Gladys Carrion (GSB ’73), commissioner of the New York State Office of Children and Protective Services, acknowledged in an address at the Rose Hill campus that she has angered many people while reforming the state’s dysfunctional juvenile justice system.
But the South Bronx native was unapologetic for her role in closing 18 facilities—many of them upstate—as part of an overhaul that would transform the office from one based on a correctional model to one with a therapeutic model as its foundation.
“It’s been really hard to do some of this work, because these facilities are upstate for a reason; they support local economies,” she said. “That is the only source of employment in some of those economies. So if I don’t send children up there, they don’t have jobs.
“I’ve said—and it upsets people—for the last three and a half years, that I will no longer export New York City children to support upstate economies. I just don’t do that anymore.”
In her speech, Transforming Juvenile Justice: A Community Culture Shift, Carrion explained that closing upstate facilities—some that are six hours from New York City—is necessary to improve a system that featured an 89 percent recidivism rate when she became commissioner.
Of the total population, all of whom are younger than 16, 85 percent are minorities and 95 percent are from New York City. Eighty percent have substance abuse issues and 65 percent suffer from at least one diagnosable mental health disorder. So the farther they are from family and friends who can help them, the worse off they are, she said.
“These children have been failed by every other system—education, mental health and substance abuse programs,” she said.
Carrion’s talk on Nov. 4 was the keynote speech in Fordham’s third annual service-learning program scholar’s luncheon. Housed within the Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice, the program links academia with the community.
Acting as a respondent, Edgar H. Tyson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Service, thanked Carrion for speaking truthfully about a charged issue.
“Rarely have I heard someone speak with such knowledge and understanding about the issues. A lot of people can bring passion, but passion without knowledge makes someone very, very tired, because you rarely get anything done,” he said.
Her comments about linking children’s incarceration to upstate economics also were refreshing, he added.
“That is something that I have never heard a person in a position of power admit, which is that these confinements serve small local economies, and in fact, take juveniles away from where we know they can get help, which is in their communities.”
Carrion admitted that the system she administers still has a long way to go. Even after closing 18 facilities, she said 26 remain. Also, New York is one of a few states that hold children criminally responsible after they turn 16; a fact that she would like to change.
“One of the things that I took away from my time at Fordham was the responsibility I had as an individual to give back,” she said. “I was part of that class that really thought we could change the world, and I think we have. And I’m very proud of that. But I also understand that there is so much more to be done, and I think that’s going to be your responsibility, to build on this.”