The state Office of Children and Family Services put out a report in 2008 that was considered at the time a call to action. New York was spending between $140,000 and $200,000 annually for each youth incarcerated in a state juvenile detention facility.
Increasing numbers of empty beds resulted from lower juvenile crime rates and a shift in approach to how cases were handled. The high fixed costs were not changing, however, and the state rightfully said it was time to downsize. And it did at first, closing several facilities, including two in Cayuga County.
But a dozen years later, and amid one of the worst state fiscal crises New York has experienced, the efforts to make the system more efficient have failed spectacularly.
According to an investigative news report The Citizen co-published Sunday and the Imprint — an independent, nonprofit daily news publication covering child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and educational issues — New York's per-person annual juvenile lockup costs have soared to nearly $900,000. The next highest state is New Hampshire at $540,000.
A once-shocking 2008 price tag has grown four-fold to almost $900,000 a year for some of those detained, making New York’s youth lockups the most costly in the nation.
For New York, that's a more than four-fold increase in expenses for a system that was supposed to be slimming down.
Unfortunately, the people who should be publicly directly addressing the problem don't seem interested. The Imprint reported that the Office of Children and Family Services, the State of New York Police Juvenile Officers Association and the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association did not respond to questions for its story.
That's not acceptable, especially at a time when New York state is considering massive spending cuts in aid for schools and local governments. We urge our state representatives to dive into this issue and demand answers and action from OCFS.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.