Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/588 Wed, 24 Apr 2019 11:11:27 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) We Must Seize Today’s Path to Actually Closing Rikers; It May Not Be Here Tomorrow http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8465-seizing-path-to-actually-closing-rikers-jails-corey-johnson-lippman http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8465-seizing-path-to-actually-closing-rikers-jails-corey-johnson-lippman city council speaker

Speaker Corey Johnson, one of the authors, with Mayor de Blasio (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Three years ago, the idea of closing the nine jails on Rikers Island was widely considered impossible. But in April 2017, after an intense campaign by advocates and the findings of an independent commission convened by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by Judge Jonathan Lippman, Mayor de Blasio committed to the goal.

Today, we are within hailing distance.

The starting point for closing the Rikers jails is dramatically cutting the number of people who are incarcerated, and we have made real strides towards this goal. Thanks to reforms to policing and prosecution, investments in alternatives to incarceration, and continuing pressure from advocates, there are 1,800 fewer people in city jails than there were two years ago—all while the city remains safer than ever.

The total number of people in jails is now under 8,000, the lowest it has been in many decades and representative of a lower incarceration rate than any other major United States city. Reforms recently enacted in Albany to bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws will reduce that number further and bring us much closer to the goal of 5,000 or fewer people incarcerated that would eventually permit the end of Rikers jails.

But to actually shutter the Rikers jails, and not just talk about it, it is imperative for the city to build a smaller system of facilities located in the boroughs to hold those who remain. Today there are three operating non-Rikers jails, including a 1950s-era tower in downtown Brooklyn and a 30-year-old barge docked in the Bronx that would be closed along with Rikers. None are examples of humane design, and together they have space for fewer than 2,400 people. 

New York City has launched the land use process that will determine whether Rikers jails can be shut down. If successful, it will lead to the authorization of four redesigned facilities to hold 5,000 people or fewer in total. Three of the planned facilities—in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan—are on the site of existing jails, next to borough courthouses. The fourth, in the Bronx, is on an NYPD tow pound lot in Mott Haven. The Bronx site is farther from the courthouse than the others, but still exponentially closer and more accessible than Rikers.

Of course, a plan of this scale and impact has critics.

Some say that closing Rikers is impossible. These are the same voices that said, two years ago, that everyone in city jails deserved to be there. They are the same voices that said, five years ago, that ending the policy of widespread stop-and-frisk that was devastating communities of color would lead to an outbreak of crime. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

Then there are those who oppose borough facilities for the exact opposite reason. They argue that borough jails would “normalize” incarceration. Nothing could do more to normalize incarceration and to perpetuate a toxic culture of violence and mass incarceration than continuing to warehouse New Yorkers on a hidden penal colony.

Others have said that we must pause this process. But every day that we wait is an extra day that the Rikers jails will remain open, harming the people who work and are incarcerated there. And many who call for delay understand that it would squander the once-in-a-generation opportunity the city has to move towards closing Rikers now, ultimately derailing the project. 

Finally, some people who live near the proposed facilities are concerned about the impact on their neighborhoods. These concerns, which include traffic, safety, and size, are understandable and must be thoroughly assessed, and that is what is happening in the land use process now underway. Yet we must remember: there are jails currently operating in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn without any negative impact to property values or crime.

The plan that the mayor has put forward is an essential step in the path to close the Rikers jail complex. Conversations with communities have already led to initial reductions in the height and density of the planned facilities and more thoughtful plans regarding the treatment of incarcerated women. Moving forward, we expect to see more work from the administration to improve the plan—such as finding non-jail, hospital-based alternatives for people with serious mental health diagnoses—and to address neighborhood concerns.

Equally important, the administration must invest in the socio-economic needs of the communities that historically have been hit hard by the inequities of the criminal justice system. And to demonstrate his seriousness about changing the justice system, Mayor de Blasio should raze the jail on Rikers that he closed last summer.

The land use process that began is necessary to put an end to Rikers, but it is not the end of the road. We will still need to determine crucial issues like how the facilities will be operated and what services and programs they will provide. Finishing the job will require the same focus and advocacy that got us to this point.

