Juvenile Justice Providers and Advocates Say “No” to Department of Correction Staff in Juvenile Detention Facilities

Contact: Kate Rubin  |  917 647 5777  |  krubin@youthrepresent.org
Read the Letter to Mayor re: Specialized Secure Detention (PDF)

NYC must remove all 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers by October 2018, but Mayor plans to transfer Rikers staff to juvenile jails along with teens. Local organizations warn that the culture of Rikers Island will be imported to juvenile facilities housing teenagers as young as 13.

As New York City moves forward with implementation of historic Raise the Age legislation, over 70 local organizations, including service providers, grassroots, legal, and advocacy organizations, sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio calling on him to halt the plan to staff juvenile detention facilities with Department of Correction (DOC) Officers from Rikers Island and other NYC jails.  These organizations expressed their willingness to work with the administration to find alternatives to having youth in juvenile detention facilities supervised by DOC staff.

Raise the Age legislation passed in 2017 mandates that all 16- and 17-year olds be removed from Rikers Island by October of 2018 and held in “specialized juvenile detention.” Nothing in the Raise the Age law states that DOC staff must be present in these juvenile detention facilities.  The clear intent of Raise the Age is to ensure that 16- and 17-year olds receive developmentally appropriate services, supports and supervision.

In December of 2017, the City indicated in testimony before the New York City Council that they plan to remove 16- and 17-year olds from Rikers Island, only to have them directly supervised by DOC Correction Officers in juvenile detention facilities for at least two years.  The letter sent to the Mayor today outlines grave concerns with this proposal.

“For decades, teenagers have been subject to adult incarceration on Rikers Island. The historically horrific conditions at Rikers Island, particularly for adolescents, are well-documented,” reads the letter. “Raise the Age legislation provides New York City the opportunity to end adult incarceration of 16 and 17-year olds for good.  Moving youth off of Rikers Island only to have them supervised by correctional staff from DOC not only squanders this opportunity, it undermines the purpose of Raise the Age and risks transporting the culture of confrontation and violence to juvenile facilities, where it has the potential to impact younger children.”

Chairperson of the City Council Justice Committee, Council Member King stated “As we implement Raise The Age in the City of New York with a mandate from the State later this year, we must not lose sight of the mission of the juvenile justice system and who is prepared to serve our young people.  I am not convinced that Corrections staff have the proper training and attitude to work with these youth in the way that trained ACS Division of Youth and Family Justice professionals can as we implement the spirit of this legislation.  As Juvenile Justice Chair at in the New York City Council, I am prepared to join my colleagues in vigilance in shining a light on this issue as we approach the budget season,”

“The use of DOC staff in juvenile correction facilities, as part of the implementation of New York’s Raise The Age law, makes no sense,” said Queens Council Member Lancman, Chair of the Committee on the Justice System. “The City has an opportunity to fundamentally change how young people interact with the justice system, but the Mayor’s plan just replicates what has not worked in the past. I urge the Mayor to reverse this misguided decision and develop a transition plan that provides proper services and support for these teenagers.”

“It is of deep concern that the City is planning to use DOC staff in juvenile correctional facilities as part of its plan to implement the Raise the Age law,” said Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Investigation.  “If the City is able to quickly and adequately implement other programs that impact youth, then it can surely figure out how to best handle the transition of youth to juvenile facilities with the appropriate staff that are not DOC officers coming from Rikers Island. This is a matter of will-power to overcome bureaucratic red-tape. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to figure out the best transition and implementation plan that ensures youth in juvenile facilities get the appropriate services they need by the appropriate staff.”

Manhattan Council Member Keith Powers, Chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice said, “I share the concerns about removing juveniles from Rikers Island but continuing to supervise them with correctional staff from DOC. This undermines the purpose of the Raise the Age effort. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the City Council to ensure that 16- and 17-year olds receive the appropriate services and personnel.”

“Transferring youth from Rikers Island only to keep them under the supervision of DOC staff invalidates the progress made through the passing of Raise the Age legislation,” said Sr. Paulette LoMonaco, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Services. “The unacceptable conditions and abuses in prisons will only be resolved by ending teenage incarceration in the adult correctional system. We urge the Mayor to work with community organizations and providers to find a comprehensive alternative that ensures the best path forward for these teenagers.”

