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.