The misery of Rikers has been well-known, and well-documented, for decades. The reason those jails continue to exist today is that closing them was always considered too difficult. But to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we are not doing this because it is easy; we are doing it because it is hard—and absolutely necessary for a justice system that is worthy of our city.

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Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. Jonathan Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State, of counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP, and chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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We Must Seize Today’s Path to Actually Closing Rikers; It May Not Be Here Tomorrow Mon, 22 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Needs Real Criminal Justice Reform from Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8408-new-york-city-needs-real-criminal-justice-reform-from-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8408-new-york-city-needs-real-criminal-justice-reform-from-albany city council rikers jail coreyjohnson

Speaker Johnson, the author (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


In New York, you can be locked up based on purported evidence that isn’t even disclosed to you, until a trial that can be postponed indefinitely, unless you are wealthy enough to pay your way out. That is the reality under our state’s antiquated laws governing cash bail, discovery, and speedy trial. With Democrats truly controlling both houses of the state Legislature and the governorship for the first time in decades, we now have a meaningful opportunity to modernize these regressive laws and bring justice to our criminal justice system.

We have made great strides in criminal justice reform in New York City. We have reduced arrests and eliminated prosecutions for low-level offenses that have no impact on public safety. Through bail funds, supervised release programs, and ability-to-pay assessments, we reduced our jail population from over 11,000 in early 2014 to just under 8,000 by the end of 2018. Despite these efforts, every day thousands of New Yorkers charged with a non-violent felony or a misdemeanor await trial on Rikers Island. They have not been found guilty of anything -- they simply cannot afford to pay bail. We need the state to act to end this gross injustice.

Our discovery law compounds the injustice of indefinite detention by forcing people charged with crimes to make crucial decisions about their cases without knowing what evidence the government has or doesn’t have. It allows District Attorneys to withhold even basic evidence, such as police reports, until the eve of trial, a form of institutionally-sanctioned sandbagging. Currently, defense investigators must scramble at the last minute to locate favorable witnesses or secure video evidence that could exonerate someone, but which may be long gone by the time of trial. By hamstringing the defense through New York’s blindfold law, we have turned “innocent until proven guilty” into “guilty until it is too late to prove otherwise so you just give up.”  

Lawmakers in Albany have nothing to fear from discovery reform. New York is one of only four states – the others are South Carolina, Wyoming, and Louisiana – that do not allow a defendant to know anything about the witnesses against them before starting a trial. But we don’t even need to look outside our city to see how progressive discovery practices can work -- for decades the Brooklyn District Attorney's office has committed to open discovery without compromising the safety of witnesses.

Our state’s bail laws are as antiquated as our discovery laws, but our city’s programs designed to reduce the jail population have proven that we don’t need to derail people’s lives by setting cash bail in order to ensure that they return to court. Eighty-eight percent of people released on their own recognizance return to court, as compared to 91% released on bail and 92% placed into supervised release.

We cannot justify spending $250,000 per year to incarcerate someone for a 3% higher chance they come to court, especially with a cheaper alternative that produces better results. Cash bail takes people away from their families, from their jobs, and from their lives, and forces family members to choose between putting food on the table and paying exorbitant fees to a bail bond industry that profits off of their poverty.

Cash bail is nothing more than punishment for the poor. Harvey Weinstein simply paid his way to freedom, while Kalief Browder languished on Rikers for years, because of a system that, as New York Times bestselling author Bryan Stevenson wrote, “treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.”

Our speedy trial laws are controlled entirely by the state. Under New York law, there is no right to a speedy trial -- there is only a right to have prosecutors state they are “ready” for trial within 90 days for a misdemeanor and six months for a felony. This framework encourages prosecutors to manipulate the system by using procedural maneuvers to postpone cases when they are not “ready” in order to minimize their speedy trial obligations.

In many instances these three nightmares coalesce: a person can’t make bail, can’t start their trial, and can’t get access to the documents that provide the basis for their prosecution and defense. We continue to do what we can in New York City to right these wrongs. But the truth is that we need the state to act right now to reform its laws and achieve real justice in our criminal justice system.

