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NYC Dept of Juvenile Justice

The Issue

The NYC Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) was established to operate juvenile detention facilities for youth under age 18. In 1998, the agency was preparing to open two new secure detention facilities to replace an old facility. Child advocacy groups, the Legal Aid Society, and community groups were all against DJJ and the new facilities. One community group wanted a new high school on the site. The media drew a negative image of the agency as one that locked up innocent teens.

The Solution

Hired in 1996 as the Director of Public Affairs, Sarina Roffé set about to educate the public and change the DJJ image. She hosted tours of the facilities whereby she could show visitors the services provided for youth. She stressed that the average child coming into detention was in trouble due to a variety of factors (ie socioeconominc, education) that could be addressed in detention. For example, children who were regularly truant would attend school in detention.

Sarina also met with community groups and established a Volunteer for Youth program that was recognized by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a city model for other agencies. In the media, Sarina was able to place many positive stories about the agency and its programs. After six years, the public recognized that DJJ was a well-run agency and its image was improved.

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