September 9th Bail Briefing

On September 9th, 2016 the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund gave a presentation to NYJJI at the JM Kaplan Fund. We had 16 attendees who enriched the conversation on the issue that high bail raises and how bail funds can play a pivotal role.

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund has existed for the past year and a half and in that time they have had 850 clients. By May 2016, 19% of their clients were youth (between ages of 16-24) and 90% were people of color. 95% of their clients return to court for their court dates.  In this time, they have found that their clients are two times more likely to receive dismissals and violations than their similar counterparts.

In New York City, 33,000 people get bail within a few days (1-3) but if they are unable to do so, they can spend 80-90 more days in jail. 80% of defendants are released with bail. For example, a client arrested for hopping the turnstile can generally be given a $250 bail. There are on average 10,000 clients a year in New York that cannot pay a $250 bail or under.

Nearly 40% of the people at Rikers are pretrial detainees who cannot afford bail. Over 70% of detainees have been accused of non-violent, non-weapons related charges, such as turnstile jumping, shoplifting or trespassing.

The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund acknowledged that they are not a solution to our current bail system, rather a stop gap measure. It is important that bail funds are not normalized but instead we need to push for system change. Another similar fund is the Bronx Freedom Fund.

The kind of system change BCBF would like to see would include 1) simply applying the law correctly – if there is a presumption of innocence there should be no need to post bail. Nationally, 90% of judges were trained by and come out of the District Attorneys office. 2) Judges can rely on different types of bail such as T-Bonds, Surety, and unsecure bonds. 3) Using different validates risk assessments. Currently the risk assessment used are highly secretive but proven to be biased and racist. For example, a person under 21 years old automatically loses 4 points under the court assessment process.

BCBF is also growing to provide technical assistance to forming bail funds across the country. They identified some other funding needs as strategic expansion into specific affected communities or specific populations such as pre-trial detainees.  Their holistic-approach to bail funds requires a designated staff person to connect clients to the services they need. The person who fills this role currently was formerly incarcerated. BCBF would also like to hire a designated staff person to collect and analyze data. Currently they have 5 intake reps at court and partner with public defender offices.


Close to Home Visit on July 14th, 2016

On July 14th,  with the help of Yumari Martinez from Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), NYJJI coordinated a trip to two Close to Home facilities in the Bronx – 20160714_140701Manida, a Non-Secure Placement (NSP) facility run by Leake and Watts, and the Bruner Avenue Limited -Secure Placement (LSP) facility  run by Sheltering Arms. We also visited the Bronx Hope Passages Academy in the Bronx. Our group consisted of eight NYJJI members, including the Brooklyn Community Foundation, Pinkerton Foundation, Prospect Hill Foundation, and three representatives from ACS.

Through his role as the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Planning, Policy & Performance in the Division of Youth and Family Justice at ACS, Mr. Martinez gave us a very thorough overview of the Close to Home structure and updates on the implementation of these homes throughout New York City. As of this year, ACS launched six new limited-secure placement Close to Home  (CTH) sites, the second phase of this initiative. CTH provides “integrated and comprehensive educational and mental health services…to help juvenile offenders…in their own communities”. The first phase of the program launched several non-secure placement facilities throughout the five boroughs.

Leake and Watts, a non-profit children and family services agency runs a variety of services including foster care, family stabilization, child care and education, special education, residential care for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities in addition to adolescents and juvenile justice services. Leake & Watts currently operates 2 NSPs, 1 LSP in the Bronx and is about to open a new LSP in Brooklyn. Throughout all NSP facilities there are 237 beds available for NYC youth.

T20160714_102553he day we visited the Manida NSP there were only 8 kids, (though they were at school at the time) even though the facility has capacity for 12 kids. This dorm-room style, open layout, two floor facility can host youth between the ages of 12-17, with the majority being between 14-16 years old (around 60-70%). The average length of stay is 6-7 months.

In a regular day, there are three frontline staff on duty at each shift. Leake & Watts uses the Missouri Youth Services Model, which had not been previously used with detention and calls for an “eyes on, ears on, heart on” approach.


Limited secure placement sites are more stringent facilities serving youth who are deemed to pose a higher risk to the community. These LSP facilities are run by only three non profits, Leake & Watts, Children’s Village, and Sheltering Arms. There are 66 beds for youth within the 5 existing LSP facilities.

