Through a juvenile delinquent named Edwin, the New York Times reports on New York State’s Highland Residential Center, a collection of run-down cottages in a forest near Poughkeepsie, N.Y., part of a state juvenile prison system under fire for abysmal and sometimes dangerous conditions. He spent five months in a small, airless room at Highland last yearon a graffiti charge, after skipped classes, drugs and alcohol, counseling programs, and failed stints in city-run group homes.
Highland is one of New York's 28 prisons for youths, mostly black or Hispanic boys from New York City. A state task force concluded last year that the entire system – currently holding more than 800 youths – was fundamentally broken. It faces a federal takeover and a class-action lawsuit. Edwin, 18, feared for his safety, received little counseling, and left no better prepared for life outside than when he arrived there. Violence was a frequent threat, whether from other youths or the guards, known as youth counselors. The younger ones seemed to bring their personal problems to work. Any hint of insubordination could result in physical restraint, he said, despite the strict state rules limiting the use of force. It was common to see youths covered in rug burns from being shoved against the ground. “Staff is young,” Edwin said. “They don't like disrespect.”