in New York
-- Then
and Now

Excerpts from Juvenile Detention in New York: Then and Now, a display at John Jay College of Criminal Justice by the city Dept. of Juvenile Justice marking its 20th anniversary. It was written and designed by Sarina Roffe, DJJ Director of Public Affairs.

Spofford Juvenile Center

1800-1861: The Beginnings of the Juvenile System

Detention of juveniles in New York City began shortly after the opening of the New York State penitentiary in 1797. Prior to that time, as juvenile crimes were rare, the state preferred to allow parents to deal with the misbehavior of their children - a practice rooted in English common law. Parental authority was the accepted first tenant of youth treatment, and the state was hesitant to assume the failing parent's duties.

DJJ 1800-1861 panel display.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, attitudes towards treatment of crime had changed. The state, it was thought, could be a tool of rehabilitation, rather than simply the arbiter of punishment. . . .

Accordingly, juveniles began to be tried in criminal courts. If imprisonment could help the adult criminal, it would surely assist a youth less practiced in crime. Imprisoning juveniles, however, mixed impressionable youth with adults more practiced in crime. . . .

In the early 19th century, the New York Society for the Prevention of Pauperism began to lobby intensively for a separate juvenile justice institution modeled on the prison system. . . . Their efforts led the New York State Assembly to approve construction of the House of Refuge for delinquent children in 1824. The House was to be operated by the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, which the Assembly incorporated as a subsidiary of the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism.

The House of Refuge opened on January 1, 1825, at the intersection of Broadway and 23rd Streets, then a semi-rural area of Manhattan. For thirty-five years, any child in the state convicted of committing a criminal offense was sent to the House of Refuge in lieu of imprisonment. In 1851, the Children's Aid Society built the New York Juvenile Asylum to house children under the age of 12.

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1861-1916: Juvenile Delinquency

A rising concern as the population growth of the City continued and increased after the Civil War, the problems of juvenile reform became larger and more dynamic. The large numbers of immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe, who increasingly dominated New York's cultural landscape, became a source of tension with their Irish and German predecessors. These immigrants worked longer hours and rented smaller quarters. . . .

DJJ 1861-1916 panel display.

As a result, their children had more opportunities to play, work, and find mischief on the streets. . . . [t]hough it is difficult to demonstrate a growth in juvenile delinquency as a result of New York's changing demographics. . . .

In 1865 the New York State Legislature enacted a bill to control the "disorderly child." The act provided that, upon complaint of a parent or guardian, a magistrate or justice of the peace could "issue a warrant for the apprehension of the offender." If found to be disorderly, the court was required to commit the child to the House of Refuge. Though the Disorderly Child Act hinged on the parental complaint, it represented a move away from parental authority. Under the Act, a child did not need to have committed a crime - "disorderly" conduct was sufficient justification for detention. . . .

In 1875 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed to protect the rights of children. It and other groups like it campaigned for a series of legalreforms in the 1870s and '80s that resulted in a child neglect statute, the parents patriae doctrine (which granted the state the inherent right to assume the custody of children), and a codified assemblage of children's laws. These efforts culminated with the creation of separate children's court system in 1892, which allowed for all cases involving the commitment or trial of children to be heard an determined by a court devoted to juvenile cases.

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1917 - 1957: Defining a Juvenile Justice System

. . . .As immigration into the United States slowed after 1920 with the federal passage of the National Origins Quota Act, the problem of unruly "un-Americanized" youth seemed to decrease. There were, of course, other diversions; world wars and worldwide depression made juvenile detention a secondary consideration. . . .

As the century began, state statute strengthened earlier laws: children's courts were legally strengthened, segregation of children's cases and records were mandated statewide, and conviction of juveniles was limited to misdemeanors except in the case of capital crimes.

DJJ 1917-1957 panel display.