The Bruner Avenue Limited -Secure Placement (LSP) facility (operated by Sheltering Arms) has a capacity of 12 beds, all for young men. Sheltering Arms uses the Integrated Treatment Model. On average the youth in this LSP facility are serving 12-18 month sentences, with the possibility of a reduced sentence for good behavior. Following their sentence, they can have up to 6 months of aftercare. One distinction between non-secure placement and limited-secure placement contracts is that LSP providers are required to provide their own re-entry services such as aftercare.

The Bruner Ave LSP was divided into two sides, in order to separate the youth in the Intensive Support program (ISP). ISP is available to all limited-secure placement youth, no matter the provider-organization. If a young person is deemed to be “in crisis” he/she can get referred to ISP for up to 30 days, though the typical stay is two-three weeks. Displaying patterns of disruptive behavior that involve violent acts would get a young person referred to an ISP. There are 8 ISP programs throughout different facilities. According to Sheltering Arms staff, they have only had 5-6 ISP referrals since January of 2016.

Opponents and critics of the implementation of Close to Home facilities have cited the outstanding delays to the launch of the second phase of the program. Within this first year there were also been some troubling safety concerns following a few AWOL incidents. Some communities in which these facilities are located have been critical of this initiative and the impact it has on their neighborhood. While part of the CTH program calls for the development of local community advisory boards, ACS officials have recognized that there is still room for improvement in this area.

With an initiative of this size, scope, and importance, challenges were to be expected. Many continue to acknowledge that the support systems created by ACS initiatives such as Close to Home have dramatically improved the quality of services for NYC youth caught in the system. ACS has increased its efforts to ensure safety and decrease AWOLs. For example, the percentage of young people leaving a NSP placement for more than 24 hours without permission was 27% in May of 2013 and as of September 2015 the percentage dropped to 4.8%.



We witnessed and learned of positive programming in the placement facilities and and at Passages Academies, such as Bronx Hope. In the picture above of a Groundswell mural located in the bottom floor of Bronx Hope, we see images of beauty, perseverance and (pun intended) hope. The youth who attended Bronx Hope at the time were able to collaborate on the design and painting of this mural, with the help of teaching artists. Another educational program we witnessed, was a technology-based Google training initiative through the New York Public Library where students can accumulate credits.

The Bronx Hope Passages Academy, run through the Department of Education’s District 79, employs 19 certified teachers and 4 social workers. They provide education transitional services and create a temporary education plan in the first week of intake that is also used at the detention facility. Youth from different placement and detention facilities attend school together at Bronx Hope, even though the administration makes an attempt to separate classes according to the residential facility.

In March of 2018, the Close to Home Initiative is up for reauthorization.

What Does a 30-Foot Fall Have to Do With Rikers Island?

 Go to the profile of Brooklyn Community Fdn

What Does a 30-Foot Fall Have to Do With Rikers Island?

By Sarah Williams, Brooklyn Community Foundation Board Member

My 3-story house in Brooklyn is 30 feet tall. I looked that up recently because a 19 year-old friend staying with us decided to climb it. That’s right.Climb it. He was home alone, went into the backyard with our dog, and the door locked behind him. Frustrated, he didn’t decide to wait until we got home, or knock on a neighbor’s window. Instead, he chose to scale the back of it, cross the top, lower himself over the lip of the roof, climb down the front in search of a spare key. And he fell.

The more we know about the adolescent brain, the more we understand how hard it is for young people to assess risk, problem-solve, and control their impulses. It is no wonder that this stage of brain development puts young people in a world of trouble on a regular basis. When we couple this with systems that do not take brain development into their program design and training, schools that use police to manage discipline instead of modeling problem-solving and mediation, a dearth of economic opportunities for young people and their families, and then add in structural racism, trauma, and a host of other external factors — we end up with devastating consequences.

I saw this first-hand when I was on Rikers Island a few weeks ago, where approximately 1300 young people ages 16–21 are incarcerated at New York City’s primary jail complex on a remote island between the Bronx and Queens.

New York is one of only two states in the nation (the other is North Carolina) that continue to treat 16 year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; it’s just one of nine that does the same for 17 year-olds. As a result, many more young New Yorkers are detained and incarcerated at places like Rikers Island, far away from families and support systems, too often leading to a lifetime of involvement in the justice system. It’s a heartbreaking reason we need to fight to Raise the Age.

