New York State Governor David Paterson’s Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice, chaired by Jeremy Travis ’82, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has completed a report on the state juvenile justice system whose troubling findings were the subject of a front-page New York Times article on December 14.

The report, “Charting a New Course: A Blueprint for Transforming Juvenile Justice in New York State,” was released in the wake of an August report by the U.S. Department of Justice that revealed details of excessive force used against incarcerated youths, sometimes resulting in concussions, broken bones, and missing teeth. Such force, the federal report found, was often applied for minor infractions; the Justice Department indicated that, in the absence of reform, it might sue New York State.

“I was not proud of my state when I saw some of these facilities,” Travis told the New York Times. “New York is no longer the leader it once was in the juvenile justice field.”

“New York’s juvenile justice system is failing in its mission to nurture and care for young people in state custody,” the New York State report said. “The state’s punitive, correctional approach has damaged the future prospects of these young people, wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, and violated the fundamental principles of positive youth development.” The high costs of the system, the report pointed out, are accompanied by high recidivism rates. More than half of juveniles sent to detention centers had committed the equivalent of misdemeanors, and only 55 psychologists and clinical social workers—and no psychiatrists—work at the juvenile facilities.

The report’s wide-ranging recommendations include a reduction in the placement of juvenile offenders in corrective institutions, which are predominantly upstate and often far from the youths’ family and other support systems; the use of institutional placement only for those who represent a significant risk to public safety; a correction of the disproportionate incarceration of minority youth; greater investment in education and mental health treatment to prepare juveniles for release; development and expansion of community-based alternatives to institutional placement; improved investigation and handling of abuse allegations; greater support of and investment in detention center staff; and the establishment of an independent oversight body for the juvenile justice system.

Posted on December 15, 2009