Plan to bring youth offenders to Dobbs
Ferry worries some
Westchester County's plan to transfer a group of
youthful offenders deemed to be nonviolent to a residential treatment
center in the village has created anxiety among some residents and local
officials, who fear the children could wreak havoc in the community.
Children's Village, on Walgrove Avenue, has agreed to
take 24 youngsters from St. Christopher's, which lost its contract with
the county over a record-keeping scandal. St. Christopher's, also based
in Dobbs Ferry, has been housing the youngsters at its Valhalla campus
for more than a decade.
The Dobbs Ferry school superintendent and village
officials said yesterday that the children could be more volatile than
the others on the Children's Village campus, and were particularly
concerned that the agency was planning to house half the youngsters just
100 feet from Springhurst Elementary School.
"I don't want Children's Village to turn into a
Woodfield Cottage, and neither does my community," Superintendent Sidney
Freund said, referring to the county's juvenile jail in Valhalla. "The
social and criminal profiles of these children is unclear."
Responding to the uproar, Children's Village agreed
yesterday to keep the children at a more remote area of the campus,
while trying to calm fears that they could escape and threaten the
"We have no reason to believe that these children
would in any way increase the risk to the community," said Jeremy
Kohomban, president and chief executive officer of Children's Village.
"If there are children that are referred to this program that do not fit
the profile of safety that we address here, we would work with the
county to shift them to a more appropriate facility."
The Dobbs Ferry school board has called a meeting this
morning to discuss the arrangement.
The children would arrive March 15 on referrals from
Family Court for minor offenses such as truancy and fighting. Children's
Village would provide them lodging and psychiatric evaluations that
would help the court determine future placement.
The boys and girls, up to 18 years old, would live in
separate dormitories fitted with secure windows and alarmed doorways but
no guards or fences typical of a detention center. Original plans called
for the girls to be housed in Gatehouse cottage, next to the elementary
Some village officials learned of the $2.4 million
deal between Children's Village and the county at a Board of Trustees
meeting Tuesday. "I've gotten a few upset telephone calls from
residents," Trustee Paula Dambroff said. "I'm trying to get as much
information as I can."
Josephine Tisi, who lives next to Children's Village,
also wanted to know more. "You want to know about the people who live next door
to you," the 81-year-old homeowner said. "Sure it concerns me, but what
can I do?"
Trustee Lyle Miller questioned if the center's
counselors could handle adolescent offenders and safely confine them in
their quarters. He said juveniles with records should not live so close
to an elementary school.
"Unless we can be convinced that this does not pose a
significant threat, I'll support taking any action we can to stop this
or turn this back," he said.
Police Chief George Longworth said he had asked for a
copy of the county's contract with Children's Village to learn the types
of crimes the young people had committed. He said his department needed
to know if the children were considered "held in custody," because
police would have to treat them as escapees if they fled. "When I hear people who are not in law enforcement
speak about 'nonviolent' offenses, I'd like to know to what they're
referring," he said. "Sexual abuse can be a misdemeanor."
Police already routinely respond to Children's Village
on reports of assaults against staff members and residents, Longworth
said. One of the most serious assaults came in 2002, when a 16-year-old
resident was charged with slitting another's throat.
Shawn Cohen and Rebecca Baker Erwin
26 January 2006