Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney has announced 16- and 17-year-olds currently in custody at the Onondaga County Correctional facility in Jamesville will now be relocated to the Justice Center in downtown Syracuse.
Mahoney said she made the decision in response to a grassroots effort launched by the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS), in order to end the solitary confinement of youth.
“It’s better for the 16- and 17-year-olds to be at the Justice Center where they are connected to the Syracuse City School District, and their families have access to them,” she stated.
ACTS has been working for most of the year to end the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17- year-olds in Onondaga County, based upon a report from a jail ministry visitation team from Grace Episcopal Church.
“Extreme isolation causes severe emotional and psychological harm, inducing apathy, lethargy, anxiety, depression, despair, rage and uncontrollable impulses, even among the healthy and mentally stable,” the report stated.
“Concerned citizens identify and research an issue, bring it to the attention of elected and public officials, and then those officials respond with action either in policy, or legislative change,” Mike Hungerford, co-chairmain of ACTS Criminal Justice Task Force, said. “We are appreciative that county executive Mahoney shared our concern for these youth, and thank her for her decisive action.”
According to Mahoney, the move would require some adjustments logistically, especially since the youth cannot be housed with the adults at the Justice Center, which may require older inmates being moved to the correctional facility, or outside the county.
“There are some complicated issues that go with this, but if you just focus on what is best for these 16- and 17-year-olds in terms of rehabilitation, they should be at the Justice Center,” she stated.
Ultimately, Mahoney said the best place for the kids would be the Hillbrook Juvenile Detention Center, but that would require additional help from the state, which currently treats youth, ages 16 and older, as adults.
“Ultimately, what I ask is that we all work together, to get the state law changed, so that the 16- and 17- year-olds can be in a juvenile detention facility, which I think is most appropriate,” she stated.
In addition, “This outcome should embolden ACTS, and all concerned citizens, to address broader issues, such as acting on Gov. Cuomo’s Raise the Age commission recommendation to enact legislation which will treat 16- and 17-year-old youth in the juvenile justice system; joining the nationwide movement to end mass incarceration; and addressing core social issues of poverty,” Barry Lentz, chair of the ACTS Research and Action Committee, stated.
Mahoney, who is currently running for re-election, said there are about 30 16- and 17-year-olds presently being housed at the Onondaga County Correctional facility.