By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
For decades, this state's rural counties could count on one cash crop never failing: a steady harvest of New York City's convicted criminals being sent north for incarceration. Many local upstate economies are built on reaping that rich yield, which is particularly abundant in its brown and black varieties.
Governor Nelson Rockefeller did his part, providing the fertilizer that assured there would be no shortage of new shoots springing from the city's soil. His notorious drug laws are synonymous with an overreaction to drug use; in his 1973 State of the State speech, he argued for life sentences for juvenile drug offenders.
But if Rockefeller plowed new ground, it was Mario Cuomo who made sure upstate counties were ready for whatever the city could gather: During the time he was governor, from 1983 to 1994, the state added more prison beds than all the previous governors in the state's history, combined. Cuomo built 29 correctional facilities—28 in Republican districts—and more than a dozen juvenile facilities as well. Overall, the state's prison population increased fivefold, and the juvenile population had its own steady increase.
Over time, two things became apparent: First, that conservative, upstate Senate districts were becoming as addicted to the jobs and money that come with prisons as any heroin junkie; second, that just about the worst way to deal with juvenile crime in New York City was to send young offenders to the dangerous hellholes that pass for juvenile facilities upstate.
Gradually, over the past decade, the city began sending fewer kids to places like the Tryon School for Boys, which was renamed the Tryon Residential Center to help rid itself of the stink of incidents like the 2006 death of inmate Darryl Thompson, who stopped breathing with two prison guards holding him down in handcuffs.
But even with fewer inmates going north, there was simply too much history of upstate's addiction to downstate miscreants for any major change to occur. Young offenders were still being sent upstate so that facilities built by Mario Cuomo could continue to justify their large, well-paid staffs.
And then suddenly, three years ago, like a plague of locusts, something showed up to put the entire cash crop in danger.
You may not have heard of her—people upstate, however, consider her Satan incarnate.
She's the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), a $4 billion agency that oversees foster care, adoption, and juvenile delinquency in New York State. Horrified by what she found in facilities upstate, Carrión set out to close down the most egregious juvenile centers and rid all facilities of the worst kinds of practices for physically restraining kids.
Tryon is a good example. Long known as the worst facility in the state and a place that only turned troubled kids into even worse adults, Tryon was successfully slated for closure by Carrión; it will close permanently in January.
Today, Tryon Boys has no more inmates, but as the Voice first reported and The New York Times later confirmed, Tryon's last few inmates were being watched by 129 employees, who still work at the empty facility.
Locked into union contracts that tie her hands, Carrión has no choice but to keep on a full complement of employees at Tryon until a year after being given notice that the facility will shut down (half have now taken voluntary reassignment).
She wants to shut down many others. In fact, what makes her so unusual is that it's hard to remember any government official who so ardently wanted to put herself out of a job: She is systematically dismantling significant parts of the state agency that she oversees.
And for the upstate districts that have, for so many years, relied on the hellish system that preceded Carrión's tenure, she must be stopped at all costs.
On a May morning, Gladys Carrión, 57, shows up at Midtown's sleek Pfizer building to deliver a speech. She is wearing a business suit and elements of her typical look—light turquoise eyeliner, and bright red star-shaped earrings the size of quarters. She is so small, at only about five feet, that she just barely peeks over the podium.
After thanking former District Attorney candidate Richard Aborn for the speaking invitation, she gets right into trashing her own agency: "In New York State, the juvenile justice system is broken—by any standard." She then launches into a litany of grim statistics that she brings up just about everywhere she goes—about how 80 percent of young people in custody are substance abusers, 65 percent have mental health disorders, and 89 percent of boys will be rearrested for a felony, many within six months of being released.
She grows visibly upset, as if she herself were hearing these statistics for the first time: "Some of my facilities are toxic for children!"
She sounds like a typical anti-government activist, railing at the system. But then you remind yourself: She is the system.
Even before Carrión arrived to take over OCFS, it was obvious that the state's juvenile justice system was in serious trouble: Recidivism rates had hovered around 85 percent for a decade, the agency didn't have a single full-time psychiatrist, and the federal government had announced it was launching an investigation into child abuse in four troubled facilities (including Tryon).
There was a growing consensus that the system needed a fix, but Carrión has gone farther than anyone expected. She has closed 14 facilities, which she sarcastically calls "jails." She has banned staff from using most forms of physical restraint against children. She has rerouted youthful offenders into cheaper, therapeutic programs that are located close to home (which, for most, means New York City). In three years, she has managed to cut by more than half the number of children who get placed in state custody.
