Bloomberg Makes a Proposal on Youth Prisons

In: New York Times
By RUSS BUETTNER
Dec 21st 2010

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday that he would ask New York State to turn over control of prisons and services for juvenile offenders to local governments, a move that he said would end the failed and costly practice of shipping troubled young people from New York City to upstate facilities far from their families.

Mr. Bloomberg also said that he planned to pursue changes to state law that would allow the rapid closing of large detention centers that are mostly empty but fully staffed.

He said that keeping children close to home and in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate would help reduce the “entirely unacceptable” recidivism rates: 81 percent of boys in the system return within three years of their release.

“This turnstile kind of in-and-out does not serve anybody,” the mayor said during a news conference at City Hall. “It keeps us less safe than we need to be. It is phenomenally costly, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to help people get their lives back on track.”

The state’s troubled juvenile justice system has been under siege of late.

Last year, a state task force reported that young people battling addiction or mental illness received little counseling and were often abused by violent offenders. In July, the state agreed to place four of its most dangerous youth prisons under federal oversight.

But Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal will most likely face resistance. For upstate lawmakers, the juvenile prisons represent well-paying jobs in struggling areas. The union for most of those workers, the New York State Public Employees Federation, successfully advocated for a change to state law in 2006 that required a year’s notice before facilities could be closed. A union spokeswoman said Tuesday that the union would oppose Mr. Bloomberg’s request for that law to be thrown out.

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