New York's juvenile jails are dangerous, costly failures in desperate need of a makeover. The system should be transformed from the 28 abusive facilities it is today to one that emphasizes smaller residences, treatment and other services located closer to home for the children held.
The jails are supposed to protect the public and rehabilitate troubled children. They don't. Nine in 10 of those incarcerated are rearrested for new offenses within three years. And according to a string of damning reports from state and federal officials and human rights organizations, jail staffers often use inappropriate force, leaving children with concussions, cracked teeth, broken bones and worse. And while about half of the residents at any given time have mental health or substance abuse problems, treatment is woefully inadequate.
The jails aren't just a failure, they're expensive. It costs $210,000 a year to hold each child, an expense the state and localities share. Of the 891 kids now in the jails, 151 are from Long Island, costing local taxpayers $15.7 million.
Conditions have improved in two years under Gladys Carrión, the Office of Children and Family Services' reform-minded commissioner. But resistance from unions and legislators from districts with the jails have made it a tough slog, and federal officials have threatened to intervene. The State Legislature needs to pick up the pace. And despite the state's budget woes, money saved by closing jails should be redirected to facilities and services for juveniles in their communities. That would give children a real shot at salvaging their young lives. hN