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Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. On Twitter @NYCSpeakerCoJo.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New York City Needs Real Criminal Justice Reform from Albany Fri, 29 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As We Close Rikers, Criminal Justice Reformers are Ready for Full Partnership in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8143-as-we-close-rikers-criminal-justice-reformers-are-ready-for-full-partnership-in-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8143-as-we-close-rikers-criminal-justice-reformers-are-ready-for-full-partnership-in-albany guards rikers

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

Riding high on the crest of a Democratic blue wave powered by grassroots progressives, New York Democrats finally took back the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. With this accomplishment comes a responsibility to finally act upon a long list of priorities that have been stymied by the Republican-controlled upper chamber of the Legislature in Albany.  

Chief among these priorities is criminal justice reform, a topic that the New York City Council has been tackling aggressively for some time. Perhaps the Council’s most ambitious effort in this sphere has been to close all jails on Rikers Island. The decrepit jails on this island embody human misery and tragedy and it is our moral imperative to close them forever.

Any realistic effort to close these jails requires reducing the pretrial detention population, as close to 90 percent of those housed on Rikers are merely accused and not convicted of crimes. While the city has managed to take several bold steps in this area, state action will be required to make the dream of closing Rikers a reality. Over the past few years, our efforts at state reform have been hamstrung by an uncooperative state Senate. Throughout the process, our progressive allies in the Assembly majority and Senate minority voiced support for progressive criminal justice reform but were unable to move key bills to fruition.

Their inability to move legislation through the Senate did not stop some state elected officials from crafting bills that would greatly improve our criminal justice system. This legislation now stands a strong chance of passing once the new Democratic majority sits for the 2019 legislative session.

agenda19v2 aFirst and foremost, bail and speedy trial reform must be prioritized. Both efforts would go a long way towards a more equitable criminal justice system writ large, while lowering the detainee population on Rikers Island. While we here on the City Council have done much to make our bail system fairer, only Albany can implement the deep and systemic reform necessary to make our pretrial detention system truly fair and just. There are a number of bills in the Assembly and Senate that either significantly restrict or eliminate cash bail, encourage the use of monitored release in lieu of detention, and help ensure that pretrial detention is reserved for only the most severe cases. Any of this legislation would go a long way towards fixing what is a fundamentally broken and unfair bail system.

Meanwhile, speedy trial reform is arguably even more important in reducing pretrial detention. Given that close to 90 percent of the jail population is pretrial detainees, cutting the speed with which cases are resolved has a direct and massive impact on the jail population: a 25 percent faster system would mean close to a 25 percent reduction in the jail population. Much like our state’s bail laws, our speedy trial laws are outdated and ineffective, lagging far behind the federal system and other states. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied, so resolving criminal prosecutions faster not only reduces our jail population, it also helps our criminal justice system as a whole. While Senate Democrats tried to push for some minor reforms to our broken speedy trial laws in recent years, our new Senate leaders must be aggressive in tackling this issue.

There are also lesser-discussed issues that could be enormously transformative, such as parole reform. Approximately 16 percent of the population of Rikers Island jails is incarcerated for parole violations, and the state controls this issue in its entirety. According to a report issued by Columbia University’s Justice Lab, the state parolee population is the only jail group that saw an increase in its size over the past four years. Thankfully, Albany is aware of the issue, evident in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State speech, in which he touched on the importance of parole reform. When the new state Legislature convenes in January, it can move to shorten parole terms, incentivize good behavior, and require speedier hearings on these issues.

Though its impact on our jail population may not immediately be apparent, discovery reform should also prove critical in helping the city to run a more just criminal justice system and to close Rikers Island jails. Discovery is the process by which the prosecution provides its evidence to the defense. New York State has among the most restrictive discovery laws in the country. While the issue may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple: since well over 95 percent of criminal prosecutions result in a plea or dismissal, the faster the defense is able to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case, the faster a plea or dismissal can be reached. Luckily, there is already legislation in Albany to ameliorate the situation, and our new leaders should embrace these progressive reforms.  

Over the past several years, we here at the City Council worked hard to bring our criminal justice system into the 21st century. However, there has always been a limit to what we can accomplish without willing partners in Albany. In early January, when our fellow Democrats in the state Senate take their seats as the new majority and work with the Democratic majority in the Assembly, the possibilities for progressive criminal justice reform will widen tremendously.

