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LI youth detention center slated for closure

Brentwood Residential Center in Dix Hills is a

Brentwood Residential Center in Dix Hills is a center for girls assigned there by family courts. Credit: James Carbone

A Dix Hills detention facility for juvenile delinquents — the only one of its kind on Long Island — is "significantly underutilized" and may be closed later this year as part of state government belt-tightening, officials said.

The Brentwood Residential Center is one of four state-run juvenile justice centers slated for closure in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed 2021-22 budget. The facilities, including centers in upstate Columbia, Goshen and Red Hook, are expected to save $21.8 million annually, plus $14 million in capital costs, officials said.

The governor's budget message said the four centers slated for closure are "chronically underfilled," with residents using only about one-third of their total 142 beds. The 23-bed, girls-only Brentwood facility, on a 40-acre campus with a softball field, running track and picnic area, has an average weekly occupancy rate of 56%, officials said.

State officials said Brentwood's current staff and residents would be relocated, but union leaders and a state lawmaker said the state's plans aren't entirely clear.

"We have no idea," said Mark Kotzin, spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents about 31 workers at the facility. "That presents difficulties for the families of the youth being cared for in these facilities. It also presents hardships for the union members, especially during this pandemic. ... When you’re talking about public services, that means that there are people involved."

The website of the state Office of Children and Family Services, which operates the facilities scheduled for closure, said Brentwood's residents are "adjudicated juvenile delinquents, generally between the ages of 12 and 18," who have been assigned to the facility by state family courts. There the girls attend school, have access to health care and counseling, and receive "job readiness and portfolio development."

Cuomo's budget message said declining arrest rates will allow the state to consolidate the 10 remaining youth detention facilities scattered upstate. The centers provide supervision for the residents and work with their families to prepare them to return home. The state budget must be enacted by April 1.

The nearest state youth detention facilities to Long Island, besides those slated for closure, are in upstate Highland and Claverack.

Some girls at the Brentwood site — which despite its name is located on Commack Road in Dix Hills — may be eligible for release by the time it closes, said Monica Mahaffey, an Office of Children and Family Services spokeswoman. Any girls still remaining may be transferred to another state facility or moved to a "voluntary agency, if appropriate," she said in an email.

Brentwood's staff will be offered positions in other state facilities, Mahaffey said.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James), who represents part of Dix Hills, said he is concerned about the "challenges," such as long travel times, facing families of Brentwood's residents. He said he had been assured that the residents could move to other nearby centers if Brentwood closes.

"I want to make sure that these young women have a home to go to," Mattera said. "I want to make sure they're going to be safe."

Public Employees Federation spokesman Rob Merrill called the decision to close the Brentwood center "shortsighted." The union's 18 members at the facility work as youth counselors, social workers, nurses, teachers and vocational educators, psychologists, dentists and physicians, he said.

"There’s no doubt that closing these facilities is going to dramatically impact the care and the services for some of the state’s most at-risk youth," Merrill said. "These kids require specialized care and services, and taking that away from them at this time frankly seems cruel. There has to be a better way to fund and to provide the resources for these critical services for the youth of New York."

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