Unions to sue NYC over move to staff COs at teen detention centers
A trio of corrections unions argue that their members aren't trained to handle youthful offenders
By Reuven Blau and Rich Schapiro
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — The city is moving ahead with a plan to staff new detention centers for teens formerly housed at Rikers Island with corrections officers — drawing the ire of their unions and prison reform groups.
A trio of corrections unions is poised to file suit against the city, arguing that their members aren't trained to handle youthful offenders.
"Teachers are not police officers, and uniformed members of the correction service are simply not the right fit for those youth in the custody of" the Administration for Children's Services, the unions say in court papers expected to be filed in Queens Supreme Court on Tuesday.
"Indeed, there already are members of the city workforce whose job it is to care for and have custody and control of this population in the juvenile justice system."
Jail reform groups, in a rare display of unity with the correction officers, cheered the planned suit.
"If what you do is transplant the culture of Rikers Island to the facilities where we're moving the juveniles, you're basically negating the reason for that move," said JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society.
The city, responding to state legislation passed last year, is mandated to move the teens off Rikers by October.
The dramatic policy shift is designed to place the youth in a less restrictive environment free of older, violent criminals.
But the three unions — the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Correction Captains Association and the Deputy Wardens Association — argue that they shouldn't be used to staff a facility run by a city agency other than the Correction Department.
Doing so "violates numerous laws and regulations, and is tantamount to stealing the jobs of fellow municipal workers," says the suit, which seeks a preliminary injunction against the city.
"Simply put, the mayor's (raise the age law) staffing program is union busting."
Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen said he was stunned to learn that the city would select his members for the job after Mayor de Blasio himself railed against the culture at Rikers.
"There's hypocrisy here," said Husamudeen. "Four years ago, they said we had the fight club. They said we were abusing the 16, 17 year olds. Now we're here four years later and we're hearing things like we're the best equipped, we're the best qualified."
"You can't have it both ways," he added.
With the deadline to move the young inmates fast approaching, the city has acknowledged that it still faces hurdles in opening the planned detention centers in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.
The city did not respond to requests for comment.
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