More than 20 leading NYC organizations urge Community Boards to support plan for borough-based jails

20 May 2019

Community-based facilities could offer trauma-informed, gender-responsive services that will help people succeed when they are released

NEW YORK, NY - As the plan to end the jails on Rikers Island and establish new, smaller facilities in the boroughs proceeds, more than 20 New York City providers of education, training, and reentry services to justice impacted people are urging local community boards to approve of the City’s plan to close the Rikers Island jails and build a smaller system of facilities in the boroughs. Through letters of support and testimony at Community Board hearings, organization leaders are calling attention to critical benefits to health, mental health, and successful reentry of the City’s plan.

The diverse coalition of providers work with people on Rikers, people returning from Rikers, and their families. Many staff at these organizations have directly experienced incarceration in Rikers or have had loved ones jailed there.

“The first step towards improving New York City’s justice system and closing Rikers is making sure that as few people as possible are incarcerated and that those who are incarcerated are held for a short a time as possible,” said Susan Gottesfeld, Chief Program Officer for the Osborne Association. “The next step is to ensure that when people are incarcerated, they are held in facilities in the boroughs that have safer layouts than Rikers, provide better space for programming, visiting, corrections staff and services, are more accessible for families, our staff, and people’s lawyers, have increased access to light and fresh air, and are located closer to the courthouses.”

Drawing on the deep experience working with those on Rikers these providers have concluded that Rikers must close as soon as possible and be replaced by smaller facilities, near the communities in which people live. The nine Rikers jails are decrepit, leaking when it rains, freezing in the winter, sweltering in the summer and beset by mold and even asbestos. Because of the jails’ obsolete physical layouts and frequent lock-downs, people held there are often unable to access educational, job training, and re-entry programming. Rikers’ isolation makes it unduly difficult and time-consuming for family members to visit, breaking connections that are critical to success upon release.

Location and bureaucracy can also make fair legal representation challenging. Lawyers report that they are often unable to visit their clients at Rikers because even a 20-minute visit can take hours.

Finally, the out-of-sight nature of Rikers and the resultant lack of accountability has led to a level of violence that threatens the safety of everyone who sets foot in the jails there. Given the damaging environment at Rikers, far too many people leave Rikers Island worse off than when they were locked in.

“Women should be housed together in a single, stand-alone, centrally-located facility and provided the trauma-informed support they need,” said Georgia Lerner, Executive Director of the Women’s Prison Association. “Many incarcerated women have histories of trauma and most are mothers. Every effort should be made to provide alternatives to incarceration for women, but this plan offers a chance to close the women’s jail at Rikers Island and replace it with a dedicated facility that can meet these unique and intersecting needs.”

“We have no illusion that the new borough-based facilities will solve all the problems facing our City’s jails; deep operational changes are needed too,” said Cheryl Roberts, Executive Director of the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice. “But the new facilities are a necessary starting point. Four smaller, better-designed, and better-operated detention facilities in the boroughs can help incarcerated people succeed when they return back to their communities. The status quo is unacceptable.”


The following organizations have signed on to this effort and are supporting community-based jails:
Alliance of Families for Justice
The Aly Forney Center
Boom Health
Bronx Connect
Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services
Center for Community Alternatives
CEO Works
College and Community Fellowship
Exodus Transitional Community, Inc.
Exponents
Fortune Society
Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice
Dr. Alethea Taylor, Former Executive Director, Greenhope Services for Women
Hour Children
HousingPlus
Legal Action Center
Manhattan Connect
Osborne Association
Providence House
Women's Community Justice Association
Women's Prison Association
Young New Yorkers
Youth Represent


Contact: Jonathan Stenger, jstenger@osborneny.org, 347-306-0853