Jun 20 2011

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NY legislators want risk reports at group homes

from The Wall Street Journal

The state Legislature has voted to require group homes and other private facilities licensed by the state to take juvenile delinquents to assess workplace safety, record violent incidents and take preventive steps.

The legislation follows the 2009 beating death of Renee Greco by two juveniles in Lockport, north of Buffalo. Greco, 24, had been supervising troubled teens at the group home.

Assemblyman Rory Lancman, a Queens Democrat who sponsored the bill, said his subcommittee reported last year that staff at the private not-for-profits taking youths designated delinquent by family courts generally lack the tools and training needed to protect themselves.

Facilities licensed by the state Office of Children and Family Services, which also operates New York’s shrinking juvenile detention centers, would be subject to the Workplace Violence Prevention Law.

That law requires public employers to develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence, evaluating factors that place employees at risk of assaults or homicides and taking prevention measures such as installing good outdoor lighting, training in non-violent self-defense and having systems for reporting aggressive behavior. The not-for-profits are state contractors but private entities.

“Nationally and in New York state, youth in the publicly operated juvenile justice system are being shifted to programs run by private organizations,” Lancman said. “The employees at these organizations merit the same protections against workplace violence as public employees currently enjoy.”

Sen. Catharine Young, a Republican from western New York and bill sponsor, said, “We need safeguards for staff and residents at all OCFS-licensed facilities before more people are hurt and lives are lost.”

OCFS declined to comment on Monday’s vote. Spokeswoman Susan Steele said Friday that OCFS has authority for 110 agencies licensed to operate residential programs. Those include more than 240 group homes, boarding homes and residential treatment centers with approximately 5,700 youths.

The bill goes to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for signing or veto. A spokesman said the governor’s office will review it.

The number of juveniles in state-run detention centers, or so-called youth prisons, declined in a decade from 2,313 to 627 at the start of this year. Since 2009, OCFS has closed 10 detention facilities and downsized several others as judges have sent more youths to alternative programs and OCFS has emphasized community-based programs or private alternatives.

The report from Lancman’s Assembly Subcommittee on Workplace Safety noted the shift in approach, from a correctional model to a sanctuary model, has “potential to significantly improve workplace safety in the long term,” but it found trouble in the transition, including more staff injuries and violence at the detention centers.

The system handles children who from age 7 to 17 commit crimes and are found in need of supervision, treatment or confinement.

“The shift to less secure, privately operated community-based programs raises its own workplace safety concerns,” the committee reported.

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