Feds Take Over New York’s Troubled Youth Prisons

Advocates say it's a start, but kids with mental health needs ought to be in treatment, not lock up.

By Naima Ramos-Chapman Jul 16, 2010

This week it was announced that the federal government will take over four of New York state’s most troubled youth detention centers, and the news may be an important step forward in transforming the state’s approaches to juvenile mental health and physical assaults by guards. The [New York Times reported](http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/15/nyregion/15juvenile.html?_r=1) that the agreement puts a total of four facilities–Lansing Residential Center, Louis Gossett, Jr. Residential Center and Tryon Residential’s boys and girls residences–under strict federal watch. But the most promising news is the addition of full staffs of mental health care providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social workers, and limiting the rules that allow for use of force by guards. The changes come after a long history of documented physical abuse by staff and reports of crumbling mental health counseling. As [Michelle Chen reported last year](http://colorlines.com/archives/2009/08/kids_in_custody_and_in_crisis.html), a federal investigation found that staff members at each of the four facilities had used excessive physical force, resulting in concussions, broken bones, and chipped teeth for young inmates. Still, advocates for incarcerated youth think the new plans fall short of tackling the root causes of juvenile crime, especially for young people who could find better treatment outside of prison walls. "The changes will only affect those kids who have mental health needs who are already incarcerated…It doesn’t get to the fact that any of those young people could be safely treated in their communities without ever seeing the inside of a prison cell," Gabrielle Prisco, director of the Juvenile Justice Project at the Correctional Association of New York, [told The Times](http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/15/nyregion/15juvenile.html?_r=1). In June, New York Gov. David Paterson introduced legislation that would reduce the types of crimes that could put young folks behind bars, The Times also reported. The changes may soon be adopted at all 26 juvenile detention centers across the state. *Photo: istock/Aldo Murillo*