The progressive activists who helped make Democratic victories a reality in November will be watching the new Legislature closely. It is imperative that our state elected officials finally act to create a criminal justice system in New York that reflects our values as a state and a city.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, and Stephen Levin are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. Their districts are all slated to be home to new or larger jails as Rikers Island facilities are closed. On Twitter @DianaAyalaNYC & @CM_MargaretChin & @StephenLevin33.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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As We Close Rikers, Criminal Justice Reformers are Ready for Full Partnership in Albany Sun, 16 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
What Happens Next? A Service-Provider on the Mass Bail Out http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8021-what-happens-next-a-service-provider-on-the-mass-bail-out http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8021-what-happens-next-a-service-provider-on-the-mass-bail-out melinda katz ribbon mass bail out

(photo: Office of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz [CJ])


The Mass Bail Out action is currently underway, attempting to post bail for women and youth on Rikers Island and in city jails throughout New York. At last count, there were about 243 women held in jail because they cannot afford bail -- not because they’ve been proven guilty of their charges. We think this is an incredible and necessary effort rooted in the quest for justice. 

The only legal reason to hold a person on bail is to ensure they return to court, but research proves time and again that most people return to court on their own, especially women. This includes people bailed out by charitable bail funds. In fact, the Bronx and Brooklyn bail funds have been operating for over a decade and the people they serve return for their court dates 95 percent of the time. 

Further, women in jail are more likely than men to be the primary caretakers of their children, to have survived histories of violence and abuse, to be battling drug addiction and mental illness, and to live in poverty; circumstances only exacerbated when isolated on Rikers Island (or in any jail or prison).  To theorize that women are less a danger to themselves or others in jail is to erase their agency and to ignore the many needs we neglect to meet as a community. 

New Yorkers have a responsibility to reimagine the criminal justice system and to set an example for the rest of the country. At the Women's Prison Association (WPA), we envision a community where our reliance on incarceration as the default response to crime has been replaced by constructive, community-driven responses. Women come to WPA from Rikers every day. Partnering with the Mass Bail Out simply means providing the same services to more women at once.

There has been a plan set in place for every woman thus far, including transportation to safe housing, connection to health care, legal support, and provision of emergency needs like food and clothing. WPA's social workers are meeting these women at Rikers with tailored service plans and nonjudgmental support. Every day our staff work hard to meet the immediate and long-term needs of our clients, and I am proud of the tireless effort extended throughout this movement. These are supports every New Yorker should have available to them. 

WPA is 173 years old. We are familiar with the misconceptions around our work and similar efforts toward social progress like the Mass Bail Out. Critical to our vision of a world with fewer jails and prisons is the belief that all human beings have the capacity for change and that every individual can be accountable for her actions and the results.  We support the freedom of these women and teens, so that they can imagine and realize law-abiding, self-directed, and satisfying lives in the community, possible with our support and that of the city at large.

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Georgia Lerner is Executive Director at the Women’s Prison Association, which works with women at all stages of criminal justice involvement. On Twitter @Georgia_Lerner & @WPA_NYC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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What Happens Next? A Service-Provider on the Mass Bail Out Thu, 25 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 5,000 with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7901-what-s-the-data-point-5-000-with-liz-glazer-director-of-the-mayor-s-office-of-criminal-justice http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7901-what-s-the-data-point-5-000-with-liz-glazer-director-of-the-mayor-s-office-of-criminal-justice whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 52 -- 5,000, with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

glazer elizabeth pod

Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to close the jails on Rikers Island, in part by reducing the overall city jail population to 5,000 detainees, down from about 8,000 now, which is down from well over 20,000 two decades ago. Liz Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, joined the podcast to discuss the administration’s criminal justice policies.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's The [Data] Point? 5,000 with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Thu, 30 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key Question in Closing Rikers: How to Design Replacement Jails http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7823-key-question-in-closing-rikers-how-to-design-replacement-jails http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7823-key-question-in-closing-rikers-how-to-design-replacement-jails rikers renditions

Jail space rendering via "Justice in Design"


The first part of the plan is clear: the jails on Rikers Island will be closed. Less clear is the second part: what, exactly, the replacement jails will look like.

Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, empaneled by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, came to the same conclusion: Rikers – the isolated island, sandwiched between the Bronx and Queens on the East River, holding 10 of the city’s jails and over 7,000 inmates – must be shut down.

In June 2017, de Blasio announced a broad plan to do just that. His controversial proposal calls for continued reduction of the city’s plummeting jail population and the complete closure of all Rikers facilities within a period of 10 years, with remaining Rikers detainees transferred into jails in other parts of the city, using one facility in each borough other than Staten Island. For the plan to close Rikers to work, de Blasio has said, the city must get from the current 8,000-plus inmates across the city to about 5,000, while expanding or opening four facilities.

Challenges and questions remain, one of them being that the existing borough jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens don’t have the capacity to hold even 5,000 detainees (most of the individuals held in Rikers jails are pre-trial and have not been convicted of a crime, though some are serving relatively short sentences).

Shutting down Rikers jails requires the expansion or complete reconstruction of the current facilities, as well as erecting a new one in the Bronx. However, another challenge, which may pose far greater obstacles than merely laying down the bricks of these facilities, is establishing the foundation for a new way of thinking when it comes to designing and building jails.

“What we emphasized is that we’re trying to reimagine every step of the criminal justice system and, in particular, the jail facilities themselves,” said Jonathan Lippman, the former Chief Judge of the State of New York and the chair of the independent commission, which released a study advocating for the total shutdown of Rikers Island last April, preceding the mayor’s proposal, which differs in some ways. “So, wherever we’re having the kind of haphazard, decrepit, depressing conditions that you have now, we’re trying to look at ‘what should it be if you started from scratch?’”

The question of jail design is one of the most important facing the city as it moves toward closing Rikers Island, and aims to utilize the jails themselves as part of the equation in helping people transition after a jail stay of any length and reduce the chances they will ever be back.

Among others, one task force convened by the de Blasio administration is working on the issue, while a private architecture firm, Perkins Eastman, has been hired in a $7.5 million contract to take the task force’s input into consideration as it makes design and construction plans.

The culmination of the efforts of the task force and of Perkins Eastman will first be manifested into the Capital Scope Development Project Study, set for release by the end of this year, which will gauge the costs of the project as well as assess the capacity of the current borough facilities and explore how these facilities may be expanded or completely reconstructed.

For Lippman, the new network of jail facilities that will replace Rikers would imitate a “more normative environment that supports rehabilitation while simultaneously providing the neighborhoods with a couple of amenities,” as indicated in his commission’s study. Crafting such jails would mean to upend the existing conditions on Rikers – a place that Lippman calls an “accelerator of human misery,” with rotting floorboards, sewage backups, impaired heating and cooling systems and incessant violence, according to the commission’s report – and, instead, enhance access to natural light, activity spaces, direct supervision and community involvement.

The study also indicated the importance of a facility’s geographic location, since proximity to courthouses can cut travel costs of moving detainees from the jails to courthouses and back, and visitors should have easier access to visit their detained loved ones, which is part of reducing recidivism. Rikers Island is accessible to the outside world by one bridge, and anyone attempting a visit to the island can only go by car (although private parking is limited) and bus -- there is no subway access.  

“I think jails today, modern jails, can actually be a boon to the community,” Lippman said, citing the prosperity of Boerum Hill, the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Brooklyn House of Detention currently stands, “and rebut the idea that being in close proximity to the jail makes people unsafe or that it’s ugly or that it’s destructive to the community.”

In another report produced by the Lippman commission and the Van Alen Institute, providing room for civic services, retail shops or community spaces would be a basic function of a jail facility built with the intent of fully integrating into the community it’s in. Such a building would open up part of the first floor to the needs or desires of the community – say, for an art gallery, or a medical clinic, or a social services agency – while the upper floors would be where the jail operates.

“This is an opportunity for us, not to recreate what we have, but to really begin to think outside the box in terms of what we want,” said Stanley Richards, a member of the independent commission and the executive vice president of The Fortune Society, an organization that provides reentry services for formerly incarcerated people.

