Employees at Tryon Girls Center are worried about their future and the wellbeing of the troubled girls housed there after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that the juvenile facility will close in less than two months.
Meanwhile, labor unions are unhappy about the short notice they received of the closing or downsizing of several juvenile detention facilities and worried about the impact on upstate New York’s economy.
Cuomo’s 2011-12 executive budget directs $100 million in economic development aid to communities affected by detention facility closures. But Fulton County officials say they’re unsure when and if it will help make up for the loss of Tryon’s 200 employees in August.
“Those are a major employment source for a lot of the small communities,” said Assemblyman Mark Butler, R-Newport, who represents part of Fulton County. “I would say there’s going to be some significant competition for that funding.”
The governor in January proposed significant reform to New York’s juvenile justice system. To achieve reform while shaving state costs, he proposed the reduction of wasteful detention operations and sending youths to lower-cost, community-based programs.
Tryon, which houses female juvenile delinquents and offenders ages 12 to 18, is currently filling only 39 of its 103 beds, according to Susan Steele, assistant director of communications for the state Office of Child and Family Services, the agency that runs the facility.
The region cannot receive aid until the state establishes regional economic development commissions, Butler said. Each commission will identify the needs of the area it represents and request a portion of the allotted $100 million in aid for their respective regions, he said.
“We need to roll up our sleeves in Fulton County and be prepared to identify our economic needs to get some of that funding,” he said.
Area officials suspected early on that Tryon might close, he said, and discussed aid prospects.
“It’s another blow,” Butler said. “We’re trying everything we can to revive the economy, and it’s just another misstep along that path. There’s no putting a good face on this. This is definitely bad news, but I think we have to start thinking where we go from here.”
Union officials are still recovering from what they said seemed like short notice of Tryon’s closure, first announced Wednesday on the OCFS website. Darcy Wells, spokeswoman for the New York State Public Employees Federation, which represents 60 Tryon employees, said the union learned of the closure Wednesday, like everyone else.
Employees knew early on, though, that Tryon was a likely target of Cuomo’s effort to slash state resources after he visited the facility in November. Since then, PEF has fielded calls from employees wondering if they would lose their job.
The state formerly required a 12-month advance notice to any agency that would close or downsize, Wells said, but no longer.
“Sixty days to make this kind of transition is just impossible,” she said. “There’s no plan spelled out. Where are these kids going to go? What’s the plan to further their care? That’s very unsettling for both the kids and the staff.”
The governor’s office did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Current employees are counting down the days until they’re either out of work or transferred to another state job in their field. Longtime area resident Mike Geraghty Jr. wonders how his skills as a youth division aide at Tryon can be used anywhere but at another detention facility.
He has cared for the youth at Tryon for 27 years, and his summer plans now include debating a move from his longtime home or staying and finding another job.
“It’s going to be a travesty to many families in the community,” said Geraghty, who is also president of the local unit of the Civil Service Employment Association, which represents more than 2,000 OCFS employees. “Closing down the facilities that a community has grown up around is just systematic of the influence downstate has on Cuomo.”
Many employees may have to re-evaluate their job qualifications, he said. When layoffs occur, people usually look for a job in a familiar field, but Tryon is unique because its workers are in specialized positions that aren’t necessarily universal, like maintenance or clerical staff, he said.
“The problem is that many good staff have dedicated their lives to working with these kids, and they will no longer be given that opportunity,” Geraghty said. “They will no longer be able to impact the lives of the troubled youth they’ve cared for for years.”
Categories: Schenectady County