In her speech, she now discusses Tryon, talking about the staff members watching almost no kids. "And they're doing overtime! And they're claiming worker's comp!" she says.
"I don't know what they do all day," she later tells the Voice. "They sit around and paint the walls." Even with the low number of residents, she says, the facility still ranks highest for physically restraining children—many of which the U.S. Department of Justice has called unconstitutional because they lead to serious injuries.
And she then makes the kind of damning charge that drives state employee union officials into a rage: She says that research and video evidence proves that workers at places like Tryon provoke kids into acting out so they can restrain them improperly and injure themselves on the job.
With that kind of staff, she explains, it's simply better to close a facility: "Quite frankly, I just don't think I can change the culture there. It's a toxic environment. Some staff have been there for 25 years. They're all related to one another. It's a company town!"
In her public talks, she's just as blunt: "I am not running the Economic Development Agency for upstate New York," she says. "I will no longer export black and brown kids to finance the upstate economy."
In the course of one speech, Carrión not only sang the praises of children in her care, but also managed to insinuate that her employees are intractable and violent bigots. Even some of Carrión's supporters cringed.
One person at the talk told the Voice, "I don't know how you go back and hold a staff meeting after that."
But Carrión has already developed a way to deal with that. For places that need closure, she sends in associate commissioner Anthony Hough. A career agency man who was around when it was still called the Division for Youth, he's the one who tells state workers they've lost their jobs, and it's a role he says is necessary.
"In the beginning, [Carrión] sat us down and said, 'Look, we've only got four years in this thing,' " Hough says. "And there's a large portion of people in the agency—the majority—who believe in what she's doing. There are about 20 percent who are biding their time, privately saying, 'Well, Gladys might not be around in four years.' And there's another 20 percent who aren't going to get it, no matter what you do. And those are the folks we just need to move out. We need to find them jobs in other places."
Privately, though, some of Carrión's supporters wonder if she's assuring her own destruction. While she currently has Governor David Paterson's support (she was appointed by Eliot Spitzer), his replacement—probably Andrew Cuomo—is in deep with the state's unions. It's hard to see him continuing with someone so loathed by union leaders.
But even on that point, Carrión is flip: "Sure, I could say, if I could stay here longer, I could get more done. But then you start making safe choices," she says. "You know, I'm not courting favors here. I'm not independently wealthy. I need a job, but, you know, I can find work. I'm not dependent on a union for work. I'm not dependent on a politician for work. . . . Yeah, it would be nice if I had more time. I could play it safe, you know, lay low, not push to close any more facilities, be more conciliatory. But, you know, that never crossed my mind."
As for her legions of critics, she says, "They have no moral fiber anyway, so who cares?"
On a Wednesday morning in a large hearing room in the Capitol building in Albany, a Republican state senator from several Western counties south of Rochester, Catharine Young, is standing before a giant PowerPoint slide entitled, "The Results of the Carrión Regime."
A former journalist, Young is in a district so Democrat-proof, she received 78 percent of the vote in the 2008 election. She is flanked by a few other upstate senators, as well as Martin Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn. The audience is made up of staff members from juvenile facilities, legislative staffers, and some journalists.
Young chairs the nine-member Senate Republican Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform, which she says she formed because Carrión's policies of releasing young offenders early are leading to increased violence.
At Tryon Girls Residential Center, there has been an estimated 300 percent increase in injuries from inmate-on-inmate violence from 2007–2008. Gossett Jr. Residential Center had 36 incidents in the first five months of 2008.
"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.
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."
That's the South Bronx speaking, where Carrión grew up and attended Morris High School. At Morris, she says, the staff "picked the 100 kids they were going to invest in." She was one of them—"And the rest, they left on their own." Her mother was a seamstress in the Garment District, and her father was an elevator operator at the Federal Courthouse in Foley Square. The day she got sworn in as an attorney, Carrión rode her father's elevator in the courthouse, and cried. She went on to become a legal services attorney specializing in family law, a director of a group home for homeless girls, and vice president of the United Way (NYC chapter).
Carrión hadn't spent much time outside of the Bronx before attending NYU Law School. She had done her undergraduate work at Fordham University, which was largely Italian and Irish then, and she lobbied for the creation of a Puerto Rican Studies program there. She started a Latino students group, and called it "El Grito" ("The Scream"). Like another South Bronx Latina, Sonia Sotomayor, Carrión was one of a handful of women in her law school classes in the mid-'70s, and she participated in the burgeoning identity politics movements of the decade.
