The CSEA announced Friday that it will withdraw from the labor-management task force aimed at transforming the state’s juvenile justice system in response to Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to eliminate several upstate youth detention facilities and downsize the Tryon Boys Juvenile Rehabilitation Center by 50 beds and 39 positions.
“That’s unfortunate,” State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said in response to the CSEA pullout. “Some of [what Paterson has proposed] is contrary to what the governor had said — he said there would be no layoffs, and yet when there are 39 positions being abolished, that’s kind of different.”
Administration officials have characterized the bed reduction as an effort to “right-size” the Office of Children and Family Services’ juvenile justice system.
Union officials said they had been working with OCFS to transfer from a correction model to what the union called the “so-called sanctuary model,” centered on reducing or eliminating restraints and creating a more therapeutic environment focused on staff building relationships with residents. CSEA officials said the union will no longer work with OCFS to further this policy shift because they feel it has been used as excuse for pushing children out of the juvenile justice system, creating empty beds that now endanger its members’ jobs.
“It is simply impossible for CSEA to continue to work cooperatively with OCFS when they have not been honest with us,” CSEA President Danny Donohue said in a statement. “To go ahead and systematically and intentionally empty out facilities under the guise of a policy shift, and then use that as a reason for closing those very same facilities, is deceptive and underhanded.”
OCFS Director of Communications Edward Borges did not have a comment on Friday about CSEA withdrawing from the task force. On Wednesday, Borges said the total number of children OCFS has living in facilities like Tryon has fallen to about 1,000 from a high of 2,200 eight years ago.
Although the number of children in the system has dropped, powerful union interests have caused staffing levels to be maintained, resulting in an ever-rising cost per child in the system. The state estimates that it costs $140,000 to $200,000 per child per year to fund the current system, which has 500 empty beds across the state.
Borges said the number of children in the system has been reduced because the program has been found to be grossly ineffective at rehabilitating them. Also, the children’s home counties have stopped sending them into the system, because half the cost of housing the children with OCFS is paid by the home county.
“The program has an 80 percent recidivism rate. Eighty percent of these kids get in trouble again within three years, so counties have been creating their own diversion and community-based alternatives to incarceration that cost as little as $15,000 per child and have recidivism rates of 9 to 35 percent,” Borges said. “Counties have realized it’s better to keep these kids at home and cheaper for them. Basically, New York City stopped sending kids to us.”
Farley said he questioned whether there are real savings for downstate counties trying to rehabilitate youth offenders locally.
“What are they going to do with them? Most of these kids are from [New York City], anything you do in the city to house or board or rent is very, very expensive,” said Farley, in whose district the Tryon facility is located.
Farley said he’s not certain whether the Legislature will accept Paterson’s proposals. He said he is in favor of making any necessary cuts as part of the next budget process, not as a midyear adjustment to the current budget.