I was joined on the Rikers visit, facilitated by the New York Juvenile Justice Initiative (NYJJI), by my colleagues at the Brooklyn Community Foundation. Through its Invest in Youth initiative, the Foundation supports both advocacy and direct-service organizations that address the far-reaching effects of young people’s encounters with the criminal justice system. Visiting Rikers was critical to understanding the full range and complexity of the issues that thousands of young people who spend days, months, and even years there must face.

The New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) manages 12 inmate facilities, 9 of which are located on Rikers Island. DOC’s overall population is now about 10,000 — having dropped from more than 20,000 two decades ago. It’s a benchmark celebrated by our optimistic yet realistic host Winette Saunders, Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections’ Youthful Offender and Young Adult Programming.

From our visit, we also learned the following:

· About 80% of the in-custody population of DOC are people detained before trial and approximately 40% of those detainees could be released if they posted bail. Bail amounts vary greatly, but on a recent morning approximately 100 people had bail of less than $1,000 — a group who would still be at home if only they could afford to be.

· We know that the longer someone is incarcerated, the higher their risk is for being arrested again. Young men (16–17 year-olds) as a group stay in DOC custody an average of 86 days because they tend to have higher charges than the population as a whole. (Young people with lesser charges aren’t charged as adults — they stay in the juvenile justice system and so don’t come to Rikers.) The average stay for all admissions is 58 days. About half of 16–21 year-olds could be released if they could pay bail, but the average bail for this group is $78,000.

· Education at Rikers is an enormous challenge, particularly providing any kind of organized curriculum with a transient population that involves all levels of educational proficiency. During the 2015–16 school year, the average reading level for 16 and 17-year-olds at Rikers was 7th grade and the majority of students at the on-site school East River Academy (part of NYC Department of Education’s District 79) were students with disabilities.

· Mental health and supportive care at Rikers are critical concerns. This year — finally — the Administration for Children’s Services (NYC’s foster care) has established an office on the island so they can provide closer support for the youth in their care who end up on Rikers. Not surprisingly, trauma is a major factor in many young people’s lives on Rikers. According to a mental health administrators on the Island, many patients she sees have been previously misdiagnosed with ADHD and/or bipolar disorders, but actually have symptoms consistent with PTSD.

It was a staggering amount of information to take in and just a glimpse into the struggles of so many young people. But we were encouraged to hear about the reforms being directed by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte and implemented by Deputy Commissioner Saunders, which began shortly after her appointment in 2015.

The Department of Corrections has eliminated punitive segregation (up to 23 hours of lock-in) for 16 to 18-year-olds and will eliminate it for 19 to 21-year-olds by October of this year. They have also instituted staffing changes that feature training new corrections officers in adolescent brain development and mediation, and are screening officers for their ability to work with young people.

And for the first time, re-entry education is offered in the 16 and 17-year-old classrooms that can be continued at community-based co-op tech programs when kids go home, along with, at least for now, modest programming for 18 to 21-year-olds. We saw an engaged group of young men enjoying a celebratory lunch after finishing a week of music editing classes. Funding for this class is currently provided by leading juvenile justice funder the Tow Foundation, and will eventually be paid for by the City, which has committed to four years of funding. It’s clear that we need to ensure that support for high-quality programming continues.

Near the end of our visit, we met Yoda, a dog who lives on the cell block with some of the young people and is part of a training program to help rescue animals become acclimated to people. Yoda provides some modicum of distraction from the small, austere cells with windows too scratched to see the outdoors and cell block showers that offer no privacy. In one of the most moving moments of the day, we saw photographs of the same young men who live in these rooms dancing with their mothers at a Mother’s Day Dance in May. It was a reminder that the community of Rikers extends far beyond those in custody, who receive over 1,500 visitors each day.

There are myriad reasons why an adolescent ends up on Rikers.Research shows that some police officers view black youth, as young as 10 years old, as older and less innocent than their white counterparts. We see the tragic results of this unaddressed implicit bias too frequently, when young people are presumed guilty from the start and pay for it with their lives. They also suffer the results of gang violence, poor schools, and limited economic opportunities in their communities. Navigating these challenges would be difficult for any of us; but can have grim and lasting results for a young person.

As for my friend who climbed our house, thankfully he survived. From the third floor windowsill, he slipped to the concrete, crushing a cement planter in my neighbor’s front yard, shattering bones and fracturing vertebrae. But his brain is intact (if humbled), and he will walk again thanks to the countless people who came to his immediate aid and have helped in his recovery. It wasn’t the first poor choice he’s made and likely won’t be the last, but his failure in judgment won’t sentence him to a lifetime of consequences that the same kids his age at Rikers will likely face for their own poor decisions.