Richards additionally co-chairs the design committee of the mayor’s task force, where he works on developing design principles that will guide architects and general contractors in the design of the borough facilities.

“The only principles that were guiding the design and the development of the facilities that we currently have is, ‘How do you keep people detained and keep them away from society? How do you punish people?’ And that’s how they were built,” said Richards, who is formerly incarcerated himself, having spent two years in a Rikers jail. “That is not the design principles that we’re operating from.”

One important question on the table is what will be done with the existing, in-use Brooklyn and Manhattan jails, which are in especially busy areas of the city -- will they be refurbished or torn down and constructed anew, using modern design principles?

While the decision to expand or overhaul the existing facilities has not yet reached an official decision, Richards said, “Based on the design principles that we’re coming up and based on the capacity we need to build in the borough houses, it is highly unlikely that it will be done in the existing facilities. I believe it will require new facilities.”

The recommendations of the commission also provide a basis for what these new facilities have the potential to look like. A network of cells that surround a common living area, for example, can make way for a system of direct supervision, where a correctional officer can oversee more detainees with improved lines of sight. Grouping detainees into housing units based on similar needs or risk-levels also allows officers to apply a more responsive approach when dealing with detainee misconduct, since the traditional approach has been to rely on punitive segregation, or solitary confinement, even for detainees who engage in low-level misconduct.

The commission also recommends that inmates have access to a sort of “town center,” or an area that would include a clinic, pharmacy, dining hall, and programming spaces, thus providing detainees more freedom of movement, and they should be furnished in a way that imitates normative settings, with fittings as basic as seated, porcelain toilets and upholstered furniture, all of which contributes to the humanization their detention. The de Blasio administration has already announced programs to provide more education and job training to inmates, and has launched the “jails to jobs” program to facilitate short-term employment for those finishing a sentence in a city jail.

The mayor and the City Council settled on the sites of the Rikers-replacement facilities in an announcement this past February, with the projected borough facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to be held at the location of the standing detention centers, and the jail in the Bronx being at a city-owned tow pound lot in Mott Haven, though the Bronx site quickly became the subject of controversy and it is still unclear exactly where a Bronx jail will be built.

All sites will additionally undergo a single public review process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, set to kick off either by the end of this year or at the start of 2019, involving hearings with the local community boards, borough presidents, City Council members, and the City Planning Commission. One combined ULURP was announced by the mayor and Council Speaker Corey Johnson in order to speed the process, though some have questioned if that will allow enough local input in each affected community.

“New York City is a very different environment to build in and each borough is quite different,” said Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and co-chair of the Justice Implementation Task Force. “And, so there’s always going to be that sort of tug between the function that the jail must serve and the function that we want it to serve, and how space provides opportunities or constraints as desires.”

In May, the city’s average daily jail population fell to 8,402 – the lowest number it has reached since 1981. In a follow-up report produced by the Lippman commission, it is projected that the city could close Rikers as soon as 2024 and even have the new facilities constructed before then. Still, while it is one thing to build the new facilities, it is another to maintain them in a way that keeps them from defaulting back to today’s conditions on Rikers Island.

“It’s not a resource issue, but it is an institutional issue about how you treat people, how you classify people, how you house people, how you make security decisions,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and the city’s correction commissioner from 1995 to 1996. “All of that kind of goes to very poor training issues and a lot of this is gonna be complicated.”

Jacobson, who is also a member of the task force’s committee on Culture Change, recalled dealing with staff inefficiency and deteriorating infrastructure during his time as correction commissioner.

“The design is necessary but not sufficient to completely change the way jails operate,” he said. “You can do an incredible amount just with design, but in the end, those places have to be run with a sort of principle of human dignity.”

Jacobson made reference to the jail facilities in downtown Denver and in San Diego, places that emulate the humanizing principles indicated in the commission’s study; they enhance access to communal living spaces, lines of direct supervision and even natural light. From the outside, they hardly look like a jail.

“They’re still gonna be jails, but they don’t have to look or feel anything like those jails do,” Jacobson said. “You want to make it less stressful, less anxiety producing, safer, et cetera, et cetera. You can’t do all that with design, but you can do an incredible amount just with design.”