At NYU, Carrión joined and eventually led the Puerto Rican Law Students Association. She also developed bonds that she maintains to this day, mostly with students whose backgrounds were similar to hers. She met her husband, Hector Soto, a Puerto Rican from Queens who went on to become the first head of the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board. And she became best friends with three female classmates who were also Puerto Rican. For the past 15 years, the four women have taken an annual foreign vacation together—no husbands allowed. They call themselves the "Lawtinas"—in 15 years, they've visited more than a dozen Spanish-speaking countries, like Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and Peru.
But even with that curiosity about the rest of the world, Carrión was certain of two things: that she'd stay in New York, and that she'd never become a corporate lawyer. "There was no way for my parents to go through so much for me to go to law school so that I could go to work for a corporate law firm and spend my life making money for some corporation," she says. "No way."
Carrión, who still lives in the Bronx, says that the families she deals with in OCFS are the same families she knew in her childhood. "I don't know if it's my sensitivity, but my sense of urgency—I understand the reality of families. A lot of time when we come in, we end up doing more harm than good. When I go to visit facilities, it literally broke my heart to go in and look at these kids that are all black and brown. And I'm thinking, these could be my kids. They look like my son. They look like my nephew. There are all these black and brown faces, and I can't stand it."
Once a month, Carrión meets privately with children in foster care and in custody. She has her staff drive them down to New York City from facilities all across the state. Besides her director of child welfare, she doesn't let any other adults in the room. "I make the staff take them out of jail and bring them to me," she says, obviously taking some delight in the anti-euphemistic word "jail."
And what do the kids talk about? "They say it's boring," Carrión says. "One of the girls is telling me, 'There's nothing going on here!' School is boring. They want yoga, they want dance classes, they want arts and crafts."
They want yoga?
"Of course they want yoga!" she says. "They want to be engaged!"
Reversing years of neglect in the state's juvenile justice system has not only meant closing bad facilities, shortening custody periods, and banning most physical restraints. There was also a significant problem with children whose parents or foster families abandoned them while they were in state custody. When children completed their sentences, they had no home to return to—they were effectively homeless.
Sometimes, OCFS would continue to incarcerate young people after their sentences had ended, merely because they didn't have anywhere else to put them. Carrión announced an end to that practice. (It still happens, but far less often, according to a recent government report.) "I refuse to incarcerate kids because they are homeless," she tells the Voice. She also ended a practice of releasing these children into homeless shelters. "They would just drop them off at a shelter," she says. "I don't want to hear it—that you can't find them a home. There was no discussion about it."
Carrión also restored the office of the ombudsman, which was completely dysfunctional when she arrived, according to the State Inspector General—inmates can now call a hotline and speak directly to an ombudsman whenever they feel abused (which infuriates staff employees, who accuse the children of manipulating the ombudsman). She installed video cameras in the facilities so she could catch every act of physical restraint on tape (naturally, these changes have caused a spike in the number of child abuse investigations). She also hired 37 mental health professionals (including a full-time psychiatrist) and has gradually been putting employees through intense retraining in trauma therapy.
Carrión also visits facilities. After her first trip to Tryon, she told a reporter that she sat in her car in the parking lot and cried. (She refuses a state-issued driver, preferring to drive her own car.) Paul Fiore, who gave her the tour, remembers it this way: "She came in with her entourage. They picked a young child to give the tour—maybe, he was 12. And during the tour, she only spoke to the child, asking him dozens of questions about his life. She didn't even talk to me, not once. She didn't even look at me once in the eye."
Carrión also began taking other people on tours of the facilities—not just the media, but people like Joel Klein, the head of the city's Department of Education. She wanted to show Klein how bad her schools were, with the hopes that he would take them over and accredit them. "I wanted him to review the educational program. Our teachers don't get oversight, or support—there isn't enough special ed. The different systems need to assume responsibility for these kids. They need to partner with me in educating them. I always say, who made me the education queen? Same with mental health. You need to partner with me—because I'm essentially running a mental health institution here. We have experts. And what about substance abuse issues? Hello! There's a substance abuse agency in the state, and it ain't me! I see my role as commissioner is to be the cheerleader for more people to take responsibility for these kids."
