Shutting Upstate Jails for City Kids Has Made a Fiery Bronx Bureaucrat a Host of Enemies

People upstate consider the Bronx's Gladys Carrión Satan incarnate

"The juveniles have been empowered, and the staff has been disempowered!" Young warns the crowd. "[Juveniles] feel like they can attack anytime and there won't be any consequences. Every time a staff member is injured, OCFS immediately calls for a child abuse investigation!"

Many of the statistics in Young's presentation come from Rory Lancman, a Queens Assemblyman (and Democrat) who chairs the Assembly's Subcommittee on Workplace Safety and who published a report on workplace safety under Carrión. Lancman documented a 42 percent increase in assaults on staff since Carrión took over, as well as a million-dollar increase in worker's compensation claims.

But Lancman's statistics only hold so much interest. Young knows that the blemish on Carrión's record that gets the most mileage is the infamous "Winter Social Dance" that happened in December.

"Don't think I'm not gonna get in your face."
Willie Davis
"Don't think I'm not gonna get in your face."

For Carrión's detractors, it's the single most damning piece of evidence that proves her new policies are wrongheaded. Under the idea that inmates should be given greater freedoms, a winter party was organized for four male offenders between the ages of 17 and 20 at the Goshen Secure Center, a maximum-security facility in Orange County. Three were convicted murderers; the fourth was serving time for robbery.

On December 12, Carrión's agency brought four young women, aged 16 to 27, who had been chosen by the young men to the Goshen center. Despite the presence of numerous employees, things got out of hand, with lap dances and more in the way of sexual activity.

Young asked Goshen security officer Tony Collado to tell the crowd about what he'd seen: "I could see the triangle area of her red G-string panties," he says, describing the moment when he found a couple behind a vending machine. "I could see the gentleman was aroused by what the young lady was doing." Then he says he drove the women back to Albany, where he dropped them off on a street corner in a neighborhood that was known for prostitution. (He later learned that one of the young men had mailed a check to one of the women.)

"This testimony is just awful and outrageous!" Assemblyman Hugh Farley says after Collado takes his seat. "Can you believe this is happening at a state facility that is trying to rehabilitate and take care of these youngsters? It's evidence that the commissioner should be removed!" He pauses. "I can't believe this is happening at a secure state facility!"

Then Paul Fiore, a former OCFS youth division aide—the agency does not use the term "guard"—rises to speak. He tells a dramatic story of fighting to restrain a young man out of fear and self-defense. Later, he tells the Voice that he was the education director at the facility for a decade: He restrained kids many times over the years, he said, but never felt unsafe until Carrión arrived and limited the kinds of restraints he could use.

In attendance at the hearing are two middle-aged women, both longtime teachers at Tryon. "I'm seeing boys that are going out when they are just not ready," says Joan Western, a career and finance teacher who stands to lose her job from Carrión's cuts. "And if anyone is in a position to know that, I am. We've watched this boy grow up." The women say they were generally in favor of some of Carrión's new approaches, which encourage children to be treated intensively and closer to home, but Western adds, "These kids are dangerous. They need a secure environment, and they need to be away from the public." The teachers bring up an example of a boy who had just been released the previous week: "When he gets out, I know that he is going to rape somebody," Western says. The women look at each other. "I just know it."

As the hearing comes to a close, Senator Farley can be heard again: "Can you imagine these youngsters? If they were adults, they'd be in a maximum-security facility! With these sex parties—and it goes on and on and on, and its just one situation after another!"

"The commissioner has had an agenda from day one—to dismantle the juvenile justice system in New York," Young tells the Voice. "She's made the system fail deliberately so she can realize her agenda. There's philosophy and ideology going on here."

The more her critics complain, however, Carrión only seems to welcome the negative reports about her facilities. "That's more money for Gladys in Albany," she says in her usual blunt style.

In a way, she's right: The worse her facilities seem to be, the more support she has in closing them. One of the first things she did after being appointed by Spitzer was open the worst facilities to reporters.

And while she can talk like a typical policymaker and lawyer, using the technical language of child welfare policy, she can just as quickly snap back into a tough patter. "You're gonna go after me? Fine—go for it, but don't think I'm not gonna come back, and don't think I'm not gonna get in your face," she says. She flicks her chin up and places her hand on her hip—giving the whole attitude. "If you're gonna go after me, you better prepare yourself, you know, 'cause I don't roll over. I give it as good as I get it."

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