Unions: Cuomo Wrong On Juvenile Prisons

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has cast the state’s juvenile detention system in harsh, almost Dickensian light as a violation of civil rights existing only to satisfy public employee unions.

It was his most fervent passage in last week’s State of the State address, and his New York City minority-liberal base went wild.

Cuomo said the 25 youth prisons where nearly 600 juveniles are incarcerated are ineffective, expensive and kept mainly to preserve jobs. It costs more than $200,000 a year for each juvenile, most far from their downstate homes. Nine out of 10 will later end up back in juvenile custody or prison, he said.

“The reason we continue to keep these children in these programs that aren’t serving them but are bilking the taxpayers is that we don’t want to lose the state jobs that we would lose if we closed the facilities,” Cuomo said.

“Don’t put other people in prison to give some people jobs!” he shouted to the crowd that soon stood applauding.

Under Commissioner Gladys Carrion’s existing policy to place more youths in community programs, 11 detention centers and five groups homes have closed since 2007, cutting 411 staff positions, according to Office of Children and Family Services. Two more will shut in two weeks, with another 251 positions cut in the current fiscal year, OCFS spokeswoman Susan Steele said.

JoAnne Page, president of the nonprofit Fortune Society that provides services to ex-prison inmates, said Cuomo’s right in that the institutions “do human damage in a very large way at very large costs.” Incarcerating a troubled kid with others even more troubled or dangerous increases their chances of “a lifetime trajectory” in the criminal justice system.

Casimiro Torres, 43, now a drug abuse clinician, said he was sent to the upstate Tryon detention center as a teenager for “burglary and stuff like that” and later prison. He said juvenile detention characterized by brutality.

“There was fighting all the time,” he said. “If you weren’t violent, you were just victimized more.”

Marsha Weissman, executive director of the Center for Community Alternatives, says their 25-year-old community diversion program typically lasts six months to a year for 400 juvenile offenders in New York City and 100 in Syracuse each year. At a cost of about $10,000 a year for each offender, the program sees about 75 percent completing the program and a re-arrest rate of about 15 percent. Mental health services are separate.

Unions representing staff counter that incarcerated juveniles, many who already failed in community programs, many with psychological issues and criminal histories and some very violent, get nutrition, medical care, psychological attention and education in the state-run detention centers.

“The way the governor was characterizing it was a gross distortion of reality. We’d like to have a long conversation with him about it,” said Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the 300,000-member Civil Service Employees Association union. “The question is whether they’re being placed in appropriate settings. Renee Greco is dead because they were placed in an inappropriate setting.”

Greco, 24, was supervising troubled teens at a group home in Lockport north of Buffalo when she was bludgeoned to death by two of them in June 2009. Both are now in prison.

“These are not kids that are easily helped,” said Sherry Halbrook, spokeswoman for the Public Employees Federation, which represents teachers, counselors, doctors, nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists. “He really doesn’t understand what we’re talking about here is a continuum of care for young people.”

“These children present a lot of challenges and in some case they’re dangerous,” she said. “They’re dangerous to themselves and in some cases dangerous to others.”

On Wednesday, Cuomo also called for repealing the Legislature’s requirement to provide a year’s notice before closing facilities.

Lawmakers with detention centers or prisons providing jobs in their districts have defended them.

“Any solution must balance the need to reduce state spending with the need to create good jobs,” said Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate Republicans who this year resumed majority control of that chamber.

The detention centers last week held 592 juveniles and had 376 vacant beds, and about 1,900 employees, according to OCFS. A shift in state policy and by probation and New York City officials means judges have been sending fewer young people to detention and more to community programs.

From 2001 to 2010, the state cut its residential capacity for juveniles from 2338 to 1403 beds while use dropped from 99 percent to 66 percent, according to OCFS. The agency estimates $60 million savings from closing sites the past few years.

Four centers were put under federal oversight last year with strict limits on restraining young people after Justice Department investigators found staff caused serious injuries like broken bones while routinely using force to restrain juveniles.

Meanwhile a state commission found top officials and staff at a Hudson Valley center were irresponsible when they authorized then failed to supervise a party for good behavior for four offenders — three murderers and a robber ranging in age from 17 to 20. Some of the offenders had sex with dates at the party. Unions and some legislators faulted Carrion’s policies for that incident.

According to a 13-page analysis from the Cuomo campaign, juveniles should be sent to detention as a public safety issue, solely based on their likelihood to commit new crimes. Too often, custody has been a last resort for judges who did not believe there was a reliable relative or a likelihood youths would get better treatment for drug or psychiatric issues on the outside.