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

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Key Question in Closing Rikers: How to Design Replacement Jails Tue, 24 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio ‘Jails to Jobs’ Program Launches http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7788-de-blasio-jails-to-jobs-program-launches-close-rikers http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7788-de-blasio-jails-to-jobs-program-launches-close-rikers Rikers jails to jobs

On Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Judith is a newly-minted head chef. She had previously been a line cook, and was nervous about interviewing for a job running her own kitchen, but decided to take the plunge after some convincing. When it came time to speak to the hiring manager, Judith, in her own self-assessment, “killed it.”

Before Judith was head chef, before she was a line cook, before she knew kitchen skills, she was incarcerated. But it was her time in “Rosie,” the Rose M. Singer women’s jail on Rikers Island, that placed her on her trajectory to becoming a chef.

In April 2017, four months before her release from Rikers, Judith began participating in the workforce development programming offered onsite by the Osborne Association, a New York-based nonprofit that provides social services for the currently and formerly incarcerated. Osborne offers a number of professional education workshops and certification programs on Rikers, and Judith began training intensely with the group.

“I took advantage of...everything I could get my hands on,” she told Gotham Gazette, and ended up leaving Rikers with certificates in food handling, culinary arts, building maintenance, and job safety.

Upon her release, Osborne’s housing staff helped her secure a home, and its employment team reviewed her resume, coached her on interview skills, organized her paperwork, and placed her in an apprenticeship in a kitchen. When the apprenticeship ended, Osborne helped Judith find permanent employment and supported her emotionally as she progressed professionally.

“They kept encouraging me that it’d be okay, that I need to keep pushing forward. It wouldn’t have happened without them,” she said.

The Osborne Association is one of several organizations in New York City providing services to those incarcerated in city jails, both during their confinement and after their release. Most have been operating for decades — Osborne was founded in 1933, and its peer group, the Fortune Society, has operated since 1967 — and receive city funding. But it’s only been within the past year that the city government has mobilized the Osborne Association, the Fortune Society, and six other incarceration-services organizations — Samaritan Daytop Village, Fedcap, Housing Works, Friends of Island Academy, the Women’s Prison Association, and the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College — to provide short-term transitional employment to every individual leaving a city jail after serving a sentence.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that lofty goal, which he promised to actualize through the new “Jails to Jobs Initiative,” in March 2017. Jails to Jobs is now a component of the mayor’s ten-year plan to shutter the city jails on Rikers Island by reducing the jail population, combating recidivism, and opening or expanding modern borough-based facilities. The mayor’s announcement was scant on details on the program, simply promising that “everyone leaving city jails after serving a sentence will be offered paid, short-term transitional employment to help with securing a long-term job.”

Employment after incarceration has been shown to reduce recidivism by 22%, and de Blasio says that the city needs to reduce its jail population to 5,000 — almost a 50% drop from figures at the time of his announcement — in order to make feasible the closure of Rikers. In 2017, the average total population of those incarcerated on Rikers or the city’s other jail facilities stood at 9,148. On Monday, July 2, the total city jail population was 8,208, including 6,138 on Rikers, down from 9,206 one year prior.

Roughly 8,500 people leave city jails each year after serving a sentence (many more are incarcerated after an arrest but do not necessarily serve a sentence in a city or any jail or prison). It is not clear what capacity the city needs to ensure through provider agencies to make sure that each of those individuals has access to a “paid, short-term” job. The program is in its infancy. There is no set duration for “short-term,” a mayor’s office spokesperson said, indicating that it depends on the needs of the client and the service-provider.

Employment is, by most empirical measures, both crucial to successful post-incarceration reentry and disproportionately difficult to attain for the formerly incarcerated. In 2017, 80% of those who served a sentence in a New York City jail had been unemployed at the time of their arraignment, and the National Institute of Justice estimates that between 60 and 75 percent of formerly-incarcerated individuals are jobless up to a year after their release.

This joblessness does not seem to be for lack of effort. A survey conducted by the Urban Institute reported that 79% of formerly-incarcerated individuals sought employment once out of jail, but data show that justice-involved individuals consistently face legal, perceptive, and racialized barriers to employment. More than 80% of employers in the United States perform criminal background checks on potential employees, and a government-published study conducted in New York City found that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback by almost 50%.

