A proposed bill seeking to privatize juvenile detention centers and related programs (under mayoral control) has sent shock waves through Central Brooklyn – but the lawmaker who introduced the bill says it’s much adieu about nothing.
The main thrust of the Assembly bill, introduced last May by Crown Heights Assemblyman Karim Camara seeks to move some 400 troubled teens between the ages of 7-15 from the five boroughs now housed in upstate detention centers back into the city.
Once back in the community, the state’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) would give up oversight of the rehabilitation to the city under mayoral control.
The city in turn will contract out private “placement agencies” that will provide rehabilitation services as detention, education, job training, mentoring and counseling.
However, the wording in the bill allows for the “placement agencies” to include for profit and non-profit organizations – thus privatizing juvenile detention centers.
While Camara introduced the bill, the Bloomberg Administration has reportedly helped draft the wording, which immediately drew the concerns of Fort Greene/Bed-Stuy state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery.
“The bill has language that allows for privatizing justice,” said Montgomery. “The adult prison system in the state is not privatized and we certainly don’t want to see the juvenile system privatized.”
Montgomery said the issues of accountability and oversight are also not dealt with in the bill. The idea of moving troubled teens back closer to the community where they live is good, but the details need to be worked out, she added.
“We hope to meet with the sponsors of the legislation to talk about a moratorium on this movement so that we can be assured of doing the right thing in reforming the juvenile justice system,” she said.
Camara responded that the bill was only a draft to get the ball rolling on the issue and will be reintroduced with different wording at the start of the next legislative session in January.
“The purpose of the bill is to move youth offenders closer to home and have much more services and opportunities for education and remediation closer to New York City,” he said, adding it stemmed from a federal report that was very critical of the state’s juvenile justice system.
“We could send five children to Harvard University for the cost of incarcerating one child,” he said.
Camara said he continues to believe that city kids in need of rehabilitation should be under city jurisdiction and mayoral control, but noted by the time the bill passes there will most likely be another mayor other than Bloomberg.
Before the bill is reintroduced, the wording will go through several changes as the state legislative Black, Latino and Asian Caucus looks at it along with City Council members and state commissioners, he said.
Camara said he expects the wording concerning privatization of the juvenile justice system to be stripped from the next bill introduced on the subject.
“I will not support the privatization of any juvenile facilities,” Camara said. “The facilities should be run by local municipalities or the state. I am one of the biggest opponents of a prison industrial complex that incarcerates children for the profit of others.”