The New York Way: Part One

CYCJ’s Practice Development Manager, Fiona Dyer, writes about her findings and experiences from a whirlwind visit to The Big Apple to meet with youth and criminal justice practitioners and share knowledge internationally.

Going to New York City for work was a pretty amazing experience. I mean, it’s not every day that you get that opportunity! So I decided to make the most of it and investigate as much as I could, in two short days, about youth justice in NYC and how it differs and compares to our work here in Scotland.

My trip started with a visit to the New York University (NYU) Silver School of Social Work. Meeting with the various lecturers and learning about their research priorities (poverty, throughcare, evidence based programmes, and mental health, to name a few) was an insightful and extremely interesting occasion.

I then visited the McSilver Institute for Policy, Poverty and Research that is part of NYU, to hear about their ‘Step-Up Programme’ that is run in secondary schools. This programme supports vulnerable young people who are at risk of failing their education, by improving their skills in social-emotional development, key life skills and academic achievement. The programme is overseen by social work and run by students and youth workers. It is run in the school and included one-to-one and group work as well as work with the family. This programme did get me thinking how we could do something similar in Scotland as part of our work to improve school inclusion. Watch this space!

I was then given an hour’s free time to explore Greenwich Village, where the university is based. It was a glorious sunny day and straight across from the university is Washington Square Park where people-watching is a must.


Later on in the day I was part of a panel with the charismatic Judge, Michael Corrierio, and Elissa Gelker, Director for the Centre for Court Innovation in Staten Island, as part of a student seminar (which students are bribed to attend by the free pizza on offer!). The seminar was conducted as ‘Scotland vs NYC’, and we discussed the different crimes and crime rates between the two locations, as well as government policies for young people involved in crime, our different criminal and youth justice systems and of course the work social work and partners do to address offending behaviour.

As NY is currently only one of two US states with a low age of criminal responsibility (currently 16 years of age, and lobbying is underway to raise this to 18, in line with the majority of America), there was no surprise that I was asked what the MACR is in Scotland on numerous occasions. I am sure it was in part to do with my Scottish accent, but also though genuine disbelief and shock that I was asked to repeat my answer of ‘eight’ every time this was discussed, or clarify that no I didn’t say 18, I actually said eight.

Now of course this means different things in an American context compared to a Scottish one. Young people in America age 14 and 15 can be sent to adult courts for serious offences, but this means that if sentenced to custody, they also go to adult prisons. But nonetheless, the audience was still shocked that we would prosecute young people from age 12 in adult courts, especially when this is sometimes for relatively minor offences. Where we did shine however, was in the fact that Scotland has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, although we have not implemented all aspects of it to date. Colleagues from NYU and my panel discussion expressed embarrassment that America has refused to sign such a significant agreement. And so, after a lively two hour discussion, my fascinating and eye-opening day at NYU came to an end.

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University of Strathclyde
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