Cuomo's Juvenile Justice Overhaul

Friday, January 07, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer ShowJeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY, discussed Governor Cuomo's plan to reform New York State's juvenile justice system. Travis is chair of the task force Governor Paterson appointed on transforming juvenile prisons, whose 2009 report found serious and widespread problems in the system.

In what was perhaps his most passionate moment during Wednesday’s State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a complete overhaul of the juvenile justice system. The program’s failure is a violation of civil rights, as well as a prime example of the wasteful spending he’ll tackle to reduce the state’s $10 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year, Cuomo said.

I understand the importance of keeping jobs, especially in Upstate New York. I also understand that that does not justify the burden on the tax-payer and the violation of the civil rights of the young person who is in a program that they don’t need, where they are not being treated, hundreds of miles from their home just to save state jobs. An incarceration program is not an employment program. If people need jobs, let’s get them jobs! Don’t put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don’t put other people in juvenile detention facilities to give other people jobs.

Cuomo’s remarks have since been hailed by criminal justice advocates who say his approach is a sign that the governor may push for specific reforms this session. The governor may also be in a position to close many of the prisons his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, opened.

Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has made recommendations for reform in his role as co-chair of the task force Governor Paterson appointed on transforming juvenile justice.

It’s important to note that the state has made a lot of progress over the past four years. The system has already been significantly downsized.

In 2000, there were roughly 2,000 young inmates in the system. As of last week, there were 650 inmates in juvenile detention facilities.

But the system is still bloated, says Travis. Ten of the state’s 25 facilities are less than half-full. In November, Cuomo visited Tryon Center for Boys in Johnston – a facility with 30 state workers and no inmates at all. State law requires 12 months’ notice before a facility is closed, and Cuomo may also be looking to change the law. The visit further brought the problem into the public eye, said Travis.

New Yorkers realize that this is the time to close the deal, this is the time to make sure that this system, which holds our most vulnerable young people is a system that’s worthy of the state and meets our aspirations...and he placed it as a civil rights issue, and I think that’s absolutely right.

Cuomo’s call for reform also follows a proposal made in December by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Roughly 60 percent of the 650 juvenile inmates are from the New York City area, and Bloomberg has called for them to be put in the city’s custody and moved closer to the five boroughs. The cost of their care would be reduced, and having them near their families would help lower recidivism rates. Travis said the proposal is in line with many of the task force’s recommendations.  

Our task force recommended that the young people from New York City and other urban areas of the state be kept close to home. They should be kept close to home so their families can visit them; they should be kept close to home so that when they are released from their facilities they can be released to community-based programs that are more likely to be more helpful to them as reintegrate into the families; they should be kept close to home so that services can be brought in. It doesn't make sense to take a young person from NYC, send him five hours away where his family can’t visit him and expect that that’s going to help him be better off when he comes back.

The state’s expansion of the criminal justice system under Governor Mario Cuomo was a common response to the crime waves of the 1970s, Travis said. But New York State has also recently been “the national leader” in bringing down the size of the adult prison population – a trend which puts the governor in the position of closing many of the facilities his father opened.

As the prison population comes down we’ll have to face this question, which is how do we support the economies of these upstate jurisdictions – the public officials are right when they say we need jobs in our communities – but the governor is also right that it should not be these jobs and we shouldn’t keep a prison population propped up merely to fuel upstate economies.


More in:

Comments [14]

Lee Bartell from Manhattan

We spend over $200K/year to incarcerate someone, and we spend anywhere from $4K to $20K/year to educate someone. What if we reversed these numbers? What if we created so many new jobs in education, and we really educated everyone, we'd end up with creative analytical thinkers, who could go onto college, do real work in real jobs. Imagine that!

Jan. 07 2011 12:13 PM
john from office

TOM, have you ever met one of these kids?? Let them stay at your house please. Hide your daughter, the silver and your wallet. Please go back to the college campus.

Jan. 07 2011 10:59 AM
Calls'em from Here, there, everywhere...

Report to FCC - WNYC does not give context, again.

Report to FTC & NYS AG - WNYC lies about giving context during fundraisers, thereby committing fraud.

Brian - what crimes did these kids commit? Brian - how old are these kids. Under the Bama kids are now up to 26 years old.
Brian - what are the safety concerns of having the kids near population centers. Jails are in towns, prisons are always in the countryside.
Brian - let's close down all those nasty state colleges and universities. How dare they take smart and average kids out of the City and send them away from from their friends and family - just to create jobs upstate.

