The Justice Lab Welcomes Gladys Carrión

October 6, 2020 @ 4:35 pm

Gladys Carrión (center) holding up the sign for the launch of Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice, April 10, 2019

As New York City’s Child Welfare Commissioner, Gladys Carrión blazed a trail in transforming the juvenile justice system. Now she brings that expertise to the Columbia Justice Lab.

When Gladys Carrión was head of the New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services, she oversaw Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initiative calling for the transition of city youth from upstate juvenile justice facilities to ones “closer to home.” Her progress in this area was one of the major reasons that Mayor de Blasio picked her to serve as commissioner of the city’s child welfare agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, a position she filled until the end of the 2016.

And now senior research scientist Vincent Schiraldi has invited Carrión join his Columbia Justice Lab as an adjunct research scholar. He hopes she will call on these public service experiences to guide the Lab’s work and that she will also impart some of her dynamism as a “trailblazer” and a “visionary” in the movement to close youth prisons.

“Gladys has been recognized as a national leader in her the efforts to reform juvenile justice in New York State and a fearless advocate for children and families involved in the child welfare system,” Schiraldi says, noting that Carrión has already been serving as his co-chair for one of the Lab’s major initiatives, a project called Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice (YCLJ). Started in 2019, YCLJ aims to unite current and former youth correctional administrators into a national movement calling for the end of punitive youth prison models and a move towards systems of youth justice that are centered on youth and families.

Carrión recently sat down with us and spoke about her passion for improving the lives of children and youth, the status of the juvenile justice reform movement, and its intersection with Black Lives Matter.

In a nutshell, what is the rationale for closing youth prisons?
They are ineffective, they harm young people, and they’re expensive.

What brought you to this work?
As a person of color, I embrace the opportunity to drive system change and create better outcomes for children and young people.

To what extent is this approach gaining traction around the United States?
The vast majority of states are engaged in reforming their juvenile justice systems and looking at closing youth prisons.

Is there anything unusual about New York City and New York State that makes it possible to pursue decarceration here?
The low number of justice-involved youth has allowed New York City to move to decarcerate all youth. But any state can do what New York State and New York City have done to transform their juvenile justice systems.

What is the advantage of shifting the custody of system-involved youth from states to cities? 
In cities, youth are closer to their families, school, lawyers, and the supports and services they need to address their challenges and stay out of the justice system.

Where do you see this issue heading in the next few years? 
More states will close youth prisons and build a continuum of community supports. Juvenile justice systems will be reimagined and more resources shifted to communities and solutions driven by communities. The science of what works will inform the work of system leaders and lead to the dismantling of the juvenile justice prison model.

How do you see the issue of youth decarceration fitting into the Black Lives Matter movement? 
Youth decarceration is part of the call to end mass incarceration and the demand to shift resources and dollars to build a community’s ability to nurture and care for its residents. It’s consistent with the call for justice and equality. Our justice system in New York City is exclusively populated by Black and Brown youth. We can and must do better by young people of color. We have to stop creating pathways to prison and create pathways to opportunity and success for Black and Brown youth.

Related links:

Launch of Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice Featured in “The Nation”

The Case for Smarter Parole in New York