The number of juveniles arrested in New York has been on the decline, dropping 9 percent since 2011 in upstate counties.
Officials are taking steps to ensure that the trend continues.
The state recently established eight regional youth justice teams to provide local input into state efforts to reform the juvenile justice system.
The Capital Region team held its inaugural meeting Wednesday at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. The event drew about 40 representatives from local probation departments, law enforcement agencies, school systems and service providers in Albany, Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties.
The hope is the teams will help guide the transformation of the state’s juvenile justice system from a correctional model to a rehabilitative system, with an emphasis on preventing youth crime, keeping children and teenagers out of the system and reducing the number of juveniles in detention, officials said.
“We want to make sure the public is safe, but at the same time we want to do what is best for kids,” said Thomas Andriola, the state’s director of juvenile justice policy and implementation.
The Schenectady County Probation Department is serving as lead agency for the Capital Region team. The teams are being coordinated by the Office of the Governor’s Deputy Secretary for Public Safety and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
In Schenectady County, the number of juveniles arrested each year has declined significantly, from 325 in 2009 to 235 in 2012, a 27 percent drop, according to data provided by the state. In Saratoga County, juvenile arrests have also declined, from 213 in 2009 to 177 in 2012, a 16 percent drop.
“We want to continue that momentum,” said Joseph Mancini, Schenectady County probation director and deputy commissioner for youth and families.
Mancini said programs for at-risk youth can help keep kids out of trouble. By the time youths reach his agency, “it’s intervention,” he said.
Colonie Police Chief Steven Heider, who serves as president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and is also a member of the youth justice team, said the juvenile justice system needs to be reformed.
“It’s dysfunctional and confusing for everybody,” he said.
Heider said previous governors have talked about reform, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the first to put words into action.
“I’m here because I have concerns for our kids,” said Laurence Spring, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, who also attended Wednesday’s meeting. “There are all kinds of behaviors that have become criminalized that maybe need to be responded to therapeutically.”
Another concern, he said, is the disproportionate number of minority youth in the criminal justice system.
Spring said he wants the school system and local agencies to share ideas about how to keep kids in school and teach them to make good decisions. He said research indicates youths who enter the juvenile justice system are less likely to graduate.
“When kids get involved with the criminal justice system, doors close for them,” Spring said.
The regional teams will collect data, share ideas, study best practices and make recommendations about how best to serve youth. Goals include decreasing the number of youths referred to court, addressing the fact that minorities comprise such a large number of the youths in the juvenile justice system and improving access to social services.
“We want to come up with effective ways to divert youth from the system,” said Michael Green, executive deputy commissioner of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Since 2011, juvenile arrests in New York City have declined 22 percent; in the Capital Region, juvenile arrests have dropped 3 percent, according to figures provided by the state.