I recently had the pleasure to hear from young people from my Brooklyn Senate District and elsewhere throughout the City who came to Albany to lobby for the closure of six juvenile facilities.
The proposed closures are part of a larger effort advanced earlier in the year by the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCSF) to reform the state’s troubled juvenile justice system. The OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrion claims that these facilities fail to rehabilitate youthful offenders and cost the state an exorbitant amount of money that would be better spent on community-based alternatives to incarceration. Despite the strong support of the Agency’s evidence-based position, the Senate Republican Majority is fighting to keep three of these facilities open.
The three facilities the Senate Republicans want maintained are the 24-bed Auburn Residential Center, that does not house any children; the 25-bed Brace Residential Center, which houses three children; and the 25-bed Great Valley Residential Center, which houses 11 children. The cost to operate them will be $4.2 million in Fiscal Year 2009.
There is no good reason for this action. Youth from the State’s Juvenile Justice Coalition, which is comprised of youth from my Senate District as well as from other boroughs, came to Albany to make their case for closing the underutilized, expensive and ineffective facilities.
- The Auburn, Brace and Great Valley facilities are located in upstate New York yet the majority of children confined in the OCSF jails are from New York City; 86 percent of youth held in OCFS facilities are African American and Latino and 95 percent of the youth in placement are from New York City. Confining children hundreds of miles from their homes makes it difficult for them to keep in contact with their families and to adjust when they return to their communities.
- The few children housed in these non-secure facilities committed nonviolent crimes with misdemeanor charges. They could be more effectively supervised in community-based alternative-to-placement programs. Keeping youth in the community allows them to receive ongoing services -- such as family counseling, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and job readiness -- that help address the reasons the troubled youth became involved in the juvenile justice system in the first place.
-Incarceration in an OCFS facility costs about $150,000 a year per child whereas community-based placement costs about $25,000 a year youth.
I agree with the young constituents who came to visit me in Albany. They are evidence of the value of community placement. Those young people who have been placed in programs receive the kind of nurturing that helps them grow into positive, productive citizens and develop the potential to become future leaders of our state. Community-based programs save lives and money.
Senator Velmanette Montgomery represents parts of north and central Brooklyn. She is the Ranking Democratic Member of the Senate Committee on Social Services, Children & Families.