New Vera report on juvenile detention risk assessment

New York, NY—A research report released by the Vera Institute of Justice today—a week after New York City closed its controversial Bridges Juvenile Detention Center—suggests that New York City’s detention risk assessment instrument (RAI) has contributed both to reductions in the use of secure detention and lower recidivism rates among juveniles. The RAI is a statistically based tool designed to assist judges in anticipating whether arrested youths are likely to reoffend or fail to appear if allowed to go home prior to their next court date. It was introduced in 2006, along with a range of programs that judges can choose to send youths to in lieu of detaining them.

“Juvenile Detention Reform in New York City: Measuring Risk through Research” is based on a sample of youths arrested in 2008. The sample was drawn from the Juvenile Justice Research Database, which Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) developed in partnership with local officials, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, and Division of Criminal Justice Services to monitor the results of the RAI and alternatives to detention.

The RAI, also a product of a partnership between local officials and CYJ, identifies—based on research evidence—the predicted level of risk associated with individual youths, classifying them as either low risk, mid risk, or high risk. The designation is shared with arraignment judges, who decide whether arrested youths should be detained, released, or released under supervision prior to sentencing.

“Our collaboration with the city was born from a mutual commitment to using data to reexamine and reform the way that the local system treats juveniles," said CYJ’s director, Annie Salsich.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Far fewer low-risk youth (from 24 percent of a pre-implementation sample to 9 percent in a post-implementation sample) were sent to detention at the point of arraignment (first court appearance).  
  • Judges are frequently referring mid-risk youth to ATD programs rather than to detention—leaving more space for those identified as high-risk.  
  • Overall, the rate of re-arrest for youth during the time their cases are pending has decreased by about one-third.
"The RAI gives judges objective data to consider when making detention decisions and the alternatives-to-detention give them options other than detention that are both safe for the community and better for mid-risk kids,” says Salsich. “The results, while preliminary, are very encouraging.”