“The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights division recent report about the deficiencies within New York’s Juvenile Justice System is unfortunately not surprising, but none the less, it is heart wrenchingly shocking. The past several years, as chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Children and Families, I have been an outspoken advocate for reform of the system.
In December 2006, with my colleague Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, Chairman of the Assembly Codes committee, we held a public hearing on New York’s Juvenile Justice System. From that hearing, along with numerous detention facility site visits, we identified similar concerns raised in the DOJ report—the lack of quality mental health services; quality educational programs, proper staff training for youth developmental Aide (YDA), and lack of effective community based services to keep many youth from returning to a life of delinquent behavior.
With the appointment of Gladys Carrion as Commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) by former Governor Eliot Spitzer, I have a partner for reform. Commissioner Carrion has been vigilant in her efforts to ensure that youth who are removed from their communities because of delinquent behavior, into her care, are not returned worse off than when they were placed in the care of the state.
Since the 2006 public hearing, we have made tremendous investment in reform. We have secured funds to increase the number of mental health staff at detention facilities and implement “rightsizing” of the juvenile justice system with an emphasis on more community based alternatives. To expand upon those investments, I have partnered with Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to hold several policy symposiums this fall on Juvenile Justice Reform. These policy forums will bring experts from across the country to provide sound advice to lawmakers as to what can be done to improve our juvenile justice system.
Although very harsh and critical of a system that is currently being transformed, the DOJ report will be a great catalyst for reform, and provide New York with an opportunity few states are afforded – an opportunity for systemic change.
I will continue to work with Commissioner Carrion, my counterpart in the state senate, Senator Velmanette Montgomery, chair of the Senate Committee on Children and families and Governor Paterson to ensure that we move in the right direction with meaningful reform of our juvenile justice system, but also to promote fiscal incentives that will sustain those reforms.”