NYC Orgs Urge Boards to Support Borough-Based Jails Plan

By CN Staff

NEW YORK—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.

Organization leaders are calling attention to critical benefits to health, mental health and successful reentry of the City’s plan through letters of support and testimony at Community Board hearings.

“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,” says 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 and near the communities in which people live.

The nine Rikers jails are in bad shape. They leak when it rains, freeze in the winter, swelter in the summer, and often have mold and asbestos. Additionally, people held there often cannot access educational, job training and re-entry programming due to the jails’ obsolete physical layouts and frequent lock-downs.

The isolation of its location also makes it difficult and time-consuming for family members to be visit. As a result, this makes it easier for important connections to be broken—connections that are often critical to success upon release.

Additionally, its location can also make fair legal representation challenging. Lawyers are often unable to visit their clients at Rikers because even a 20-minute visit can take hours.

The “out-of-sight” nature of Rikers and lack of accountability has led to a level of violence that threatens the safety of everyone. As a result, many leave Rikers Island worse off than when they entered.

Georgia Lerner is executive director of the Women’s Prison Association. She says women should be housed together in a single, stand-alone, centrally-located facility and provided the trauma-informed support they need. 

“Many incarcerated women have histories of trauma and most are mothers. Every effort should be made to provide alternatives to incarceration for women. 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.”

Adds Cheryl Roberts, Executive Director of the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, “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. 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.
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