Perhaps the most significant developments in the way juvenile justice was administered stemmed from a pair of changes in the late 1920s. The Children's Court Act of New York City established a new tribunal for children and altered the substantive laws governing youthful behavior. The act took the significant step of merging the categories of criminal activity, disorderly conduct, truancy and desertion under the larger heading of juvenile delinquency. Three years later, in 1927, the state Court of Appeals applied the standards of criminal procedure to delinquency cases.

Changes in conception were accompanied by an expansion of the physical space of detention. In 1928, the Lavenburg Foundation opened the Hanavah Lavenburg Home for Working Girls at 331 East 12th Street. This building became a focus of juvenile detention services in New York City for thirty years. It served as Lavenburg Corner House for Boys and Youth House for Boys in 1944 and 1945, respectively. Once moved from the 12th street facility, delinquent girls were housed at Youth House for Girls on Welfare Island, and then in 1953, Manida Juvenile Center, a 102-bed facility for girls on Manida Avenue in the Bronx in the former Sevilla Mansion.

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1957-1978: The Early Spofford Era

. . . . In 1957, due to overcrowding at East 12th Street, Youth House moved to more spacious facilities. Its new location in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx was comprised of two separate buildings - one for boys and one for girls. Over time, the boys facility became known as Spofford Youth House, and then simply Spofford Juvenile Center; the girls facility was known as Manida Juvenile Center.

DJJ 1957-1978 panel display.

The facilities were at first operated by Youth House Board Incorporated, a non-profit group. . . . Throughout its first twenty years of operation, Spofford was a focus of criticism and controversy. For a variety of reasons-ranging from administrative failures, to staff abuses, to the physical limitations of the facility - it became known as a place that exacerbated the problems of juvenile delinquents. . . Moreover, escapes were alarmingly common; between 1976 and 1978 alone there were 202 escapes.

. . . . Many attempts at reform had already failed. One such effort was the creation of Non-secure Detention in 1971, which allowed residents with less serious offenses to live in a non-restrictive environment. While this helped some, did little to alleviate the problems at Spofford.

During the 1970s the Human Resources Administration and the Department of Probation had both attempted to run Spofford without any marked improvement. In 29 years the building had 27 executive directors. To address these problems, Mayor Edward Koch appointed a commission to examine juvenile justice. The commission recommended that Koch create a Department of Juvenile Justice to run Spofford and the non-secure facilities. In 1979, DJJ was asked to coordinate detention for the city's youth in the hopes that clear and singular responsibility would prevent past problems.

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1979: The Creation of DJJ

In 1978, the New York State Legislature passed the Juvenile Offender Act. Previously, all young offenders were treated as juvenile delinquents. The 1978 legislation created a new category - the Juvenile Offender - who, while charged as an adult, had to be housed with juveniles. The Department of Juvenile Justice was created in this environment; it was expected to not only offer youth a chance for reform, but to concurrently hold them accountable for their actions.

DJJ 1979 panel display.

When the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) was created and given responsibility for the juveniles in detention, the agency was allowed an agency head, the commissioner, and up to two deputy commissioners. Managerial responsibilities were divided into three categories: the operation of Spofford, Non-secure Detention, and administration (which included community-based programs). The Director of Spofford managed the facility on a daily basis. The Administration division was responsible for the agency's budget, financial and programmatic planning, and, eventually, Community Based-Interventions (CBI). The Director of non-secure detention was responsible for the Beach Avenue group home and oversight of independently contracted community-based homes.

. . . . To reverse Spofford's descent, the agency's first commissioner, Paul Strasburg, made safety -- for the public, the staff and the residents -- a priority. At the same time, the agency embraced detention as an opportunity to make a difference in a young person's life, an affirmation of juvenile justice's reform roots. . . .Residents began to receive educational assessments and DJJ began operating its own state approved school, the Carter G. Woodson Academy.

. . . Replacing Spofford with smaller, less institutional facilities in a more accessible location, was an immediate priority.

Commissioners of DJJ: Paul Strasburg (July 1, 1979 -1982), Ellen Schall (1983 - 1989), Rose Washington (1989-1994), José Maldonado (1994-1996), Marta Moczó-Santiago (1996 - 1997), Tino Hernandez (1998- present).

