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Governor gets high marks on first State of the State, but more needs to be done for communities of color

STATE SENATOR RUTH HASSELL-THOMPSON | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

But there is more to be done. Communities of color throughout the state have been ravaged by this economic recession, with unemployment numbers in some areas of the state approaching 35 percent. We have to begin to tackle underemployment in communities from the West Bronx, where residents work odd jobs to pay bills, to the eastside of Buffalo, where residents can only find work in low-paying jobs at debt collection agencies.

We were delighted to hear the governor, in his first State of the State address, propose a 14 percent increase in distribution of state procurement contracts for MWBEs, up from a paltry 6 percent. It served as a sign that this governor is serious about diversity and understands the needs of an increasingly diverse state. MWBEs will serve as an engine towards economic recovery for communities of color, where many of the firms are based.

We also applaud the governor's efforts to rightsize our juvenile detention facilities. These facilities have largely proven to be ineffective in treating the underlying causes of offenses, such as chemical dependency and mental illness, and many are underutilized. As such, troubled kids in detention learn to become troubled adults.

A fiscal crisis requires strict cost-cutting and creative ideas, and to that extent, we agree with the governor that community-based treatment has always been a cheaper and more effective option. Caucus members have long argued against the practice of warehousing mostly Black and Latino youth in upstate detention facilities as a way to salvage jobs. A horrible reminder of Tryon Residential Center former occupant Darryl Thompson resonates as a clear example of why detention is not always the best option for troubled youth. Fifteen-year-old Darryl lost his life at the hands of youth aides who used force against him in 2006. Youth offenders like Darryl may be able to get the rehabilitation they need from alternative environments that don't resemble Rikers Island--but Darryl will never get that opportunity.

Questions remain on many parts of the governor's agenda, such as, where will the cuts in health care come from, and what do we do about the millions of New Yorkers at risk of losing their homes because of vacancy decontrol? But we look forward in the weeks to come to meeting with the governor to have those questions answered, discuss our legislative priorities and synergize our progressive efforts with his.