WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Reverend Al Sharpton want to put the state out of the juvenile justice business. They say the City has achieved good results with a three-year initiative that has kept delinquents in community programs close to home.
Mayor Bloomberg said Tuesday that it currently costs $62 million for the state house 569 youthful offenders from New York City.
"The price of placement at a limited secure state facility, which is the most common type, is roughly $270,000 per child per year," said Bloomberg. "That's enough to send five students to Harvard."
The mayor said the community-based alternatives cost a fraction of that, between $5,000 to $17,000 per child per year. And Bloomberg said keeping the troubled teens local improves the odds they will get to stay in the City's public schools.
Bloomberg said the upstate lockdowns did not have meaningful academic oppotunties. ''Schools at these upstate facilities are little more than rubber rooms for students," said Bloomberg. "They are not accredited, which means that these kids find the time they have spent in these classrooms for all practical purposes has been wasted."
Reverend Sharpton said families of teen offenders housed upstate struggle to stay in touch with their incarcerated children.
"It is very challenging for many people in our community to afford to go five and six hour rides, sometimes necessitating overnight hotel stays, just to visit some of their youngsters," said Sharpton.
Sharpton and Bloomberg both emphasized that maintaining and even restoring familial ties for at-risk teens was critical.
Bloomberg said the City already has the facilities needed to detain violent youthful offenders and that teens will do better once they're released. Four out of five of the juveniles sent upstate are re-arrested within three years of their release. Officials say initial results for the City's community-based programs are far more promising.
Since 2007, the Bloomberg Administration has worked on much lower-cost, community-based alternatives for eligible youth. Shifting the responsibility permanently from Albany to the City will require legislative action.
During his press comments, Mayor Bloomberg credited state Commissioner Gladys Carrion with the Office of Children and Family Services for moving the state agency in the right direction. In a statement, a spokesperson for Carrion said she had already closed 16 facilities and has another two slated to close in 2011, creating a savings of $65,122,110.
"The shift to community-based programming and placement, however, needs to be a statewide solution," the statement reads.
"While we agree conceptually with New York City’s direction, we are awaiting a detailed plan for an orderly transfer of juvenile placement and care."
The U.S. Department of Justice is currently monitoring four state juvenile facilities. After a DOJ investigation, Washington determined the state was violating the constitutional rights of the incarcerated teens, including the use of excessive force and the failure to provide basic mental health services.
For years, even as the juvenile detention populations in the state facilities declined dramtically, upstate legislators resisted calls for closure because of the potential loss of state jobs at the facilities.