The cheers were for more state union jobs in NYC for Democrats!!! No jobs for Republicans!

You've gone from the best to being a joke.

Jan. 07 2011 10:55 AM
tom from uws

How about jobs and programs that satisfy real needs?
I'd give this a try: turn two or three of these juvenile facilities into year-round camps, where city kids from all over the state - and rural kids, too - could go for the great experience we know they could have in such an environment. This could include short-term rehab camps for juvenile criminals, for juvenile drug and alcohol abusers, etc, as well as summer camps for arts or nature, and year-round "reward" retreats for kids in arts programs and more from all around the state.
Likewise, one or two of these facilities might be turned into education centers for adults about to leave the prison population and be returned to society: imagine a 30-90 day orientation program for low risk inmates looking forward to release but in need of job counseling, or personal counseling to prevent recidivism.
Other facilities, rather than being mothballed, could provide a sort of rural escape for patients with specific medical needs.
Lay the unused and underused facilities on the table and ask colleges, universities and other institutions around the state for ideas. We could actually be getting something we need from these plants, and the jobs would be good ones, to boot. As far as funding 0 none of these programs would cost $250K per person benefitted..

Jan. 07 2011 10:54 AM
john from office

Hello, they have no family to visit. Dad is gone and mom is busy working to support Jr. There will be no visits from the ideal family unit. If they had a family they wouold not be in Jail.

Also where are you putting these new jails in the upper east side, upper west side??. No, in the neighborhoods being victimized by the out of control youth.

Jan. 07 2011 10:46 AM
bernie from bklyn

hearing mr.travis' comments about compstat just proves he's an ignorant policy wonk who knows nothing about reality on the street. another book-smart intellectual who has no idea how the world works.
the police and their lack of proper crime stat reporting are as worse as the criminals they DO NOT try to catch.

Jan. 07 2011 10:46 AM
John from office

How about black and latino kids not adopting a culture of crime. Embracing the THUG life. It simply leads to jail.

I know I am a racist, but as a latino myself I never saw the inside of a jail. Change the culture, then no prisons. And stop attacking laws made to protect the community, like the Drug laws. It is not ok to sell drugs.

Jan. 07 2011 10:42 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct.

First off lets help stop the reasons for Violent crimes.
No Prohibitions work they create a black market , gangs sell drugs because they are super over priced. People get mugged because the cost is artificial, I was never mugged by an Alcoholic.
Legalize or de criminalize Marijuana to start,
tax it and pay for health care.
Shame on the waste of $ in that way, I think you could go to Harvard for that much.

Jan. 07 2011 10:37 AM
bernie from bklyn

also, the parents of these misguided children need to be held accountable. put them in prison instead, they're responsible. and stop incentivizing baby making through the welfare/social service system. thte projects are filled with women who get pregnant for a living, basically.

Jan. 07 2011 10:37 AM

I agree, incarceration should be a place that rehabilitates prisoners. But if we don't do it for the adult facilities effectively, certainly the juvenile are going to be in worse shape.

Jan. 07 2011 10:37 AM
Sheldon from brooklyn

Well, good for Senator Montgomery.

The juvenile system is no more than a modern slave auction.

Jan. 07 2011 10:36 AM
nyorker from nyc

I believe the prison system is the 2nd largest industry, behind tourism, in the state.

Jan. 07 2011 10:36 AM
bernie from bklyn

also, do you all remember that besides building lots of prisons, cuomo sr. also closed down most psychiatric facilites/hospitals in NY state and thus created and huge wave of homeless sick people wandering the streets and then ending up in those new prisons. i never understood that. what a shame.

Jan. 07 2011 10:34 AM
lucy from Fort Greene, Brooklyn

I hope you give credit to State Senator Velmanette Montgomery who has been working on this issue for years. She should be on the air talking about all her hard work that she has done on juvenile justice and prison reform issues. All of a sudden we are hearing about the issue from Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo, as if the this is a new issue. It is a state disgrace that youths are housed hundreds of miles away from their families and communities at a cost of $200,000 per youth per year. Of course there is a 90% return rate. They are housed upstate with no one overseeing what kind of treatment they are receiving. Senator Montgomery is one of the hardest working most ethical State Senators who gets little credit because she doesn't play the "boys" game of Albany.

Jan. 07 2011 10:30 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About It's A Free Country ®

Archive of It's A Free Country articles and posts. Visit the It's A Free Country Home Page for lots more.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at


Supported by