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With 'Raise the Age' in effect, Harriet Tubman Residential Center in Sennett reopens

With 'Raise the Age' in effect, Harriet Tubman Residential Center in Sennett reopens

  • Updated

After being closed for seven years, the Harriet Tubman Residential Center in Sennett has reopened. 

The facility opened Monday as the state's "Raise the Age" law took effect. As of Oct. 1, 16-year-olds who are charged felonies and misdemeanors won't be placed in adult correctional facilities or jails. Instead, they will be housed in specialized detention facilities. 

The Raise the Age law will extend to 17-year-olds next year. 

Monica Mahaffey, assistant commissioner for communications at the state Office of Children and Family Services, said the Harriet Tubman Residential Center will house up to 25 girls. The agency will begin placing youths at the facility soon, she added. 

The Pine Ridge Road facility will have 98 employees. Forty-nine of the positions have been filled to date, Mahaffey said. The positions include administrators, child care workers, clerks, clinicians and counselors, cooks, maintenance workers, medical staff, recreation staff and teachers. 

Before the Tubman center closed in 2011, it was used to house girls ages 11 to 17. After the state shuttered the facility, there were some ideas for reusing the property. The town of Sennett proposed transforming the site into a community center and park. Victory Sports Medicine in Skaneateles expressed interest in acquiring the property and reopening it as an athletic complex. 

However, both plans never materialized. 

With the property still under state control and the Raise the Age law set to take effect this year, the Office of General Services sought bids in 2017 for a $12 million project to upgrade the facility. The purpose of the project was to reopen the center and use it to house youth offenders. 

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There were concerns about the reopening of the facility. The Montessori School of the Finger Lakes, which is located on Pine Ridge Road near the center, worried about the safety of its students because there wasn't a barrier between the school and the facility. 

Mahaffey said the Office of Children and Family Services met with the Montessori school to discuss their concerns. 

Last year, the agency revealed that the facility's main building and outdoor recreational space will be surrounded by a 12-foot-tall chain link fence. The fence is alarmed and topped with razor wire. Additional security measures include new lighting and the installation of a closed-circuit camera system. 

Paul Ciras, head of school at Montessori, said Thursday the Office of Children and Family Services has been in communication with school officials since the decision to reopen the facility was announced last year. 

One way the agency addressed their concerns, Ciras explained, is with a plan to plant trees that would provide a "visual barrier" between the facility and the school. The visual barrier is the product of a meeting between the agency and school officials. 

"I don't really have a whole lot of concerns about it," Ciras said. "I'm hoping the best for them."

Raise the Age was one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top legislative priorities in 2017. The main purpose of the law is to increase the age of criminal responsibility and remove 16- and 17-year-old offenders from county jails and state prisons. 

Any 16- and 17-year-olds who commit nonviolent offenses will be offered community-based and diversion services, according to the governor's office. Those charged with more serious crimes will be held in secure detention facilities, such as the Harriet Tubman Residential Center in Sennett. 

"By raising the age of criminal responsibility, New York is putting an end to an injustice that falls disproportionately on people of color and once again proving that we are the progressive beacon for the nation," Cuomo said in a statement Monday. "In New York, we will never stop fighting for a more equal and more just society for all." 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


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