State slams youth prison for wild party

| 30 Sep 2011 | 08:22

    Commission of Correction investigation finds lax oversight at Goshen Secure Center GOSHEN — The New York State Commission of Correction sharply criticized the state Office of Children and Family Services for directing a youth prison in Goshen to stage a social event where violent male offenders had sexual contact with their female guests, and where staff neglected to intervene. In a report issued on July 16, the commission said an investigation into the Goshen Secure Center on Cross Road revealed that four offenders, three of them serving sentences of up to life in prison for murder and one serving time for armed robbery — and all of them with poor disciplinary records — were each permitted to invite a female friend to the facility for the social. The commission found that officials knew virtually nothing about the four female guests, ranging in age from 16 to 27, who were transported from Albany and New York City to and from Goshen by state employees using state vehicles. Residents and their dates were largely unsupervised while they engaged in sexual behavior, the report said. “This event was orchestrated without any clear policy or procedural direction as to how it was to be organized, supervised and chaperoned, and without any appreciable security precautions or safeguards that would be the expected norm for contact social events involving violent offenders in a high-security institution,” the commission said. “In fact, there was far less planning, organization and precaution than one would expect at a conventional high school prom.” The investigation discovered that the Dec. 12, 2009, “Winter Social Dance” was held at the direction of the leadership of the Office of Children and Family Services as part of a program or policy to “reward” violent juvenile offenders who had recently been well-behaved, with the opportunity to participate in mixed-gender social events. According to a memorandum obtained as part of the investigation, the parties were conceived as an antidote to gang activity in two of the five secure facilities operated by the Office of Children and Family Services: the Goshen Secure Center and the Brookwood Secure Center in Columbia County. Officials hoped the parties would “motivate youth behavior” and “help stabilize some of the gang activity as well.” The first parties at Goshen and Brookwood were held in July 2009 and then repeated in Goshen in Dec. 2009, according to the report. The commission began its investigation after reports surfaced that sexual contact occurred at the Goshen party. The investigation confirmed, through surveillance videotapes, that sexual activity — ranging from a “lap dance” to an attempt to initiate oral sex — had taken place on Dec. 12 and that staff did little or nothing to discourage conduct inconsistent with “reasonable standards of public decency.” “Even assuming...that there is an identifiable institutional or public benefit to holding such events in secure facilities of confinement, the “Winter Social Dance” was so mismanaged and mishandled from the start that the health and safety of the residents and guests, and the security of the facility, were severely compromised,” the commission said in its report. “In essence, the senior management of the Office of Children and Family Services and the line staff took what was a questionable practice and then poorly implemented and executed it.” The investigation found that staffers at Goshen acted irresponsibly and failed to use basic common sense in permitting the four violent detainees, ranging in age from 17 to 20, and their dates to have sexual contact in a high-security youth facility. But the commission also said that top officials in Albany who developed or approved the policy acted irresponsibly. The Commission cited the Office of Children and Family Services for: failing to provide adequate supervision; failing to adequately screen the visitors; failing to timely report the inappropriate activities that occurred during the Dec. 12 social event; and failing to “enforce conduct that was deemed appropriate and consistent with reasonable standards of public decency.” The full report is available at The New York State Commission of Correction is an independent regulatory agency that oversees the operation and management of state and local correctional facilities and the secure centers operated by the Office of Children and Family Services.

    There was far less planning, organization and precaution than one would expect at a conventional high school prom.” NYS Commission of Correction