“Children need therapeutic interventions and supports,” said Jeremy Kohomban, President and Chief Executive of The Children’s Village.  “The Department of Correction plays many important roles, but we don’t believe that DOC staff have the clinical expertise and foundational therapeutic approach needed in juvenile detention.”

The Children’s Defense Fund – New York is alarmed at the City’s plan to remove youth from Rikers only to continue their supervision in juvenile detention by the Department of Correction,” said Naomi Post, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund – New York.  “Raising the age of criminal responsibility represents an opportunity to reform the juvenile justice system.  Continuing to house youth in facilities overseen by adult corrections defeats the intent of raising the age.”

“Since the transfer of juvenile detention to ACS in 2010, ACS has thoughtfully and deliberately enhanced the City’s juvenile justice system to better address trauma, education and service needs of youth and their families,” said Jennifer March, Executive Director, Citizens’ Committee for Children. “The City’s plan to transfer staff from adult jails, like Rikers, to juvenile detention facilities will inevitably result in the transfer of a toxic culture and violence into the detention system.  We must not allow this to happen and must instead find an alternative that ensures that the City protects and expands upon the progress it has achieved in the juvenile justice system as we raise the age of criminal responsibility.”

“For far too long, New York City’s youth have suffered abhorrent conditions at Rikers Island in adult incarceration,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-In-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Recent legislation, although imperfect, will finally end this practice for 16 and 17 year olds, but moving these individuals to facilities supervised by the Department of Correction is shortsighted and subverts what this reform seeks to change. Correction officers would poison the well by transporting the culture of confrontation widespread at other jails throughout the city to these facilities. We must and can do better for young New Yorkers entangled in the juvenile justice system.”

“Having been incarcerated at both Rikers Island and Crossroads, I can say that the staff are completely different,” said youth advocate Luis Padilla.  “DOC Correction Officers have militarized training that will just create a mini Rikers.  Staff in juvenile facilities are trained to deescalate conflict and promote positive youth development, which is what our young people need and deserve.”

“Among the most important achievements of Raise the Age legislation is the promise of finally ending adult incarceration of 16 and 17 year olds in New York,” said Laurie Parise, Executive Director of Youth Represent.  “We understand that it will be extremely difficult to hire and train new ACS staff on a short timeline.  But doing so will not be nearly as difficult as uprooting the culture of Rikers Island once it establishes itself in our youth detention facilities.”

“No child should ever be in a cage and we look eagerly to the phasing out of youth prisons altogether,” said Rev. Rubén Austria, Executive Director of Community Connections for Youth. “But while children are still being held in custody, it matters who is watching them. The culture of the Department of Correction is one of coercion and control and goes against the fundamental truth undergirding raise the age – that children are children and need to treated as such.”

“The collective understanding behind New York’s successful efforts to raise the age of criminal responsibility is that children are not adults, and they should not be treated as adults simply because they are charged with committing a crime,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York.  “Moving young people off Rikers Island is an important step in the right direction; using Department of Correction staff to supervise them is not. I urge the Mayor to consider other alternatives.”

“Implementing Raise the Age presents an opportunity for New York City to demonstrate a sense of humanity towards 16 and 17 year olds after decades of injustice, unfairly treating children as adults,” said Rob DeLeon, Associate Vice President of Programs at The Fortune Society.
“Removing all youth under 18 from Rikers Island by October is a critical step forward, but the culture of Rikers is not formed by buildings alone. Allowing Department of Correction staff to continue supervising youth will recreate the same harmful culture and power dynamics of Rikers Island, despite a new setting. We urge Mayor de Blasio to reconsider the current strategy.”

“Youth detention facilities are safest when they are trauma-informed,” said David Condliffe, Executive Director of the Center for Community Alternatives.  “As the provider of daily afterschool programming for youth at Crossroads Juvenile Detention Facility, Center for Community Alternatives can speak firsthand to the importance of creating an emotionally safe space to support the healthy development of justice-involved youth. Facility Staff must be aware of their own triggers, trained on de-escalation techniques and able to build mutually respectful relationships with youth. Trauma-informed ACS Junior Counselors are best equipped to create both an emotionally and physically safe environment for NYC youth in secure detention facilities.”