When a young person makes a mistake — even catastrophic ones — they should be able to learn from them and build meaningful lives. Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Invest in Youth grantees are helping young people do just that at every stage along the way, even in some of the most challenging places like Rikers.

As James Baldwin says, “For these are all our children. We will all profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.”

Sarah Williams is the co-founder and director of Propel Capital, a philanthropic and impact investing fund that supports innovative strategies for alleviating poverty, and a board member of the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

Learn more:

· About the campaign to #CloseRikers from our granteeJustLeadershipUSA

· About the push to end cash bail in Brooklyn from our grantee Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

· About alternatives to incarceration for young people from our granteeBrownsville Community Justice Center

· About the Foundation’s push to halt the school-to-prison pipeline through our grantee the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project

· About how court-involved youth are now running a Vendy Award Winning food truck with our grantee Drive Change

· See the vibrant murals on the Rikers Island walls featuring Nelson Mandela and others and designed by students with help from our grantee Groundswell.

June Rikers Island Visit

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On June 17th, 2016 NYJJI took a group of 20 members to visit the Rikers Island jail complex. Guided by Winette Saunders, the Deputy Commissioner of Youthful Offender and Young Adult Programming, and Dr. Brickell Quarles, an Associate Director of Mental Health, we visited the Robert N. Davoren Center (RNDC) (where 16-17 year olds are detained) and the George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC) (over 18 year olds) facilities. Approximately 1,300 young people ages 16–21 are incarcerated in these two male facilities and the female facility, the Rose M. Singer Center.

Deputy Commissioner Winette Saunders was promoted in February 2015 to lead the adolescent and young adult strategic plans for the New York City Department of Corrections. Her background lies  in higher education and social services within city government and non-profit.

During our tour we learned about new programs like “Beats, Rhymes, & Justice”, a music production project coordinated by Audio Pictures, a production group based in Queens, and Columbia University’s Center for Justice. This program has run five cycles on the island, primarily with 16 and 17 year olds, but when we visited the program was celebrating the graduation of the pilot group of the older youth population at the GMDC facility. The “Beats, Rhymes, & Justice” program is funded by the Tow Foundation.

DC Saunders was very informative and gave a presentation on the recent adoption of best practices to improve the quality of life for young adults at the jail. Some examples include finding alternatives to punitive segregation (such as the Second Chance and Transitional Restorative Unit programs/ houses for 16-18 year olds), increased age-appropriate and targeted programming (such as the Rikers Rovers canine training program, Trading Futures and other industry credential training programs), and the increased use of incentives (such as the ability to earn commissary credit).

Fore more insight into our visit, read this post on the Brooklyn Community Foundation (BCF) blog by attendee Sarah Williams, co-founder and director of Propel Capital and Board Member for the BCF.

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Upcoming Events of Interest

Monday, May 9th, 2016 — 1:00- 2:00pm

Foundations for Youth Success Webinar: Youth Homelessness and Juvenile Justice

Join Casey Trupin from the Raikes Foundation and Lisa Pilnik from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice to discuss the substantial and troubling link between the juvenile/criminal justice system and youth homelessness. Because interactions between youth and various aspects of the justice system (law enforcement, prosecution, detention, re-entry) can and do lead to initial or exacerbated periods of homelessness, a systemic response to youth homelessness must include policy and practice improvements to the justice system. The webinar will review research related to this nexus, identify promising areas for reform, and discuss the role that funders are playing or could play at the local, state, and national level.

Click here to register


Wednesday, May 11th, 2016 — 5:00 – 7:30pm

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Resetting Bail—the Price of Justice in New York City

Wednesday, May 11, 2016
5:00 p.m. — 7:30 p.m.
Reception to follow
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture


Unfairness in the city’s bail system is costing us too much.

New York City is taking a hard look at our bail system at a time when there is new energy for reform: in the last year, bail has been taken up in late-night comedy sketches from John Oliver*, impassioned speeches by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a dedicated reality TV show on bail bondsmen in New York City, and in-depth investigative reporting by the news and other media.

Join the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the Vera Institute of Justice in an engaging discussion about the way our City’s bail system works, strategies for making it more fair and effective, and the pioneering practices already in place to inspire enduring change. Read Vera’s first installment in a new blog series to learn more about how the bail system works and why reform is so urgently needed.