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DJJ's Programmatic Initiatives

As Spofford became orderly and safe under the new agency, focus shifted to the underlying problems of the juveniles in detention. Second Commissioner Ellen Schall, who had a history as an advocate for youth, broadened the agency's focus beyond simple detention beginning in 1983. Her administration adopted a mission statement that made clear DJJ's commitment to helping its residents . . . .

DJJ Programmatics panel display.

. . . . This dedication was reflected in a series of initiatives that transformed the detention experience. Foremost among these was the creation of case management. Under this system, each resident is assigned a case manager with whom he or she meets regularly. . . .

In addition, the agency instituted a Behavior Management Program (BMP) that clearly defined positive and negative behavior for the residents, many of whom came from poorly structured homes. Administered by Juvenile Counselors (the agency's core direct service staff) this program helps residents understand what is expected of them, and offered an opportunity to reward success as well as experience with the consequences of negative behavior. . . .

. . . .Through [its] Aftercare program, DJJ helps youth returning to their communities find the right placements in school, address problems at home, and join counseling programs that can meet their individual needs. This approach has been reinforced at DJJ under the leadership of Commissioner Tino Hernandez. The agency has stressed staff and resident accountability, merged Aftercare with the Reduce Children's Violence Program and expanded the two, and instituted a series of management indicators that help guarantee that detention is safe and efficient.

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The Detention Experience in DJJ

DJJ Detention panel display.

. . . .In secure facilities, like Horizon, Crossroads, and Bridges Juvenile Centers, movement is restricted by both physical door-locks and requirements that residents be accompanied by staff at all times. In Non-Secure facilities, like Beach Avenue and St. Germaine's Lincoln Hall, residents bear the responsibility of greater freedom. In both, residents are regularly searched for contraband.

Typically, residents wake each morning at 5:30 A.M. He or she is given time to shower and eat breakfast before school. . . . After school, residents do their homework and are allowed time for recreation. Although use of this period varies, residents may see a case manager, go to chapel, visit a psychologist, or play sports or video games. Dinner is served at 5:30 and bedtime is typically 9:30.

On the days a resident must go to court, they wake up a half-hour earlier than usual . . . DJJ's Court Services division provides transportation . . . .

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DJJ's Capacity Issues

When DJJ was created it was asked not only to oversee detention, but to spearhead an effortto build four new secure detention facilities -- one in each borough except Staten Island. . . . [W]ork on the new facilities did not begin until 1988, and by then the number had been reduced from four to two.

The buildings were not completed until Tino Hernandez became commissioner in 1998. . . . The cinderblocks and dark hallways of Spofford were replaced with less institutional sheet rock and natural light. . . . In addition, the new facilities were smaller. As planned, the combined capacity of Horizon and Crossroads was 248 (124 per facility), compared to a 289 bed capacity at Spofford.

DJJ Capacity Issues panel display.

However, a surge in the juvenile detention population that began in 1989, as well as a temporary decrease in beds in Non-secure Detention during the 1990s, left the agency searching for room for its residents. To meet the need for space, DJJ leased the Vernon C. Bain Center from the Department of Correction in June 1998. The agency used that facility as a temporary Intake and Admissions Center for boys as well as a processing facility for residents awaiting transfer to state facilities. The lease of the Vernon C. Bain Center (VCBC)allowed the Department to renovate three wings of the Spofford building. In December 1999, DJJ returned to that facility - renamed Bridges Juvenile Center.

Bridges is currently used as an Intake and Admissions facility for both boys and girls, as well as a transfer point for state ready youth. In 1998 and 1999, DJJ also opened six new group homes under contracts with community-based organizations, increasing its non-secure capacity. In total, DJJ now oversees 14 such facilities including two directly operated group homes, Beach Avenue Intake facility for boys in the Bronx and a girls intake facility on West 145th Street in Manhattan.

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History of Juvenile Detention web page for the complete version from which these excerpts were extracted and presented, with permission.
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