CA Campaign Helps Close Juvenile Prisons
In February, shortly after New York’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) announced its plan to close six juvenile facilities, the CA’s Juvenile Justice Project (JJP) launched a strategic campaign to educate the public about the closures and urge policymakers to support the agency’s plan. Correctly predicting backlash from upstate legislators who wanted to keep the facilities open for the jobs they provided in their districts, the CA sought to prevent the Legislature from restoring funding for the prisons in the state budget.
JJP’s “Empty Beds, Wasted Dollars” campaign, funded by the JEHT Foundation, focused on the plan’s good fiscal sense: the facilities are either mostly or completely empty, and each empty bed costs the state $140,000 to $200,000 per year. OCFS forecasted $16 million in annual savings to taxpayers. With state revenue shortfalls looming, the financial argument for closing the prisons was persuasive. JJP was successful in garnering media attention statewide, including editorials in the New York Times and Albany Times Union questioning the logic of keeping underutilized facilities open at the expense of taxpayers when more effective—and less costly—alternatives are available.
But it was never just about the money the State would save. The closures are part of a broader paradigm shift in the agency’s outlook on juvenile justice. OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrión explained: “Instead of continuing to pour money into this broken system and confining these children to facilities hundreds of miles from their homes, OCFS has aggressively been moving toward more community based alternatives to incarceration where these children can maintain and strengthen connections with their families and the significant adults in their lives.”
The analysis that the juvenile justice system is in need of overhauling, and that investing in community alternatives is the first step, echoes reforms for which the Correctional Association and others have long advocated. A year and a half ago, before new leadership at the agency, few would have expected OFCS to take such a stance. Despite soaring recidivism rates and its disproportionate confinement of youth of color, the old OCFS was loath to acknowledge the need for change. Its administrators certainly had little interest in hearing from reform-minded groups like the CA.
But by January, OCFS’ announcement came as no surprise to the CA, which over the past year has been working closely with agency officials on a range of important juvenile justice reform issues. As the CA’s legislative mandate to monitor and report on state prisons does not extend to juvenile prisons, this degree of cooperation provides access to what has essentially been a closed system. Shutting down underutilized facilities was an important step in the agency’s ambitious redesign, and the CA fully supported the plan.
A few days before the state budget deadline, the CA brought over 50 young people and other advocates to Albany to speak directly with policymakers about the issue. During the subsequent budget negotiations, the closures became a bargaining chip between the Assembly and Senate, and after much wrangling, Governor Paterson and the Legislature restored funding for two of the facilities. While the CA strongly supported closing all six facilities, the closure of four is nevertheless an advance for advocates, for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, and for an agency attempting to remake itself.
The budget battle now over, the CA will turn to supporting the agency’s pledge to reinvest funds in community-based alternative to incarceration programs. With Carrión and OCFS still committed to improving outcomes for troubled youth and willing to collaborate with advocates, there is good reason to remain optimistic.
CA Applauds Commitment to Raise the Age in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address, Laments No Mention of Racism, Violence, and Abuse in NYS Prisons
(January 9, 2016) New York, NY: The Correctional Association of New York roundly applauds the continued commitment of Governor Andrew Cuomo to raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York, ending the prosecution and incarceration of 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. It is now up to the members of both parties in the NYS Legislature to do their duty to make this a reality. In spite of the Governor’s assertion that the "nation looks to NY to find a way up," we actually fall behind 48 other states, along with North Carolina, by continuing to treat children as adults in the criminal legal system. New York must Raise the Age of criminal responsibility this legislative session. Read More
In New York State, 16 and 17-year-olds arrested or detained can be sent to adult prisons and jails. Despite multiple studies that show a teenager’s brain functions are not fully developed, our state insists on charging young people like adults, creating a generation of over-incarcerated youth in New York. We sat down to speak with [...]Read More
Prison Monitoring Reports
Attica Correctional Facility, a 2,000-bed maximum security prison in western New York, continues to operate as a symbolic and real epicenter of state violence and abuse of incarcerated persons in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) state prison system 43 years after the 1971 prison uprising and violent suppression by state authorities. The [...]Read More
Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco, director of the Correctional Association's Juvenile Justice Project, testified before the New York State Legislature on the Governor’s proposed budget for 2013-2014.Read More