Despite the grousing upstate, Carrión has many fans in the city. Vincent Schiraldi, the Mike Bloomberg–appointed commissioner of the city's Department of Probation, says there's no question that Carrión has made a major difference, even if it has put a target on her back. "I think that her biggest accomplishment is that she's closed 14 facilities that were pretty abusive places for kids to go to. She inherited a benign and sort of a stupid model," Schiraldi says. "No one could imagine sending a kid from the South Bronx to the Adirondacks, and a year later and $150,000 poorer, that was a move that was somehow going to improve public safety?
"I think it's difficult for people to grasp how heroic the closure of those facilities really is. Bar none, that's her biggest accomplishment. With the union battle, you know, in these facilities, unfortunately, they are some of the best blue-collar jobs around. It's a general failure of the state that they haven't been able to capture the savings from shutting down those facilities," Schiraldi says.
In September 2008, Governor Paterson ordered a task force of experts to look into the system, which he said had reached a state of crisis. Last summer, the federal Department of Justice announced the results of its own investigation, which found that young people in the four facilities it examined were suffering "alarming numbers" of injuries, including broken bones: "Anything from stealing an extra cookie to initiating a fist fight may result in a full-prone restraint with handcuffs," the report found. In one case, a girl who had threatened to urinate on the floor suffered a "concussion, vomited, urinated, and defecated" when she was thrown on the floor by a 300-pound staff member. (A facility investigator had ruled the use of force was not excessive.) At the end of last year, the governor's task force made its report of the entire system, and it was equally scathing: It concluded that kids were getting sent upstate not because they posed a risk, but because their communities lacked the resources and programs that could have treated them closer to home.
The task force report gave Carrión the ammunition she needed: She took it to the judges of the state's family courts and asked them to stop sending kids to her facilities unless they posed an immediate danger to society. (The head family court judge complied.)
Instead of complaining that federal and state investigators had maligned her agency, Carrión said that, actually, things were even worse than the public knew, and she asked the courts to shut off the pipeline of kids that for so long has been a source of jobs and revenue for upstate counties.
Supervising Family Court Judge Edwina Richardson-Mendelson tells the Voice that many of her colleagues were surprised by the harshness of the official reports. "It is the judges who have the ultimate responsibility for placing these children in these settings, settings where they will be free from harm, receive appropriate education and treatment," she says. "The judges didn't know what actually goes on in these facilities." Other judges tell a different story: They tell the Voice they were aware that the upstate facilities could be harmful for children—they lack proper mental health services, the educational quality is terrible, and many of the inmates put there have committed nonviolent offenses.
But Queens Family Court Judge Fran Lubow says there's a serious lack of better options. There aren't enough resources in the city tailored to the specific and wide-ranging problems of child offenders: mental health services, substance abuse programs, sex offense therapy, and therapy that involves not just the child but the parents, too. Research has shown that these kinds of tailored programs—especially ones that work with parents—lead to much better outcomes. But the city has been slow to develop such programs with so much money headed upstate.
As much success as Carrión has had branding upstate facilities as inadequate and closing them, she's had to struggle to create alternatives closer to home.
In Brooklyn, Carrión has built a facility that is a model of what she wants the rest of the system to look like. Instead of looking like a prison, it's just a house, indistinguishable from those around it. Even the neighbors aren't aware that some of the kids housed there have committed violent felonies, and would probably still be locked up somewhere upstate were it not for Carrión.
These particular subjects have been removed from other facilities near the end of their sentences, and are receiving intensive therapy closer to home before being released. Some of them wear GPS-monitored ankle bracelets. Their parents come by to get therapy, too. The kids also get paid $7 an hour over the summer to learn and apply home-renovation skills—in this case, to renovate the house itself.
Under a popular Carrión rubric known as "The Sanctuary Model" the residents are encouraged to "call a circle" every time they feel angry or under threat. (The Sanctuary Model is becoming popular around the country because of a similar model's success in Missouri, where recidivism was lowered to a surprising 10 percent.)
For example, the kids are working to remodel the house. Someone flicks paint on someone's iPod, and a fight is imminent. Someone calls a circle to de-escalate the situation. When that happens, everyone in the program has to stop what they are doing, and sit around and talk about how they feel about what happened, and discuss how their past experiences contributed to the way they reacted. According to director Angela Coper, there are good days, but on bad days, the kids and the program staff might call up to 10 circles a day. It is tedious, she agrees—and you don't see results right away. Sometimes, it just doesn't work out, and they send kids home or back to incarceration.
Outside of the house, the Voice talked to some young people as they were packing up to leave for the day. One girl, who was 16 and wearing a GPS ankle bracelet, had just been in Tryon, but did not specify why. Without being prompted, she brought up the use of restraints: "In Tryon, they restrained my sister so hard that she doo-dooed in her pants—right there on the floor."
