The state's troubled juvenile justice system has received a damning vote of no confidence by an internal task force created by Governor Paterson and is now calling for a major overhaul, claiming thousands of kids are at stake. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
Guarded juvenile institutions across the state are given the task of
rehabilitating the charges of hundreds of New York's troubled youths and preventing them from recommitting the offenses that landed them inside.
But a new report finds the state facilities are failing the 12 to 15 year olds.
The homes instead are vestiges of a discredited system, with a cost measured not only in thousands of young lives irrevocably damaged, but more than $200,000 per child it takes to hold them.
"New York State is harming its children, wasting money, and endangering its public," the task force concludes in its report. "This cannot continue."
The task force, formed 15 months ago, gained new urgency last summer. At four facilities, the federal justice department found guards routinely used force as their first response, breaking bones and teeth and causing other injuries.
At one facility in upstate Fulton County, a 15-year-old Bronx boy died -- a homicide yielding no criminal charges.
"That death is just emblematic of the problems in the system, where it's a much more coercive, correctional system that relies on violence rather than rehabilitation," said Andrew White of Child Welfare Watch/New School.
One of the biggest problems, the report finds, is a matter of geography. Three quarters of admissions come from New York City. But often times, they are taken far from home, and from the services advocates say they need.
For kids at a Delaware County facility, home was a median distance of 125 miles.
Attempts by the agency to shutter facilities has been difficult, spotlighting an upstate-downstate divide. Group homes are in areas of little other industry. The fight grew so bitter a year ago that the president of the system's biggest union resigned from the task force.
"To simply empty the facilities and put people in community settings without adequate resources and supervision is really a dangerous public safety concern," said Stephen Madarasz of CSEA.
"It is crazy to think that you would hold jobs and economic development as a higher priority than the future of these children," White said.