Our communities and our City can’t afford to get bail wrong. Advocates and policymakers don’t have all of the answers.

We’re looking for the next bold, big idea on bail. Come and help us find it.

*Not to be outdone by John Oliver, comedian Phoebe Robinson (of 2 Dope Queens fame) will be joining us!

SPEAKERS (list in formation)

Chiraag Bains, Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice

Honorable George Grasso, Supervising Judge of New York City Criminal Court Arraignments

Jonathan Hayes, Senior Associate at ideas42

Robyn Mar, Deputy Director of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders

Judge Robert M. Levy, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York

Miriam Popper, Program Director of Alternatives to Detention and Incarceration at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice

Insha Rahman, Senior Planner on Bail Reform at the Vera Institute of Justice

Phoebe Robinson, Stand-up Comedian and Writer

Nicholas Turner, President and Director of the Vera Institute of Justice

For more information please contact David Hanbury at:


US Dept of Justice OJJDP Releases Spring 2016 Issue

OJJDP has released the spring 2016 issue of the online “Journal of Juvenile Justice.” This issue features articles on the impact trauma has on youth and the importance of a trauma-informed juvenile justice system. Other topics include studies on substance use as a predictor of the types of offending among youth, the effect of ethnic/racial socialization on recent aggressive behaviors among youth who offend, and gender and the risk for recidivism among youth in truancy court. Also included is a pilot study to assess probation officer knowledge of youth with intellectual disabilities.

OJJDP, in collaboration with BJS, seeks a Visiting Fellow to enhance its capacity to analyze and report critical data to the field regarding juvenile justice populations. OJJDP and BJS are particularly interested in hosting a Fellow to expand OJJDP’s capability to analyze and report data on youth in adult prisons and jails, needs of youth in custody and availability of services, and youth victimization and offending. Applications are due by May 23, 2016. See here for more info.

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Why Mass Incarceration Doesn’t Pay

This New York Times Opinion Piece makes the argument that United States sentencing rules are failing and need to be changed. By using a cost-benefit analysis framework, the authors find that “the law of diminishing marginal benefits  applies to incarcerating additional people or adding years to sentences. Research finds that more incarceration has, at best, only a small effect on crime because our incarceration rate is already so high. As the prison population gets larger, the additional prisoner is more likely to be a less risky, nonviolent offender, and the value of incarcerating him (or, less likely, her) is low…The same general principle applies to the length of prison sentences, which in many cases have gotten longer as a result of sentence enhancements, repeat-offender laws, “three strikes” laws and “truth-in-sentencing” laws. Longer sentences do not appear to have a deterrent effect; one study finds, for example, that the threat of longer sentences has little impact on juvenile arrest rates.

“The bottom line: The putative benefits of more incarceration or longer sentences are actually costs.” To read more, click here.

Osborne Association Honors David Simon

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Upon receiving the Thomas Mott Osborne Spirit Medal from the Osborne Association, David Simon, activist and writer of “The Wire” and “Show Me a Hero”, said that “in New York City, an increase in incarceration in the closing decades of the last century coincided with the city’s regilding and renewal which, Simon explained, made draconian policies seem less damaging. It made it seem like zero tolerance was a rational policy,” he said. “When it was tried in places like Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland, Philadelphia, or Washington, it had a much different result. But we bought it.” Simon closed by offering a story about the life of Donnie Andrews, the man who served as the real-life inspiration for Omar, one of the best-known characters in “The Wire.”

States of Incarceration

The New School hosted the two-day national summit of States of Incarceration, “a coalition of 500 individuals from 20 cities across the United States that is building a participatory public memory project on the history and future of mass incarceration. The public dialogues are part of a broader effort—including a national traveling exhibition, Web platform, public dialogues, a “Shape the Debate” mobile campaign, and a podcast series—to undertake a national public reckoning with one of the most pressing issues of our time.” The next opening reception will be at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Riverside California where scholars, educators, and community members doing work in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire explore the challenges of criminalization facing youth today—especially those who are marginalized due to poverty, racial and educational inequities, or disability—and seeks to build sustainable transformative justice alternatives for the Inland Empire and beyond. Click here to see the list of exhibitions and events.

Khalil Cumberbatch was one of the many individuals who shared stories of incarceration at the summit. “Cumberbatch grew up in South Jamaica, Queens, during the 1980s; in the latter part of the decade, the neighborhood was decimated by the crack epidemic and the drug trade that came with it. There were “systems of oppression” everywhere he turned, from underfunded schools to draconian policing.”

