Topics: Court Systems
The Vera Institute of Justice is partnering with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA), the New York City Family Court, and Casey Family Programs to conduct an operational review of the abuse and neglect case process flow in the Queens and Bronx family courts. Vera is combining data analyses and findings from interviews and observations to describe how the abuse and neglect cases are processed, identify causes of delay, and develop specific actions that the court and agencies can take to accelerate permanent living arrangements for children.
Sexual assault against people with disabilities is a critical and neglected issue. Although empirical evidence is extremely limited, several studies based on population or convenience samples of sexual assault among people with disabilities report lifetime rates as high as 53 percent. However, few studies have examined criminal justice responses to and help-seeking patterns of diverse sexual assault survivors with disabilities (for example, gender, age, race and ethnicity, and disability type) using rigorous research methods and methods designed for this population. To address this gap, Vera’s Center on Victimization and Safety will conduct a National Institute of Justice-funded study in partnership with a large district attorney’s office and a community-based, non-residential program providing services to people with disabilities, with support from a local rape crisis center.
In an effort to better monitor the services and programs provided to youth after a court’s disposition (sentence), the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) contracted with Vera’s Center on Youth Justice to expand the capacity of the city’s Juvenile Justice Database (JJDB), a resource designed and managed by Vera that draws on data from multiple agencies to track cases from arrest through disposition.
In 2012, the New York City Mayor’s Office launched the nation’s first social impact bond—an innovative return-for-success initiative in which private funding is used to finance public services—to fund the Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE) program, which provides Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) services to adolescents at Rikers Island. Under this model, the funder—the global investment banking, securities, and investment management firm Goldman Sachs—will receive a return on its investment if the number of recidivism bed days—the number of days that people are held in jail custody following their initial release—are reduced by at least 10 percent.
Local jails exist in nearly every town and city in America. While rarely on the radar of most Americans, they are the front door to the formal criminal justice system in a country that holds more people in custody than any other on the planet. Their impact is both far-reaching and profound: in the course of a typical year, there are nearly 12 million jail admissions—almost 20 times the number of annual admissions to state and federal prisons—at great cost to the people involved, their families and communities, and society at large. Through research, publications, and technical assistance to local jurisdictions, Vera aims to foster public debate and policy reform to reduce jail incarceration, repair the damage it causes, and promote safe, healthy communities.
Justice reinvestment is a data-driven approach to corrections policy that seeks to cut spending and reinvest savings in practices that have been empirically shown to improve safety and hold offenders accountable. As part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, Vera provides technical assistance to states seeking to apply the approach to their local prison and supervision systems.
The Legal Orientation Program (LOP) was created to inform immigrant detainees about their rights, immigration court, and the detention process. On behalf of the federal government’s Executive Office of Immigration Review, program staff work with nonprofit legal service agencies to provide the program at 30 detention facilities across the country.
Vera works collaboratively with reformers in China to facilitate justice innovations and policy changes that are rooted in experience, guided by empirical methods, and consistent with international human rights standards. Vera’s work in China, supported by the Ford Foundation, builds on the knowledge and drive of local universities and government partners.
For more than six years, Vera’s New Orleans office has worked to advance practices that achieve equality, fairness, and effectiveness in the administration of justice. To achieve these goals, Vera works with government, residents, and local organizations as a center for data analysis, technical assistance, and project facilitation. Several successful efforts have demonstrated to agency leaders, city government, and other stakeholders that change is not only possible but well within reach.
Vera’s New Orleans Office has collaborated with government, community, and civic organizations to develop and operate the city’s first comprehensive pretrial services system. The demonstration project, launched in 2012 with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and now funded by the City of New Orleans, is integrating good practices into the criminal justice system, with the goal of yielding greater public safety and fairness.
The Vera-administered New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the first public defender program in the country for immigrants facing deportation. NYIFUP, which has received $4.9 million in funding from the New York City Council for the current fiscal year, provides detained indigent immigrants facing deportation at New York’s Varick Street Immigration Court with free, high-quality legal representation. The project, which seeks to keep immigrants with their families and in their communities, will also serve detained New York City residents whose deportation cases are being heard in nearby New Jersey locations.
Vera’s work in the area of prosecutorial discretion helps prosecutors collect and analyze data at critical discretion points in the prosecutorial process, such as initial case screening, charging, and plea offers. Following data collection and an initial analysis, Prosecution and Racial Justice Program (PRJ) staff and prosecutors work together to identify other factors that may be driving case outcomes. PRJ staff then assists prosecutors to create reports of data findings, integrate these findings into management processes, and devise policies that reduce the risk of biased decision making.
Vera’s Center on Youth Justice launched the online Status Offense Reform Center to help jurisdictions rethink and reform their approach to working with youth charged with status offenses. Disobedient but not delinquent, these young people have engaged in behaviors that are prohibited under law only because of their age, such as skipping school, running away, or violating curfew, raising the concern of the adults in their lives. A member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Resource Center Partnership, the center serves as a one-stop shop of information and practical guidance for policymakers and practitioners interested in preventing youth who engage in problematic but noncriminal behavior, such as truancy or running away, from entering the juvenile justice system and providing them with services and supports in the community better suited to meet their needs.
The Guardianship Project provides guardianship services for older adults and people with disabilities in New York City who have been determined by a judge to be unable to care for themselves. Project staff include lawyers, social workers, and bookkeepers, who oversee an array of services—including health care, home care, and money management—and help clients to remain independent and engaged in their communities. Our services currently save the state more than $2.5 million annually in Medicaid costs, and as it grows those savings will increase significantly.
Through the United Nations Rule of Law Indicators Project, Vera seeks to advance the rule of law by providing national authorities, the United Nations, and donor countries with a practical way to identify the strengths of, and challenges to, their nation’s law enforcement agencies, judicial system, and correctional system. The project focuses on developing indicators—statistical references that present an overview of change in a given system—for criminal justice institutions, but does not strive to rank countries.
The Unaccompanied Children Program coordinates a national effort to increase pro bono legal representation for immigrant children in removal (deportation) proceedings without a parent or legal guardian. These children may be fleeing poverty, war, or other dangerous circumstances on their own, or they may have lost contact with an adult along the way. They are detained in federal custody in shelters or detention centers contracted by the Division of Children’s Services (DCS, formerly DUCS), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).