Bill Would Enact Reforms to Transform the State’s Juvenile Justice System
Governor David A. Paterson has sent to the Legislature a bill that would implement certain recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice, creating an independent oversight body to address systemic issues within the juvenile justice system and limiting the placement of youth with the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to those cases in which the youth poses a serious risk to his or her community. The bill is part of Governor Paterson’s broader effort to transform the State’s juvenile justice system.
“We have a responsibility to provide the highest level of care to the children in the custody of the State,” Governor Paterson said. “This bill will create a mechanism for ensuring that system-wide issues are evaluated by an independent body and that only youth who have committed certain crimes or who are deemed to be a significant risk to public safety are placed with OCFS, both of which were central recommendations of my Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice. This legislative proposal represents an important step toward improving the quality of residential care and transforming the juvenile justice system.”
Governor’s Program Bill No. 273 will ensure appropriate oversight of the treatment of youth who have been placed in residential programs through the creation of an Independent Office of the Juvenile Justice Advocate. The Independent Office, which would be housed within the Division of Criminal Justice Services, would be charged with conducting independent investigations and reviews and reporting to the Governor and the Legislature on systemic issues affecting youth in residential care. This will include issues such as the quality of care provided to youth in residential programs and the ability of youth to access services across systems. The Office of the Ombudsman, within OCFS, would continue to receive reports from children in residential care and could make referrals to the Independent Office with respect to systemic issues.
In addition, the bill provides that only children who have been convicted of violent felony offenses, sex offenses, or who have been found by a judge to pose a significant risk to public safety, may be placed with OCFS, ensuring that only youth who cannot be appropriately served in their home communities will be placed in OCFS facilities.
Finally, the bill would allow the Department of Civil Service, in consultation with OCFS, to set qualifications for facility directors based upon the characteristics of the facility and the knowledge, skills and abilities required of a director of such a facility. Current law requires that candidates possess two years of experience in appropriate titles in State government. This bill will eliminate the two years’ experience requirement because, while experience in State government is an appropriate factor to be considered, this should be but one of a number of factors that allow for the selection of the most appropriate candidate for the position.
OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrion said: “This bill is another important step in the ongoing transformation of New York State’s juvenile justice system. I applaud the Governor for once again demonstrating his commitment to this critical issue and promoting a multi-faceted approach to juvenile justice reform.”
In September 2008, Governor Paterson formed the Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice to develop and design a strategic blueprint for transforming the juvenile justice system, examine alternatives to institutional placement, assist children’s re-entry into the community, and redefine the conditions of confinement for juveniles across the State. In addition, the Task Force was asked to study ways to improve treatment for juveniles in the areas of mental health and substance abuse, and address the disproportionate number of minority youth in the system. The Governor accepted the final report of the Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice in December 2009.