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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"Project Zero" Overhauled NYC Teen Offender Rehab

Dr. Clarice Bailey was sent to New York City by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to find out what it’s like inside the city’s program for juvenile justice reform. The Institute had its eye on the Department of Probation initiative called “Project Zero,” which seeks alternative kinds of rehabilitation to locking up young offenders in juvenile jail. Bailey spoke with probation officers, staff at the family courts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and counselors who work one-on-one with families in the system. Then she met the youths.

She recalled what the kids said about the adult staffers assigned to help them: “They’re like family. I’m close to them. They helped me when I got kicked out of my grandma’s house. They made sure I was all right.”

Bailey, who has a doctorate in public administration and policy and has worked closely with youth involved in criminal activity and the justice system, came away impressed. Last month, the Ash Institute announced Project Zero had been selected from a pool of about 1,000 applicants as a finalist for the Annie E. Casey Innovations Award in Children and Family System Reform.

Hope – and statistics

Probation Commissioner Martin Horn started the program in 2003, with “zero” standing for the goal of sending no kids to juvenile correctional facilities outside the city. Instead, they would return home to live with their families, attend school as usual, and participate in intensive therapy sessions aimed at helping them get on the right path from inside their own neighborhoods.

In the year before Project Zero began, 1,300 to 1,500 New York City youths were sent to juvenile facilities, according to Department of Probation (DOP) statistics. In 2004, the Department sent 1,257 juveniles to state correctional facilities, and by 2007, 795 juveniles were admitted. DOP data also show that from 2002 to 2007, the number of city youth incarcerated as a result of their Family Court judgment decreased by 27 percent. The DOP reports that this decline was caused by the Project Zero initiative.

“The administration of juvenile justice in our country is marked by an absence of coherent leadership and is essentially unmanaged. Project Zero represents our resolve to take advantage of that vacuum and change the paradigm in New York from the bottom up,” Horn told the award’s national selection committee at Harvard in June. [Mark Godsey]

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