In light of today’s solemn one-year anniversary of the tragic and brutal murder of Rene Greco at Wyndham Lawn School in Lockport, I am both encouraged by the governor’s plan to revamp the state’s system for housing juvenile offenders, but also dismayed at the total lack of leadership and accountability at the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). Since 2007, OCFS has increasingly lost control and applied failed tactics to evaluating, housing and ensuring the safety of juveniles and staff in the system.
Legislators from both sides of the aisle have called for the resignation of Gladys Carrion, the commissioner of OCFS, who has overseen the deterioration of a department that is charged with accepting and ultimately re-incorporating troubled juveniles back into society. Unfortunately, in light of the tragic and preventable murder of Rene Greco at a state-owned facility, and now with new allegations of social events that turned into “sex parties” at a Hudson Valley detention center, it is abundantly clear that the current leadership and system are unsustainable.
Recently, a report by Assemblyman Lancman on “Employee Safety in the New York State Juvenile System” shows that, in 2007, current OCFS Commissioner Carrion took over responsibilities for improving the state’s juvenile justice system. Due to high recidivism rates by juveniles, an accidental death at a home in Fulton County and high costs, reforms to the system were applied. Unfortunately, these reforms have led to a systematic breakdown in discipline, as staff members have become increasingly scared of retaliation by violent youths or legal repercussions should they apply the mandated restraining mechanisms.
Most troubling, however, is the report’s finding that workers’ compensation incidents that occurred due to “assaults and violent acts by persons” increased by almost 50 percent. Tragically included in that statistic is the murder of Rene Greco at an OCFS-run facility – Wyndham Lawn School in Lockport. All told, my colleague’s report on Ms. Carrion’s tenure as overseer of the juvenile justice system indicates a complete and total malfunction.
Therefore, I join my colleagues in the Legislature and respectfully request that Governor Paterson dismiss Gladys Carrion as commissioner of OCFS and, more importantly, conduct a comprehensive and systemic retooling of the juvenile justice system in New York state. Anyone who believes the current administration or system at OCFS is performing in an acceptable and efficient manner is either intentionally ignoring the facts or not privy to information on recent happenings at state-run juvenile facilities.
On a positive note, I applaud Governor Paterson for spearheading a new oversight office and tighter restrictions on who can be incarcerated within the state system. However, it is regrettable that despite an entire taxpayer-funded state department (OCFS), fully staffed and supposedly knowledgeable in juvenile justice, we are forced to create an entirely new bureaucracy to address significant breakdowns of the current system.
As New York state allocates millions of dollars, countless hours, and a multitude of staff for the detention and education of juvenile offenders, I believe it to be incumbent upon the governor and Legislature to not only protect and discipline the juveniles in the system, but also to protect the integrity of the system by holding the leadership accountable for their policies and management.
Just as a private company would hold their management accountable for poor performance or negligence, New York state must subscribe to the similar notion that Gladys Carrion is wholly responsible for the recent failures that have taken place under her voluntary supervision of the juvenile justice system.
Consequently, I would hope that new leadership and a new policy that focuses on staff safety and tighter restrictions on the juveniles in the system would be implemented. Simply getting rid of the upper management at OCFS will not solve the deep-rooted problems that have led to a spike in violence at facilities.
I propose a bi-partisan, informal commission of knowledgeable stakeholders to pin down a comprehensive new policy direction that ensures staff safety and tighter restrictions on juveniles in the state system. Going forward, I am anxious to see OCFS re-tool, re-staff and re-evaluate their undertaking of the critical and worthwhile goal of disciplining and re-incorporating youthful offenders back into our society.