Gov. Cuomo wants to send up to 60 juvenile delinquents to boot camp.
The governor is asking the State Legislature to authorize the operation of the nation's first "shock incarceration" program for youthful offenders.
Encouraged by the success of the state's five "shock camps" for adult inmates, the governor has proposed the experimental camp for youths 12 through 16 who are convicted of non-violent offenses. Like the adults, juvenile delinquents would have to volunteer for the boot-camp program.
Delinquents brought into the new program would come primarily from the state Division for Youth, which now houses teen-age criminals and incorrigibles in local group homes and institutions across the state, including several in Buffalo.
The shock-camp plan for youths immediately raised concerns among child-advocacy groups.
"I've been assured by everyone in (the Division for Youth) that it would not be run as a punitive thing with shaved heads and uniforms, and I've talked to people who looked at programs for adults, and they say they are not bad," said Elizabeth T. Shack, director of the Citizens Committee for Children of New York. "But they say they don't know how it would be for 14- and 15-year-olds, and neither do I."
Many of the division's facilities have been criticized recently because of overcrowding, leading the state to release some youths early, or to place them in facilities that do not have the type of security the teen-agers need.
A series of articles in The Buffalo News recently detailed the loose operation of four state-run group homes in Buffalo, where programs for teen-age delinquents are inadequate and residents routinely run away to commit new crimes.
In the adult program, the inmates receive a shortened, six-month sentence if they complete a highly regimented program of vigorous exercise and drug therapy offered in a military-like setting.
Compared with inmates who were eligible but did not participate in the program, fewer graduates of the program have returned to prison, according to early statistics.
Under the governor's new proposal, 30 to 60 youths would be put through a less-severe program for four months. Although federal funds are available, Cuomo initially wants to establish only one hock camp' for juvenile offenders
camp for teen-agers in an upstate rural area.
Called an alternative rehabilitation training center, the camp would be more like a military school than an adult shock camp, said John J. Poklemba, state commissioner of criminal-justice services.
The program chiefly will seek to instill discipline in teen-agers who have lived, as a rule, in an environment with little formal structure, officials said. In a shock-incarceration camp, a drill sergeant and a round-the-clock schedule would impose discipline.
"It's a way of fostering discipline and getting some of the benefits from the adult (shock-incarceration program) into the juvenile program," Poklemba said of the governor's proposal. "What this would do is combine a physical regimen with an education and drug treatment if they need it."
Poklemba acknowledges that some children's advocates are skeptical of the proposal.
"Certainly, they were concerned about what kind of rigors we would be putting the kids through, and they want to make sure there'd be no abuses," Poklemba said.
"Certainly, it will be more punitive" than the other forms of detention in the state Division for Youth, Poklemba said, "but the physical exercise can be very beneficial, as programs such as Outward Bound have proved." Outward Bound is a privately run series of wilderness experiences designed to foster teamwork.
"What the graduates (of the adult shock-incarceration program) will tell you is they're different people," said Charles Devane, executive deputy director of the Division for Youth.
"Here we're dealing with a population of children who, in many instances, never received any discipline in their lives," Devane said. "Having seen the changes in the adult inmates and the great success that they've had after going through shock incarceration, I think we should at least give it a chance."
Senate and Assembly sources indicate that both houses support the concept but that Senate Republicans would block the plan if it remains in the same anti-crime bill as certain other Cuomo proposals.
Mrs. Shack said she wants more information on the new program.
"I want it detailed," she said. "I want them to spell this out. When you read the language in the bill, it's like apple pie and motherhood. I am concerned there is so much not there in the bill as to what they intend it to be that you are buying a pig in a poke."