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EDITORIAL: We need humane juvenile justice

Reducing the number of children consigned to abusive residential facilities is a critical step in the transformation of the state's failed juvenile justice system.

Gov. David A. Paterson has sent a bill to the legislature to do exactly that. It would also provide additional oversight of the facilities, some of which, according to disturbing reports from state and federal officials and human rights organizations, have been plagued by the use of inappropriate force and a lack of essential psychiatric treatment.

The legislature should rouse itself to address the dangerous shortcomings of this system for children younger than 18.

Under the bill, only those convicted of a violent felony or sex offense, or who pose a risk to public safety, could be sent into the system. It would also create an independent juvenile justice advocate to investigate issues affecting children who are confined. Passage would be an important step in the effort to remake the system now dominated by costly ineffective jails, into one emphasizing smaller residences and treatment facilities closer to home for the children it serves.

Judges and state officials have already begun moving in that direction. The legislature should ensure that alternative, community-based programs get the resources they need. And it should support efforts to shut down discredited residential facilities. These reforms are too important to troubled children and their families for the usual legislative lethargy. hN