Netflix’s highly anticipated limited series, Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” is now out. It chronicles the story of the infamous Central Park Five case: how five teenage boys of color from Harlem were wrongly convicted of the rape of a white woman in 1989 and their 25-year fight for justice.
Neighborhood conditions like exposure to violence are unacceptable, and undoubtedly create numerous negative outcomes. However, there are additional factors that consistently show up for youth involved in gun violence that are often not seen as important to stopping gun violence, and thus are overlooked in policy solutions.
This year has been one of the most transformative years in history for New York’s juvenile justice system. Just a month after one of New York’s most groundbreaking juvenile justice reforms, Raise the Age, became a reality, New York City took a wrecking ball to the decades-old Spofford Juvenile Detention Centers in the Bronx.
NEW YORK — It’s a frigid morning on Staten Island’s South Shore, with the temperature struggling to crack 20 degrees as a stiff wind buffets the Eltingville neighborhood. The elementary school students showing up at P.S. 55 are cocooned in puffy jackets, gloves and hats as they jump out of warm cars and onto the sidewalk towing large backpacks, some adorned with the face of Justin Bieber, others with the logo of the New York Giants. Amidst an ongoing school bus strike, it’s a fairly orderly scene on this Tuesday. Parents drive up to the curb, let their children out and move on to the rest of the day. Directing traffic, and gently scolding the occasional parent who pulls a U-turn on Koch Boulevard, is Mike Reilly, a former New York City police lieutenant who is a few days shy of his 40th birthday.
Not since the opening of the first juvenile reform school in 1886 has our nation’s approach to confining delinquent youth experienced such fundamental and widespread change. From California to New York, states are reducing juvenile placements, shuttering facilities and shifting money and kids to county control. If done thoughtfully, it’s a trend that holds much promise. This national realignment movement took a huge step forward on Sept. 1, when New York state’s “Close to Home” law went into effect.
An imperfect film reminds Americans of chilling crime and those wrongfully convicted
It’s often said that the more you know about something, the less you are apt to like a film about it. So let me state up front that I was living in New York City (in a single room occupancy hotel not far from Central Park, in fact — I went running in the park almost every day), in 1989, so I remember the Central Park jogger case quite well. In fact, if you lived in the city at the time, it was almost impossible not to hear about the case, including the controversy over the treatment of the young men arrested and later convicted of this crime. The case also received nationwide coverage, as did the fact that someone else later confessed to the crime, and that the Five’s convictions were overturned in 2002. Apparently most Americans don’t know much about this case, however, and they may be better served than I was by The Central Park Five, a new documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon.
As with most natural disasters, the attention of the media was initially centered on the havoc wrecked by Hurricane Sandy. We were drawn to its most dramatic images – the dangling crane at the construction site of a luxury high-rise in Midtown Manhattan; the New York City building whose façade collapsed, resembling the open side of a dollhouse; the half-submerged roller coaster, all that remained of an amusement park on the Jersey shore; the river of water running through the narrow streets of Hoboken; and the weeping mother who lost two toddlers amidst the flooding on Staten Island. We watched cable news. We texted REDCROSS to 90999. We donated canned goods and batteries. Yet, consistent with human nature, our interest soon faded.
A set of New York City nonprofits are working together to keep Rikers Island juvenile detention center residents from returning, and are using money from investment banker Goldman Sachs to do it. About half of the 16- to 18- year-old males who pass through Rikers Island will return within a year, according to David Butler, who’s heading the team working on the project at nonprofit social research organization MDRC. “Anything we can do to change that is good,” he said. MDRC will oversee the ABLE program, which will be mandatory for the young men at Rikers by the time it is fully rolled out in January 2013 for a four-year run. The Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience is a method of teaching things like personal responsibility, anger management and impulse control with the aim of restructuring the student’s way of thinking. And it could not have been deployed on the Rikers scale, perhaps 3,400 students annually, without the cash Goldman Sachs agreed to provide.