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New York State Commission of Correction
For immediate release: Friday, July 16 2010


Commission of Correction Criticizes “Winter Social Dance” at Secure Youth Facility

Regulatory agency says sexual activity occurred during incident at Goshen Secure Center

The New York State Commission of Correction today sharply criticized the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) for directing a secure youth facility to stage a mixed-gender social event where violent male offenders had sexual contact with their female guests, and staff generally neglected to intervene.

In a report issued today, the Commission said an investigation into a December event at the Goshen Secure Center in Orange County 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, and that the residents and their dates were largely unsupervised while they engaged in inappropriate and intimate behavior.

“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 Commission’s investigation discovered that the Dec. 12, 2009 “Winter Social Dance” at Goshen was held at the direction of the OCFS leadership as part of 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 Commission’s investigation, the social events were conceived in May 2009 as an antidote to gang activity in two of the five secure facilities operated by OCFS, Goshen and the Brookwood Secure Center in Columbia County. Officials hoped that the events would “motivate youth behavior” and “help stabilize some of the gang activity as well,” according to the memorandum.

The initial events at Goshen and Brookwood were held in July 2009 and then replicated at Goshen in December 2009, according to the report.  The Commission learned of the events and began an investigation after reports surfaced indicating that sexual contact occurred during the Dec. 12, 2009 event at Goshen. 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 that is 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 Goshen ‘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, was 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 OCFS 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.” OCFS is required to address those deficiencies. The full report is available on the Commission’s website at http://www.scoc.ny.gov/reports.htm.

The New York State Commission of Correction is an independent regulatory and oversight 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. Its three members are appointed by the Governor to statutory terms with the advice and consent of the New York State Senate. The current members of the Commission are: Chairman Thomas A. Beilein, who also serves as chief executive officer; Daniel L. Stewart, who chairs the Citizens Policy and Complaint Review Council; and Phyllis Harrison-Ross, M.D., who chairs the Medical Review Board.