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New York Post


Unions v. NY youth

March 22, 2012

By Russell Sykes

Blocking vital juvie-justice fix

Soon after he was elected governor 16 months ago, Andrew Cuomo made a point of publicly touring a state juvenile-detention center in the Mohawk Valley, west of Albany. The Tryon boy’s detention center no longer had any juvenile residents but was staffed at a taxpayer cost of $15 million a year.

Cuomo’s visit to the empty center sent an important and valuable message — New York can’t afford to operate so wastefully. His latest state budget followed up with a solution that is better for taxpayers, for low-risk juvenile offenders and their families and for society as a whole. It would reduce reliance on upstate facilities and house more offenders closer to home, mostly in facilities run by city government.

The governor wants to close or reduce staffing at empty and low-capacity facilities and use the savings to restructure the juvenile-justice system to be more cost-effective and successful. What could make more sense?

Yet the Civil Service Employees Association is out to derail the reform. The state government’s largest union is focused on preserving the jobs of its dues-paying members, rather than on promoting a better juvenile-justice system.

That’s not a surprise — it’s what unions do in their self-interest. More appalling is that the CSEA’s opposition may be gaining some traction in the Legislature, with certain members reportedly looking to delay or water down the reform.

Sorry: This short-sighted effort to preserve some CSEA jobs would be a disservice to taxpayers and New York’s youth alike. Housing juvenile delinquents closer to home is a proven policy that also means significant savings. Sensible reform should trump special interests.

New York spends $266,000 a year per inmate at the existing facilities. Yet research clearly shows that the most effective placements are in community-based facilities — whether nonsecure group homes or small, limited-secure facilities — located fairly close to the young detainee’s community and family.

Simply put, youthful offenders detained closer to home are markedly less likely to become repeat offenders after release. It’s better for these citizens and better for society, as well as for taxpayers.

Good ideas have a way of creating unlikely partnerships. Here, the national Right on Crime initiative, coordinated by the conservative-led Texas Public Policy Foundation, is allied with progressive and centrist juvenile-justice reformers such as Citizens’ Committee for Children, the Legal Aid Society and the Correctional Association of New York.

Texas, Missouri and other states have moved in the direction suggested by Gov. Cuomo. Will CSEA pressure let Texas be more humane than New York?

Recidivism rates go down for youth housed closer to home for many reasons. Proximity allows for more family visitation and participation in treatment, and for better attitudes on the part of youth themselves. It makes it far easier for local volunteers, employers and educational institutions to develop working relationships with the detainees, and provide mentoring and vocational opportunities.

The approach does not coddle these youths, nor does it jeopardize safety, as some claim. It just works better and costs less.

Unfortunately in the final ugly hours of budget horse-trading, the opposition of a single powerful organization like CSEA can delay good ideas. Politicians are adept at pointing to watered-down results as landmark achievements.

We don’t need another round of dysfunctional Albany politics, with union special interests overriding common sense, fiscal prudence and the best interests of at-risk youth.

Original Source:



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