“Leaving the safety and rehabilitation of children in the hands of those who fostered the culture of violence at Rikers Island undermines the very purpose and promise of Raise the Age,” said Gregg Stankewicz, Director of The Bronx Defenders’ Adolescent Defense Project. “When the legislation takes effect, New York City must place 16- and 17-year-old children who are detained or sentenced under the supervision of ACS, not with the staff who allowed the abuses that are driving the impending shutdown of Rikers.”

“Moving young people off Rikers Island only to jail them with the same inept and abusive Rikers staff isn’t reform, it’s sleight of hand,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “If the city is truly interested in reform, as it has claimed, it will offer these children services like rehabilitation and support for re-entry, not jail time at Rikers-lite.”

“The Correctional Association stands with our allies in opposing the City’s plan to have DOC staff supervise 16- and 17-year-olds,” said Interim Executive Director of the Correctional Association Carlton Mitchell.  “These children – and all young people – need age appropriate, strength-based, and trauma informed services provided by the staff and agencies best equipped and skilled to provide them.”

“Transferring 16 and 17 year olds off of Rikers Island is surely the right thing to do,” said Edwin Santana, member of Just Leadership USA.  “However, transferring the Correction Officers who oversee them now is defeating the purpose.  Incarcerated youth need counselors who are compassionate about healing. Allowing the CO’s to continue to oversee the incarcerated youth is to allow continued abuse instead of healing. As a member of JustLeadership USA, and as a formerly incarcerated youth who has suffered at the hands of abusive CO’s, I oppose this idea!”

“When 16 and 17 year olds are finally moved off Rikers, New York City will have the chance to demonstrate true leadership in creating humane conditions for incarcerated youth. If the City allows DOC staff to continue supervising these children, they will demonstrate just the opposite,” said Sandy Santana, Executive Director for Children’s Rights. “This plan runs contrary to the goals of Raise the Age, and risks perpetuating the very culture of violence that currently exists at Rikers.”

“We have to be successful on the implementation of Raise the Age legislation.  This is a momentous occasion and opportunity to end debilitating practices that harm our youth further, and to instead create a transformative system that allows our youth to thrive in life,” said Gisele Castro, Executive Director, exalt youth.

“For too long, our 16 and 17 year old clients have been subjugated to devastating violence and inhumane conditions while in Department of Correction (DOC) custody,” said Terrence Bogans, Director of Bail Operations at the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. “The Mayor’s proposal – moving kids off Rikers, but keeping them under DOC custody – simply replicates a system that promotes physical confrontation and abuse. The proposal falls far short of what we need – the recognition that 16 and 17 year olds are children who must be treated as such, rather than treated as criminals and supervised by correctional officers.”

Monifa Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform said: “The purpose of raising the age of criminal responsibility was not to simply change the venues where youth are detained or incarcerated while maintaining the same type of treatment. The de Blasio administration’s proposal to do exactly that is unacceptable and should be withdrawn in place of a plan that provides safe, developmentally-appropriate treatment for young people. Our youth—and long-sought reforms that will allow them to be treated outside of the adult criminal justice system—are too important for shortcuts.”

“They missed the point of Raising the Age. They missed the point that these 16 and 17-year-olds are still children. By simply moving them, all you’ve done is play musical chairs on the sinking Titanic ship that is the criminal justice system in New York, adding an additional stress to these children on top of the same insufficient and age inappropriate conditions they have experienced in Rikers. What these children need are the correct personnel who are qualified and trained in adolescent behavior. Until the City makes the appropriate staffing changes, Raise the Age will be in name only,” said Bertha Lewis, Founder and President of The Black Institute.

“Incarcerated children in the justice system need to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Allen Roskoff of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.  “Incarcerated youth have experienced a history of neglect and abuse at the hands of DOC staff.  They need to be supervised by people who care about their well-being, their future and their dignity. We implore the City to do what’s humane and just by ensuring the care and appropriate supervision of vulnerable youth.