Opinion

State inaction is keeping youths on Rikers Island

The horrific conditions adolescents face on Rikers Island are well-documented.

A damning Justice Department report last year called for the removal of adolescents from Rikers, and their plight received further public attention with the suicide of Kalief Browder – a young man who entered Rikers at age 16 and spent three years awaiting trial in a case that was eventually dismissed.

Unfortunately, on Oct. 21, the city missed an opportunity to introduce a plan for the removal of minors from Rikers when a federal judge approved the settlement of a lawsuit brought by inmates and the Justice Department. While the city agreed to a series of improvements for adolescents on Rikers, it did not commit to removing minors from the island. Instead, the settlement agreement states that the city would make “best efforts” to identify an “alternative housing site” for 16- and 17-year-olds. Furthermore, the agreement leaves open the possibility that the city will keep housing minors on Rikers if it determines “that no suitable alternative site exists.”

Indeed, a suitable alternative site for 16 and 17-year olds does exist and has not been used, owing to an archaic state legislative scheme. Currently, the city has 154 empty beds in its two secure juvenile facilities: Crossroads and Horizons. These two facilities have been rapidly emptying thanks to a decline in crime and smart juvenile justice policies. Indeed, data published by the New York City Administration for Children's Services shows that in January of 2012 there were close to 200 youths in the two facilities. Since then, there has been a consistent and steady decline in the number of residents – to 94, as of September 2015.

So why is city taxpayer money being wasted for empty beds that could instead provide a safer solution for 16- and 17-year-olds on Rikers Island? The answer lies in New York state’s age of criminal responsibility, which is set at 16 – an anomaly in the U.S., where the vast majority of states set the age at 18. Accordingly, in New York, a 16-year old’s pre-trial detention location depends on the date the alleged crime took place. If it took place before the youth’s 16th birthday, he will be under the jurisdiction of the Family Court and held in a juvenile facility. If the alleged crime took place after the youth’s 16th birthday, he will be under the jurisdiction of the criminal court, and held in an adult jail like Rikers.

In order to comply with federal standards that prohibit holding “juveniles” with adults, the city cannot hold a 16-year-old who is under the jurisdiction of the Family Court in the same facility with a 16-year-old under the jurisdiction of the “adult” criminal court.

Nevertheless, in order to use the empty juvenile beds for the benefit of

youths on Rikers Island, the city cannot and should not wait for the New York state Legislature to raise the state’s age of criminal responsibility. Albany has failed to act on this issue repeatedly during the last five years. The state Legislature did not vote on a 2011 “raise the age” proposal by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and more recently failed to vote on a raise the age proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

Instead, the city could house all of the 94 youths at Crossroads and Horizons in one of these 124-bed facilities. The remaining facility would be solely designated to house 16- and 17-year-olds currently held on Rikers Island. While residents in the latter facility would technically be under the custody of the adult correctional authority, it will maintain the current standard of care and programming, and keep staff that is trained in working with minors.

Utilizing the extra space at Crossroads and Horizons would drastically reduce the population of 16- and 17-year-olds on Rikers – 254 as of September of 2014 – by half, focusing the city’s search for an alternative to Rikers on a much smaller group.

It will go a long way towards preventing another tragedy for youth at our city’s notorious jail complex.

Yuval Sheer is an attorney and the former deputy director of the New York Center for Juvenile Justice.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.