Dear Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Cousins and Speaker Heastie:
As a group of 22 organizations serving, representing and advocating for vulnerable youth and those who are justice-involved across New York, we are deeply concerned about the impact of state budget cuts on communities that are suffering in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, and the community trauma of police brutality and racism that the protests of recent weeks have laid bare. Cuts to community-based supports and youth justice programs now threaten vulnerable young people, including Black and Latinx youth and those who are court-involved, and undermine the progress New York has made in juvenile and criminal justice reform this session and over the last few years.
We urge you to take action to reduce risks to youth and families of color by protecting essential services and funding. More specifically, we ask that you protect state resources that support summer programming essential for youth engagement, justice system prevention and diversion programs, alternatives to detention, placement and incarceration programs, re-entry and aftercare services, and community based behavioral health supports for youth and their families.
Black and Latinx youth are overrepresented in New York’s justice system, and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color make them vulnerable–whether in detention or placement where social distancing is nearly impossible, or living in the communities that are hardest hit by the virus. We are particularly concerned about the level of trauma youth are experiencing during a time when they are disconnected from school, family and friends, and community activities. Moreover, COVID-19’s economic fallout directly impacts the communities and families of court-involved youth. State investment in key services that tackle food and economic insecurity, behavioral health needs, and youth development supports are essential now and during the recovery ahead. This includes local primary prevention and safety net programs, as well as resources dedicated to vulnerable youth and those currently court-involved, like the Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program, child welfare preventive services, and funds for local Raise the Age implementation.
In the wake of powerful, ongoing youth-led community protests and in the face of COVID-19 challenges ahead, this is not the time to turn away from essential supports for youth and families.
National experts in child well-being like the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize the risks facing young people now, and have recommended that as “state and local governments work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, actions must be taken to protect the health and well-being of vulnerable youth and promote resilience in justice-involved youth.” This includes “community-based services and supports for youth diverted or released from detention facilities.” In New York, community based services and investments in youth have contributed to our shrinking youth justice system, where we have seen arrests among 16 and 17-year-olds decrease by more than 50% over the last decade. In the wake of powerful, ongoing youth-led community protests and in the face of COVID-19 challenges ahead, this is not the time to turn away from essential supports for youth and families.
We thank you for your leadership during this crisis, and look forward to continued partnership to ensure real community safety and the well-being of New York’s youth.
Brooklyn Defender Services
Center for Community Alternatives
Children’s Defense Fund-NY
Children’s Rights Society, Inc.
Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York
Families Together in New York State
Friends of Island Academy
Girls for Gender Equity
Jails Action Coalition
Justice for Families
Legal Aid Society Juvenile Rights Practice
New York Youth Justice Initiative
Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy
Stephen & May Cavin Leeman Foundation
The Pinkerton Foundation
Trinity Church Wall Street
Westchester Children’s Association