PERTH - The Tryon Girls Center, the only remaining piece of a larger, decades-old youth detention facility that rehabilitated a young Mike Tyson, will close later this year, resulting in the early release of some inmates, the relocation of others and an uncertain future for hundreds of employees.
The center will close Aug. 31, said Bill Agresta, president of the Professional Employees Federation union and a Tryon employee, after the staff was told about the closing in an afternoon meeting.
The Tryon campus once included a boys component that was shut down in January. It still contains a Reception, Secure and Limited Secure center for girls off County Highway 107, housing about 40 inmates.
The Tryon Girls Center in Perth is pictured today. It will close Aug. 31, officials said today. Photo by Barbara Cook/The Leader-Herald
The state Office of Children & Family Service referenced the closing of Tryon and other youth detention sites in public notices on its website today but made no other announcement. A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office wouldn't confirm the closing or release a statement this afternoon.
The state notice said the closing would happen in no fewer than 60 days.
"It's a very, very sad day out there," said state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, who has been at odds with Democratic governors that have favored closing facilities such as Tryon, sending teenage offenders to group settings in their homes areas instead.
OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrion has said she wants to transform the state's juvenile justice system through more counseling, less excessive force and more community-based programs.
Cuomo, as governor-elect, visited the Tryon campus in November and cited the youth detention facility as an example of government waste. He said Tryon represented a fully staffed upstate facility and was a symbol of the waste contributing to New York's fiscal crisis. He has called for eliminating 360 beds from the state juvenile justice system.
"The governor had a slide show in his State of the State address about how Tryon is an empty facility and should be shut down," Farley said. "I felt Tryon had a target on its back."
"We have had - and continue to have - differing opinions with the Office of Children and Family Services about the effectiveness of programs at both Tryon boys and girls, but it appeared from the outset that OCFS was determined to close the girls side as it had already done to the boys side," said Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, in a statement.
Youths who are close to their release dates will be released when the facility closed, Agresta said. Others will be sent to other facilities.
Ken Brynien, the president of the New York State Public Employees Federation union, said 67 percent of youths in state juvenile facilities have serious medical needs, and more than half have special-education needs.
"This plan to close facilities might save tax dollars, but it does nothing to address concerns for public safety or for the services needed for these troubled youths," he said.
Farley said Tryon - the onetime home of a young detainee named Mike Tyson who learned to box there - has had a "magnificent history" of juvenile rehabilitation. Many local residents have been employed for decades at the barbed-wire surrounded facility, either as youth division aides, teachers, medical staff, cooks, maintenance workers or other positions.
Agresta said employees today were filling out "blue cards," which would allow them to be called for similar positions that open elsewhere in the state, where they would be entitled to the same salary grade or lower. After Aug. 31, employees would need to fill out "green cards," he said, to be eligible for civil service positions for the next four years.
Employees are not taking the news well, he said. "They're very unhappy. It's going to hit the community a lot because there are 200 employees here," he said.
Stephen Madarasz, director of communications for the Civil Service Employees Association, said Carrion's restrictions have prevented youth division aides from property restraining residents.
In summer 2008, former and then-current employees told The Leader-Herald of numerous problems at Tryon. They said the campus became increasingly violent and unsafe for staffers following restraint and procedural changes made after the death of a 15-year-old resident Nov. 19, 2006. Darryl Thompson of the Bronx, who had a pre-existing heart problem, died after being restrained. Two aides in the case were not found criminally liable.
The Tryon Girls Center has dealt with at least seven arrests of female inmates this year. A nurse was attacked, stabbed and beaten last month by a naked, unruly 15-year-old female inmate. Cheryl Huxhold, a 56-year-old nurse from Fultonville, said she was placed in a setting where regular youth division aides would have been on duty, but Tryon was shorthanded.
"If you go back and look at what's happened over the years, you'll see a change in values and how they're applied," said Jim Conkling of Northville, who retired 10 years ago as the director of the boys facility.
"You'll see a change in philosophy from believing you have to protect the community to believing you have to protect the young people from taking responsibility for their own behavior," he said.
"All the people who work here really do care for the kids," Agresta said. "They connect to us. We're father figures and mother figures they haven't had at home."
OTHER STATE CUTS
Other closings will include the Allen Residential Center in South Kortright, Delaware County, the Finger Lakes Residential Center in Lansing, Tompkins County; the Harriet Tubman Residential Center in Auburn, Cayuga County; and the Industry Secure Center in Rush, Monroe County.
Also in Rush, the Industry Limited Secure Center will have staff reductions, along with the Highland Residential Center in Highland, Ulster County, and the Youth Leadership Academy in South Kortright.