have not thrown them away, we have invested in their futures and we have hopes for their success. For children in trouble, just believing they can succeed can be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. Close to Home was carefully and expertly created to be that lifeline."

Prior to the Close to Home Initiative, The Legal Aid Society had commenced federal court litigation to challenge the placement of children in the upstate juvenile detention facilities where they were subjected to the excessive use of force by facility staff and denied necessary mental health services. The Close To Home initiative is based on national initiatives showing that children have the best opportunity to move forward with their lives when they receive the support and assistance they need in their communities.



Close to Home: A Lifeline
By Steven Banks and Tamara Steckler
New York Law Journal
August 14, 2013

The Legal Aid Society has a demonstrated track record of independently representing low-income New Yorkers and opposing city policies and practices that are harmful to low-income children and adults. At the same time, we have always supported creative city initiatives to prevent and ameliorate problems that are experienced by low-income families and individuals. The city's "Close to Home" initiative to bring troubled children back to city facilities—near their families and their supportive communities—instead of placing them in expensive and failing juvenile detention facilities upstate is such an initiative that should be supported.

Experts in juvenile justice agree that the use of secure detention exposes troubled young people to an environment that more closely resembles adult prisons and jails than the kinds of community and family-based interventions proven to be most effective in addressing abhorrent adolescent conduct. These secure detention facilities have traditionally been indistinguishable from adult prisons and have a well-known history of unspeakable mental and physical injuries to children as young as 11—death, broken arms and noses, disrupted education and deflated spirits, dreams and hopes.

Opinions may vary on the type of detention juveniles who are found to have committed acts of delinquency should be housed in, but there really is no question about what actually works: statistics and other evidence show definitively that community-based programming, close to family, with comprehensive reentry planning that merges seamlessly from detention to release is the only way to ensure that teens in trouble have the best and surest chance to succeed and refrain from further acts of delinquency.

As with major structural reform in any area, there will be initial problems and even tragedy, and our hearts go out to those who have been affected by the recent tragedy allegedly involving a child who left a Close to Home facility. But children failing in the city's new Close to Home facilities are the exception, not the rule. To indict an entire system based on the actions of only a few troubled children or the recent tragedy is short-sighted. And while the issue of children leaving these nonsecure facilities is a serious one, the city has been addressing this issue, lowering the numbers of children absent without leave each month.

The truth about the city's Close to Home reform, which was supported and developed by local and national experts, is that it works. The majority of children served by this well thought out, evidence-based reform have successfully completed the program, returning to their families with services in place that will assist both the child and the family to continue a positive trajectory toward adulthood. But more importantly for these young children being close to home means family visits, maintaining school credits and connections, and knowing that we have not thrown them away, we have invested in their futures and we have hopes for their success. For children in trouble, just believing they can succeed can be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. Close to Home was carefully and expertly created to be that lifeline.

Steven Banks
Tamara Steckler