Budget proposal cuts jobs at Tryon

Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget would eliminate the boys’ limited-security program at the Tryo

Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget would eliminate the boys’ limited-security program at the Tryon Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, cutting 171 full-time jobs at the facility.

State officials could not confirm how many employees would remain at Tryon if the cuts are approved in the state’s final budget. Office of Children and Family Services officials said there were about 159 employees at Tryon in April. OCFS officials said some of the 171 positions to be cut might include vacant positions and employees out on workers’ compensation.

Paterson’s plan would consolidate residential facilities at Annsville and Taberg in Oneida County. Tryon would lose its boys’ limited-security program but would keep its limited- and higher-security girls’ facilities, meaning some employees would remain to staff those operations. The non-secure residential center for girls would be eliminated at the facility in Lansing, Tompkins County. The cuts and consolidations are expected to reduce the system’s vacancy rates from 30 percent to 19 percent while cutting 251 positions statewide.

Jessica Bassett, a press officer at the state Division of Budget, said officials anticipate $2.1 million in savings for 2010-11 just from the cuts at Tryon.

“That’s because there were so many beds at Tryon. The other downsizes, mergers, closings, they all account for fewer beds,” Bassett said.

At Tryon, the boys’ facility currently has 38 of 130 beds filled; the limited-security girls’ facility has 35 of 157 beds filled; and the girls’ secure facility has six of 30 beds filled, according to an official at the Office of Children and Family Services.

The plan to close the Tryon boys’ facility comes on the heels of new guidelines for incarcerating youths recommended by Paterson’s Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice in December. The task force recommended that only juveniles with a history of being a threat to public safety should be locked up. Under those guidelines, only the six girls in Tryon’s girls’ secure facility would qualify to remain at Tryon.

For the past four years, OCFS officials have been trying to transform the juvenile justice system from the costly correctional facility model to a less expensive therapeutic model that doesn’t involve relocating downstate youth to upstate juvenile facilities like Tryon. The total number of children OCFS has living in its facilities has fallen to about 838 from a high of 2,200 in 2000. As the number of children at the facilities fell and the number of staff remained fairly steady because of public employee union contracts, the cost of incarcerating the children rose to more than $200,000 annually per child.

CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz said OCFS has intentionally promoted moving children out of the juvenile justice facilities and into less secure community-based locations in order to justify reducing staff. He said OCFS has used the budget crisis as the final rationale for cutting his union’s workers.

“We anticipated there would be some closures and consolidations in OCFS based on what we believe is the administration’s attempt to use the budget challenges to accelerate movement towards a change in the way OCFS operates,” he said.

State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said he thinks Paterson is making a mistake in shutting down facilities like at Tryon in favor of a community-based approach because it endangers public safety.

“I think that can have terrible social consequences in the community and won’t be effective. I think this is very disappointing and the wrong decision,” Farley said. “I think you do need a secure facility for these people”

Tryon was at the center of a U.S. Justice Department probe, the details of which were released in August, that found that workers there and at the facility in Lansing had routinely used force, causing dozens of serious injuries, including broken bones and teeth. The report found that rank-and-file staff frequently responded to minor disruptive incidents with physical restraints and needed better training in mental health crises.

An OCFS official said Tryon staffers currently account for 25 percent of the total incidents of physical restraint in the state juvenile justice system, despite the facility holding a much lower percentage of the total children incarcerated.

Michael Geraghty, president of CSEA Local 559, which represents Tryon’s employees, did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Categories: Schenectady County

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