If you were not paying attention, you would have missed it. Andrew Cuomo was sworn in as New York’s 56th governor on New Year’s Eve during a quiet ceremony with family and friends at the Executive Mansion. The next day, he was formally inaugurated by NYS Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. There were no ostentatious galas celebrating the event. In keeping with the austere state budget. Governor Cuomo’s message maintained the same somber tone.
“In my administration, this is going to be the way it works. When we actually do something and perform and help the people of the State of New York and we make government function, then we are going to have a big party and celebrate, and not before,” Cuomo said during his inauguration speech.
Cuomo spoke of “the suffering that our people are facing” and the state’s budget deficit. His first priority will be “jobs, jobs, jobs, getting the economy running once again. Getting the economy running all across this great state.”
He continued bashing the state legislature with his message of “cleaning up Albany” while asking for a “new partnership.” Cuomo promised he will not govern in a partisan way.” Cuomo acknowledged the challenge – “taking on powerful interests and long-entrenched patterns of behavior.” Cuomo is deeply familiar with the culture in Albany. He worked in his father administration, Governor Mario Cuomo.
The new governor delved more deeply into his agenda during his State of the State Address a few days later. While national economic pressure and the cost of state government are pushing us down one path,” Cuomo called on New Yorkers to look at the state’s assets, its legacy, and the “tenacity and quality of our people.”
Gov. Cuomo paid particular attention to the state’s bloated and ineffective juvenile justice system. “When we think about our current juvenile justice facilities, I believe there are echoes of what we dealt with in Willowbrook,” he said. “You have juvenile justice facilities today where we have young people who are incarcerated in these state programs who are receiving help, assistance, program treatment that has already been proven to be ineffective. Recidivism rate in the 90 percentile. The cost to the taxpayer is exorbitant.”
Explaining what some see as the real reason for the existence of state juvenile facilities, Cuomo said, “For one child over $200,000 per year. The reason we continue to keep these children in these programs that aren’t serving them but are bilking the taxpayers is that we don’t want to lose the state jobs that we would lose if we closed the facilities. I understand, I understand, the importance of keeping jobs. I understand the importance of keeping jobs especially in upstate New York. I also understand that that does not justify the burden on the taxpayer and the violation of civil rights of the young person who is in a program that they don’t need where they’re not being treated hundreds of miles from their home just to save state jobs.”
Cuomo told one fundamental truth. “An incarceration program is not an employment program,”he said. “If people need jobs, let’s get people jobs. Don’t put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don’t put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That’s not what this state is all about and that has to end this session.”
Coumo’s agenda does not sit well with unions representing employees working in juvenile justice upstate. “The way the governor was characterizing it was a gross distortion of reality. We’d like to have a long conversation with him about it,” said Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the 300,000-member Civil Service Employees Association union.
“These are not kids that are easily helped,” said Sherry Halbrook, spokeswoman for the Public Employees Federation, which represents teachers, counselors, doctors, nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists. “These children present a lot of challenges and in some case they’re dangerous,” she said. “They’re dangerous to themselves and in some cases dangerous to others.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg called the State Senate under two years of Democratic control “a disgrace.” He was referring to the same Democrat-controlled Senate that worked with Governor Paterson to enact reforms to the state’s juvenile justice system, including moving rehabilitation services closer to the youth’s homes in NYC. Yet, Bloomberg is now calling for “the city to fully operate its own juvenile system here in the five boroughs.”
Bloomberg’s suggestion was met with a cool, yet cordial response from Gov. Cuomo, who has his own agenda for reform, including closing substantially empty state facilities.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s juvenile justice agenda is in sharp contrast to when his father was governor. Governor Mario Cuomo was responsible for largest expansion of the prison system in the state’s history.