“Prison culture shaped my experience—my friends and I talked about it in the sense that it was inevitable,” he told the crowd gathered at the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center in April. “I expected to be arrested.” To read more about Mr. Cumberatche’s story and about the exhibit, see the New School blog here.

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes

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A new film from Canadian director Brett Story explores how incarceration has transformed the American landscape. The Prison in Twelve Landscapes traces the ways mass incarceration affects the country’s physical and social spaces through 12 vignettes, from a playground in L.A. designed to repel registered sex offenders, to Ferguson, Missouri, to Whitesburg, a Kentucky mining town whose economy is supported by a federal prison. See more here.


Tribeca Film Festival Highlights Human Cost of Incarceration

“At a time when criminal justice reform has gained national attention and bipartisan support from even the leading candidates for president, a handful of documentaries at the Tribeca Film Festival are giving a close-up to the human cost of mass incarceration.”

“The films are filled with tender and tragic stories of people — many of them poor, many of them black men — who made mistakes at a young age and were locked away for questionably long terms. They are stories of debatable justice, but are more principally films about human dignity.” Read more here.





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Why Should We Close Rikers Island?

The City Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito,announced in her State of the City address that the state’s former chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, would lead a commission to comprehensively examine the city’s criminal justice system. Its mission will be to reduce the jail population, now at about 10,000, enough to make it possible to consider shutting Rikers down for good.

“The costs and inconvenience to the city, which spends $25 million a year just to transport inmates, and to family members, who lose a day’s work to get there and back, argue powerfully for neighborhood-based alternatives…“Rikers stands for everything that’s miserable about the criminal justice system,” Mr. Lippman said. “By conquering Rikers, in a politically astute, smart, credible way — this is the ultimate challenge, to be able to take on something which is so widely viewed as the heart of all of our problems.” Read more, here.

Mayor De Blasio contributed to Staten Island Live on the issue of closing Rikers. He wrote, “A teenager, waiting years for trial in solitary confinement. An officer, physically maimed by the inmates he works each day to protect. For years, these stories of abuse and negligence have emerged from Rikers Island all too frequently…Today, as we continue to drive down crime, the idea of closing Rikers has returned to the forefront.  Yet while this idea deserves serious consideration, we cannot allow the closure conversation to distract from jail reform needed now – long before any possible transition from Rikers could become reality.  And we must make sure that in calls for Rikers’ closure, our city does not become more focused on shutting down the facility than ending the culture that gave rise to its infamy.” See more. 


New York State Corrections Dept. Takes on Guards Union Over Brutality

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“Investigators had often been reluctant to challenge the powerful corrections officers’ union, and the disciplinary system was so stacked in the union’s favor that a guard could be found guilty of brutalizing an inmate and not be fired. But the internal affairs unit had been overhauled. It was now prepared to take the fight to the union, Daniel F. Martuscello III, the department’s deputy commissioner, declared.” Read more.

New NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Training

Tracie Keesee  has been named the new deputy commissioner of training for the NYPD. She is a founder of the Center for Policing Equity, a think tank aimed at strengthening the relationships between community and police. She was also heavily involved in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which was the DOJ’s pilot program aimed at reducing racial bias among police officers. Learn more. 

Raise the Age Not in the Budget

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Gov. Cuomo in Dannemora (photo via The Governor’s Office)

Raise the Age, though initially backed by Cuomo and included in his executive budget, will be pushed to the post-budget legislative session. The budget was passed by April 1st but the legislative session itself is extended into June.

“For some advocates it is no surprise given the complexities of their issues, like the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York and legislation to amend state law to create a special prosecutor to preside over investigations of police killings of civilians. To others, it isn’t surprising for an entirely different reason: they are used to seeing Cuomo pitch major criminal justice reforms during his State of the State address only to abandon them during budget negotiations due to push back from Senate Republicans.”

The issue of how to treat 16- and 17-year-olds in the state’s criminal justice system is complicated. Senate Republicans don’t want to be soft on crime, or give the appearance of being so, while Assembly Democrats want to provide a host of alternatives to criminal court….Cuomo did push last year to leave funding in the budget to enact Raise the Age reforms were a deal reached, and that money was there, but no deal occurred. The governor included similar language in this year’s executive budget. Advocates are anxious to see if the language makes the final budget bills, setting the stage for an agreement in the months ahead. Cuomo also has bail reform on his agenda for the legislative session ahead.” Read more.

