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Juvenile justice reform needed

THE REV. ASSEMBLYMAN KARIM CAMARA | 4/12/2011, 4:44 p.m.

2) Arrange for juveniles to complete sentences closer to their home. The current state system is too large and too costly. The U.S. Department of Justice obtained federal monitoring of four OCFS facilities after determining that New York State had violated the constitutional rights of youth at those facilities. Before the state investigation and monitoring, Commissioner Gladys Carrion, in her short tenure, had already identified and had been working diligently to correct the inadequacies of the system. One way to better manage the system is to give authorities the authority to operate juvenile facilities under state supervision. Adjudicated juvenile delinquents and juvenile offenders can be placed in facilities in the counties that they are from. This is a particular issue in New York City where an overwhelming number of juveniles are placed in facilities far away from their families and their communities. Authorize New York City to manage facilities. Stop using downstate children to drive upstate economies.

3) Make it easier to close prisons that are empty or far underutilized. The Tryon Boys Residential Center is completely empty, yet it employs 30 staff members. This kind of situation is becoming all too common. Even if there are a high number of empty beds or facilities that are close to empty, closure of such facilities face protracted delays. Local counties subsidize those empty beds and current state law requires empty facilities to remain open for at least a year.

Our current system of juvenile justice is an injustice to taxpayers and, more significantly, the children we should be serving. Instead of making society safe or rehabilitating individuals, we are maintaining a prison-industrial complex that uses children as a vehicle for profit to create and maintain jobs for adults. The stories of children who become involved with the criminal justice system are numerous. We have the responsibility to ensure that individuals obey the law and have penalties for those who break them. Yet we also have to give people, juveniles in particular, an opportunity to become productive citizens once they have paid their debt to society. Otherwise we reduce the chances of these same children becoming effective and productive members of society.