New York lawmakers are poised to approve Cuomo administration plans for transferring 240 juvenile delinquents in state detention to programs or facilities closer to their New York City homes.
Amendments contained in the budget agreement reached by legislative leaders and the governor for the coming fiscal year authorize state payments to city social services for those teens now in five upstate detention centers that are classified as "limited secure" and seven state facilities classified "non-secure," including three in New York City.
The measure, which lawmakers will vote on Friday, authorizes $35.2 million for reimbursements in 2013 and $41.4 million the next year.
Another 130 juvenile delinquents from outside the city will stay in state centers, some of which are expected to close. The 253 juveniles who committed more serious or violent crimes and are now held in the state's four upstate "secure" detention centers will remain there.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it a public policy victory.
"We have been pushing to overhaul the state's juvenile justice system so that our young people can more easily transition back into their communities and productive lives," he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has echoed concerns raised by Democratic state legislators from the city about sending teens far from their families to upstate youth prisons with high recidivism rates. His "Close to Home Initiative" is meant to address that.
"The governor's following 10 years of research and practice that shows what works to reduce re-offending and promote healthy kids and healthy communities," said Elizabeth Glazer, his deputy secretary for public safety. "That's to make sure kids have the right programs at the right time, that those who pose a danger are in locked facilities with appropriate services, and those who are not are close to families, schools and communities that can help them become law-abiding citizens."
Another important provision will require probation officials to use scientifically validated "risk assessment instruments" and provide them to judges who decide where to send youths and will have to explain why they diverge from those findings, Glazer said.
The Civil Service Employees Association, which represents many staff members at the state detention centers, said it will cost the jobs of dedicated and qualified workers. The group also questioned whether it will save money and noted 20 to 30 percent of the juveniles subject to transfer committed violent felonies.
Union President Danny Donohue questioned whether sending them back to the neighborhoods where they got in trouble in the first place without any evidence that they will be properly supervised.
The program applies to youths under 16 designated delinquents by family courts after committing a misdemeanor or felony. City social services officials will have to submit plans to the state Office of Children and Family Services, which will evaluate availability of education, medical and mental health services, drug treatment and community supervision.
OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrion has closed 22 state detention centers and group homes since 2007, while pushing community-based alternatives. The state institutions' population has dropped over the past 12 years from 2,313 to 636, according to OCFS.
Revisions in the budget agreement will hold off changes for "limited secure" facilities until after April 1, 2013, and require additional public hearings on that. Authority for closing state detention centers, subject to 60-day notice, will expire a year later.
William Baccaglini Jr., executive director of The New York Foundling, said city officials requested bids several weeks ago from social service organizations to take the non-secure placements. Glazer said those transfers could start Sept. 1.
Baccaglini, a former OCFS official, estimated the state cost per detained youth at about $180,000 a year and said his group can handle the new placements for about half the cost, partly because there's no overhead from a big bureaucracy and he can more easily negotiate work rules with staff. He is bidding to establish one 24-bed facility for the city.