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.