"That's gross! Don't say that," says another girl sitting beside her. That young woman, also 16, was wearing a baseball cap and a colorful canvas belt—and she had left the price tag on both. She had also been in Tryon. She says she was sent there for grand larceny, racking up $13,000 on a credit card at Bloomingdale's and then running away. When she got out, her mother no longer wanted her, so she was staying at a cousin's house. "Ooh, I hated Tryon," she said. "I was talking to the ombudsman every day. The ombudsman, she good. She got me outta there." In the program, the girl wearing the baseball cap was learning to renovate floors. She had just been promoted to team manager. It was still kind of boring, she said, but she liked it. It beat being in Tryon.
Although Carrión calculates that she has saved the state about $37 million by closing so many facilities (it costs around $215,000 a year to keep a child in such a place), she can't directly recover that money to put into programs in the city that tend to cost a lot less—$5,000 to $15,000 per child. And even though Governor Paterson's own task force recommended putting more money into local alternatives to upstate incarceration, his latest budget slashed those funds to $3 million, from $13 million the year before.
Carrión has been successful in cutting down the number of New York City kids that are shipped upstate. Last month, only 683 remained in custody.
But fewer offenders being housed upstate means more to handle down here, or in less restrictive facilities. And that, say her detractors, is a disaster waiting to happen.
Just look at Renee Greco, say Carrión's critics. In June 2009, Greco, a staff member at an upstate group home for troubled youths, was attacked by two male residents—one a former inmate at Tryon. The teens were accused of throwing a blanket over Greco's head and bludgeoning her to death. One has pled guilty to manslaughter, and the other faces trial in late August.
"Renee's family wanted to hold her before she died, but the authorities wouldn't let her because it was too traumatic," Senator Young tells the Voice. Greco's relatives spoke at Young's hearing. Her aunt said that in the weeks before she was killed, she was getting increasingly nervous about going to work, and was planning to quit.
Could Greco's death have been prevented if she or her colleagues had been allowed to aggressively restrain the kids at her group home? Should the boys who killed her have been housed at a high-security OFCS facility, rather than be moved to the less secure group home? Greco's death is a strong reminder that some young people are incredibly—maybe uncontrollably—violent, and that for every nonviolent child who is being unfairly incarcerated, there may be another who deserves to be under stricter supervision.
Young keeps a running list of each violent incident tied to the release of an inmate—so far, she has recorded 10 of them—even if they can't be tied directly to Carrión's policy changes.
Young says she met Carrión only once, in 2007: "And I asked her," she recalls, "is it better for a juvenile to be at home, where there was a bad environment and gang activity? And she said yes! There's ideology at work here." (Young has received at least $40,000 in political donations from unions since 2005, including about $13,000 from the two unions that represent juvenile facility employees.)
Carrión has no recollection of that conversation with Senator Young, but she doesn't deny the statement. In fact, she agrees that it is something she would say: "Unless a young person is dangerous, they should be in the least restrictive environment—that's the current law," she says. "We don't incarcerate people in this country for living in bad environments or for living in communities with gang activities. Why would we treat young people differently? Should we incarcerate them forever until their communities improve? Is that what we should do?"
Carrión's leniency, however, continues to pay dividends for her critics. The New York Post made a call for her resignation two weeks ago after the latest liberal atrocity: Carrión allowed an actual wedding to take place in an OCFS facility—for the first time in 15 years—between a 19-year-old inmate serving time for aggravated assault and his bride, who was allowed to bring her family onto the grounds. The Post tried to sneak into the secure facility for the nuptials, but guards stopped them. The paper settled for photos of an ecstatic-looking bride-to-be passing through the facility's fence with gifts in her hands.
The Voice reached the commissioner at the end of the day that the story broke, as she was driving home to the Bronx. She was sitting at a restaurant, ordering takeout. "On the one hand, I'm criticized for allowing them to have sex orgies, and on the next side, I'm criticized for allowing them to get married," she says. As usual, she's laughing, and getting revved up as she talks, but she also sounds tired. "We have this notion that just because they committed a crime, they should be in a cage or something, and not participate in the normal activities of social life? Maybe I shouldn't feed them, you know? Maybe I should give them two meals a day instead of three. I don't know. Someone said today that I was going to hire a wedding planner for the kids.
"If you talk to someone who asks you that, tell them it's not true, OK?"