According to Times Union, the New York Senate should be ashamed of itself. “A bevy of research has shown the state’s current policy is simply bad for public safety. Children under 18 who are charged as adults commit more additional crimes and get involved in more serious offenses than their peers who remain in the rehabilitation-focused juvenile justice system…The five states that have raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in the past decade (Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi and New Hampshire) have all seen falling arrests, lower correctional system costs and generally sinking crime rates…”

“To be clear, we aren’t calling for a simple slap on the wrist for offenders. The juvenile justice system isn’t a walk in the park for those caught up in it. Well-run programs put very real demands on their participants, and for many offenses, sentences can be just as long as those in the adult system. The few children who commit very serious offenses like murder and violent rape, likewise, are almost always eligible to be tried as adults in New York and everywhere else.”

Will New York New York develop the political will to do the right thing by June? See more.

The Raise the Age Campaign will be continuing to advocate for change! The Correctional Association is planning with Families Together NYS a mothers’ lobby day! It will take place on May 10 and we will bring a bus of mothers from NYC to join forces with mothers from the Albany area. They will hold a press conference and have mothers who have children impacted by the adult system speak and then have groups of mothers (both those directly impacted and those who are concerned as a parent about the current age of criminal responsibility) meet with legislators. The CA and larger RTA NY Campaign think this is an important voice that has not been highlighted. BerlinRosen will assist with the press conference.


The Human Toll of Jail

“Jails exist in nearly every town and city in the United States. Although rarely on the radar of most Americans, jails are the front door to the criminal justice system in a country that holds more people in custody than any other on the planet. Their impact is far-reaching and profound: in the course of a typical year, there are nearly 12 million jail admissions—almost 20 times the number of annual admissions to state and federal prisons—at great cost to individuals, their families and communities, and society at large.

The Human Toll of Jail is an essential part of an emerging national conversation about changing this picture. Presented by the Vera Institute of Justice with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, The Human Toll of Jail is a platform for true stories about and by ordinary people, both those who are or have been caught up in the criminal justice system, and those who work on its front lines.” Discover more, here.


Why You Should Hire Young Adults with Criminal Records

Our own Julie Peterson wrote a piece in the Center for New York City Affairs on the importance of hiring young adults who have criminal records.

“As important as education and training are, they often fall by the wayside for young people living in poverty, lost in the unending immediate need for funds to survive and support a family. Without a job to provide those funds, inevitably, many young people turn to a shadow economy – and that often leads to a criminal record.  Once that spiral has begun, opportunities for legitimate employment become few and far between. Opportunities for meaningful employment are almost nil…Social service programs can play a critical role helping to break that cycle.” Read more.

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Raise the Age Lobby Day, March 8th, 2016

In the morning of Tuesday, March 8, 2016 our bus of 35 teenagers and advocates drove to Albany to meet over dozens of people dedicated to reforming New York’s criminal justice policies towards our youth. Four exalt graduates ranging from 15 -21 years old arrived by 6:30am to show their dedication to raising the age of criminal responsibility.


As the Internship and Community Development Liaison at exalt I was able to coordinate a graduate engagement project where exalt graduates could learn about lobbying, community organizing, and get involved with a campaign that would directly affect their lives. The Children’s Defense Fund’s Youth Justice Organizer, Cadeem Gibbs led four workshops with our graduates on Raise the Age and the legislative process to prepare for Lobby Day.

As a reminder, the Raise the Age NY Campaign calls for comprehensive reform that would:

  • Raise the overall age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18, which is consistent with other states
  • Ensure no youth who is 16 and 17 year olds is placed in an adult jail or prison
  • Ensure that parents of 16 and 17 years old are notified upon arrest and that these youth are interviewed employing youth-appropriate practices
  • Better address the collateral consequences of court involvement and help youth become successful adults by sealing records and expanding Youthful Offender status to age 21
  • Increase investments in front-end diversion services that keep youth in their communities rather than incarceration
  • Originate as many cases of 16 and 17 year olds in Family court as possible and create Youth Parts in adult court. Apply the Family Court Act to as many cases as possible regardless of which courthouse in which the case is heard


The day launched with a press conference on the steps of the Senate House. Many legislators came to show support for the campaign, including Michael Blake from the Bronx who gave a passionate speech that resonated the hall. There were three young adults who gave their account of being arrested and incarcerated as a 16 or 17 year old and the impact that it had on their lives. Kalief Browder’s brother also spoke about how this change in legislation would have saved his brother’s life.