Cuomo’s analysis called for a data-driven analysis of the costs and benefits while critics said it should examine outcomes if the state moves away from detention.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

  • T

    Cuomo is talking about state employees who make 40 thousand and up per year to work “directly with kids”, not people who work at private NFP residential centers. Duh. Residential centers are proven more effective than state run detention centers. Not to mention residential centers do not house juvenile offenders – they house juvenile delinquents and status offenders. The recidivism rate of juvenile offenders placed in state run facilities is around 85%: in other words, 85% of residents at state run detention centers will be re-arrested once they are released.

    You cannot compare state run facilities and residential treatment centers. I have worked at both, and they are completely different. Actually, there are some similarities: violence, inappropriate restraint procedures, and inadequate mental health care run rampant at both.

    Early intervention programs are needed in every county in New York State. These programs need to start in kindergarten. These kids come from generations of neglect, gang violence, abuse of all kinds, etc. Help must start very early, and be intensive and continued throughout adolescence.

    The bottom line is state run facilities do not work if the recidivism rate is 85%. I don’t care if you have all of the good intentions in the world, or if you are a great person and an even better staff member: the system is broken, and it’s not getting fixed. These facilities are dangerous on a good day. Not enough staff due to high turnover and state budget cuts and hiring freezes. We need a different solution to this problem.

  • Real Deal

    Ok lets start with I am not fat but in very good shape. I work 3 jobs in this field of helping rehibilitate children cause the average pay for people who work the closest with these children is about 13.dollars an hour to start here in NY. So most of the people I work with have to work 2 full time jobs to afford to live. Oh I’m sorry guess Sir Cuomo didn’t tell anyone that. I work with kids cause I love it more than anything I could even think of doing. Everyday I work side by side with people who feel the same. I have first hand experianced kids lives change. Children where I work are often treated with the love and care they never got from their family or their community and most definately not Sir Cuomo. Of course there are times kids are misplaced and yes the more violent kids will pick and try and bully the less physical kids. This is up to the staff to be proactive and responsable in modeling and handling any situation. What Sir Cuomo doesn’t tell you is the people who don’t work directly with the kids make his type salary, WHY I don’t know good question someone should ask him. Oh and traing for the people who work the front lines and deal with the violance on a daily basis go through five days of training upon hire and a two day refresher course once a year. Now like any field there will be problems and situations to overcome. Docters make mistakes so do hospitals. Food and cars get recalled. Lawyers fail and sometimes get killers free on a technicality. I don’t think anyone who has never really worked with kids can understand what it is about. Sir Cuomo speaking like he is, is funny to me. I wouldn’t go to a docter and take his advice if the docter didn’t have all the facts like Sir Cuomo or the experience like Sir Cuomo. So why would I listen to Sir Cuomo about helping kids. I offer this. Have Sir Cuomo work with me in all thre of my jobs for my pay for six months and lets see what happens. I bet his whole opinion will change. The first time he asks a child to go to class and that child tells him “suck this and suck that” and that he is going to blanky de blank him then swings at him I’d like to see his response or anyone who makes judgement. How bout cutting the salary of all the people who don’t work first hand with the kids and pay for more training and education improvements. Or how about more resources for families cause this is where it all starts IN THE HOMES. When I get to know the kids then meet thier parents it is almost always the same. The parents are dealing with thier own issues. Also there are community based programs. The facilities I work in are for the kids who couldn’t be helped there and need more attention or sometimes just time away for thier safety and others. So please Comment on what I have said if you are talking from expierence and are looking for the best intrests of the kids and society as a whole.

  • Ebenezer Scrooge

    I say we electricute them and decrease the surplus population. Once a criminal, always a criminal

  • aldous huxley

    The children will never get the real help they need.

    They are now simply a pawn in the giant political chess game. Both sides will use this issue for their own agendas.

    Very sad, but this is the world we live in today.

    • Margie

      Welcome to whats been happening to our country for the last 200, years. England sent thier criminals here and became part of a great country. Why didnt we learn from that. If it costs so much, maybe a military type school would be better and we would have a chance of having great men and women with a good purpose in life and future.

  • GC

    What a political game!! These centers actually help the youth. I have seen it first hand. NYS is such a mess and they try to blame the hard working public employees. We bailed out the banks and this year they took in 44 BILLION DOLLARS in bonuses. UNREAL

  • The Truth

    Andrew is right. Those centers are open only to keep fat lazy upstate people employed at a huge cost. They were featured on TV. The kids have very chance there or rehabilitation. Close them all and open one large one closer to NYC and merge it with the DOC and get them real help.

  • gk

    unions are wrong on this. cuomo is doing the right thing.

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