Exalt graduate interns met with the offices of three Senators to advocate for these reforms. The issues they emphasized in their meetings were the urgency of front-end diversion programs and alternative to incarceration programs that focus on career development; the importance of reducing recidivism; and the inequity and trauma that results from incarcerating youth in adult facilities.

In our second meeting, one of the graduates broke out into tears describing to Senator Diane Savino’s office the impact the exalt youth program had on her life. She urged the senator to invest in communities of color that are underresourced and overpoliced.

In meeting with Senator Martin Golden’s office, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that Golden was on board with Raise the Age – however emphasizing, his opposition to equal treatment for violent offenders. Another graduate explained the importance of alternatives to incarceration, such as investment in education and mentorship by relatable and positive adults. He described his experience at the youth facility at Riker’s Island as a “gladiator boot-camp”.


Despite the fact that the Governor allotted $120 million dollars for these reforms, it appears that they will not be included in the budget session, which will finish at the end of this month. In addition to the allotment of resources, there were seven pages of recommendations as to how localities will be reimbursed for implementing these reforms including to probation. Advocates remain confident that the legislative session may bring more luck as the foundation of support was mostly built last year. The campaign is starting at a different place this year – Republican Senators know about the asks of the campaign and slowly but surely are coming around. The Children’s Defense Fund will continue their targeted advocacy in Rochester (which will occur in two weeks) and in Senator Flanigan’s district in Long Island.

Reflection from the Women’s City Club of New York panel, Youth and the New York State Criminal Justice System – Why Criminal Reform is Needed

by Claire Buonocore, Prospect Hill Foundation Intern

New York State’s Criminal Justice System is one of only two states in the country that allows for anyone over the age of 16 to be convicted as an adult. Last week the Women’s City Club of New York in partnership with the Citizens Committee for Children and the Correctional Association of New York hosted a panel discussion on what this means for New York’s youth. The program was entitled Youth and the New York State Criminal Justice SystemWhy Criminal Reform is Needed. The program hosted a wide range of panelists, including Anjelique Wadlington and Venida Browder, who have both been personally affected by the criminal justice system. Additional panelists included: retired Supervising Family Court Judge of Bronx County, Monica Drinane, the executive director of the Citizens Committee for Children, Jennifer March, Women’s City Club of New York executive director, Jacqueline Ebanks, and the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, Soffiyah Elijah.

Venida Browder’s son, Kalief Browder, was incarcerated at the age of 16 on charges of robbery. He was accused of stealing a backpack and was sent to Rikers Island for three years, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. According to Mrs. Browder, children at Rikers often face worse abuses than adults; Kalief Browder was starved, beaten, refused the right to a shower for up to two weeks at a time, put in solitary, and once he was released, nothing was done to rehabilitate him back into society. At Rikers you are guilty until proven innocent, Kalief was never found guilty of any crime.

Once Kalief was released he was faced with many obstacles integrating back into the community including issues with finding employment, financial aid, and education. Unfortunately, Kalief’s mental health continued to deteriorate and two years after his release he committed suicide.

Kalief’s story does not stand alone, most children who come out of Rikers have similar tales, suffering from post-traumatic stress and difficulties integrating back into society. The brain isn’t fully formed until the age of 25 and yet at 16, you can be convicted as an adult for minor misdemeanors in New York. Children are our future but if they are seriously physically or mentally harmed by the State, what kind of future are we going to have?

Raise the Age is a bill that aims to increase the age of criminal responsibility; not only will it produce better outcomes for New York’s youth but also has been proven in other states to better protect public safety. According to the Correctional Association of New York, youth who receive age appropriate services are less likely to re-offend.

Last year “raise the age” bill was purposed but not passed.  It was a very complex piece of legislation presented at a time where there were issues with leadership in both houses. The bill was often overshadowed by others and it became extremely difficult to get officials interested. In order for any bill to get passed, it has to be a top legislative priority.

A year has passed since the first bill was proposed and now officials are slightly more informed. Due to a recent heroin epidemic in upstate New York and Long Island that has been impacting a lot of white youth, awareness about raise the age is more prevalent in those communities.  Prior to this year, the issue was happening mainly and disproportionately to children of color. The current bill would raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18; anyone under this age would be tried in Family Court. The entire panel encourages anyone interested in Raise the Age to send letters, emails, or call their local senator and assembly members.

For more on Raise the Age visit

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