Still, white justice-involved applicants were twice as likely to hear back from a potential employer than black justice-involved applicants were. In a city that jails black and Latino people almost exclusively, this racial disparity has far-reaching effects.

Guaranteed employment for the formerly-incarcerated, then, would radically alter the conditions of thousands of New Yorkers leaving a city jail, and Jails to Jobs seems to be the first initiative of its kind in the United States. It may prove to be a massively complex undertaking.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) is spearheading the initiative in collaboration with eight criminal justice nonprofits. “The bulk of the initiative,” said Patrick Gallahue, MOCJ’s senior press director, “includes paid transitional employment and supportive services in the community.”

The city works with groups that provide an array of services. For instance, the Friends of Island Academy holistically focuses on the needs of formerly-incarcerated youths while the Women’s Prison Association offers gender-specific services, and Housing Works helps the formerly-incarcerated secure stable housing, a well-documented struggle for justice-involved individuals.

Several leaders of the city’s partner organizations spoke to Gotham Gazette of Jails to Jobs’ collaborative nature, whereby affiliated groups freely refer individuals to other organizations that may be better suited to their needs. For instance, if a Brooklyn resident sought assistance from the Fortune Society, based in Long Island City, Queens, staff there said they might refer them to the Osborne Association, which runs a center in Brooklyn Heights.

The Jails to Jobs initiative officially commenced on January 1 of this year, but most organizations began providing services under the program’s auspices in the spring, meaning the program has only recently launched in earnest.

The network of groups finding employment for formerly-incarcerated people is labyrinthine, and Jails to Jobs runs slightly differently between organizations. When MOCJ solicited programming proposals for Jails to Jobs, it wrote that the city would “strongly favor proposals that demonstrate partnerships through subcontracting or formal cost-sharing arrangements.” As a result, most Jails to Jobs participants are placed into internships through subsidiary organizations.

As of mid-June, the Osborne Association had employed 30 formerly-incarcerated individuals via three different, smaller groups — the Center for Employment Opportunity, Exponent, and the Hope Program — though it hopes to reach 150 people by the end of this year and 200 by the next.

The Center for Employment Opportunity primarily provides day labor cleanup crews and employs Jails to Jobs participants for four to five hours a day at $13 an hour. Exponent, a substance-use program, provides services and certifies in counseling. Programs have not yet begun at the Hope Program.

The Fortune Society, for its part, hopes to place 300 individuals in employment by the end of the year, and had enrolled 128 as of mid-June, 2018. That enrollment figure, as with all similar statistics from service providers, includes more than just the individuals who are currently employed in a paid, temporary internship — Jails to Jobs also funds hard skills training, including culinary, construction, and CDL driving certification.

“It’s going to look different for each person,” said Katharine Samberg, the Fortune Society’s Manager of Trainings and Transitional Programs. “Some don’t have job experience, and the transitional work program is for people who need to get a footing and realize they can be a beneficial employee.”

Experiences vary along lines of gender, as well. In 2015, women comprised roughly 6% of the city jail population, and their experiences before, during, and after incarceration differ from those of men, said Nyasha Rivera, who oversees the Jails to Jobs program at the Women’s Prison Association.

“We are not using tools that were created for men or are gender-neutral,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. Since they are often the primary caregivers of children, meaning they must live in bigger homes, be nearer to sources of support, and are often more undesirable to landlords, women typically face less housing stability post-release than men do, which depresses their ability to find employment. And gender-specific “trauma that women experience prior to incarceration, during incarceration, and in the reentry process...serves as a barrier,” Rivera said.

The Women’s Prison Association offers, through various partnerships, employment tracks in culinary arts, building maintenance, and front-of-house restaurant work. As part of Jails to Jobs, the Association offers eight paid weeks of job training followed by a two-week paid internship, a different program than those run by other service providers.

Still, explained Jim Hollywood of Daytop Samaritan Village, “all Jails to Jobs contracts across the city have a similar construction to the programs.” Job training services begun during incarceration place individuals in contact with service providers, who continue employment support after release, which comes, in part, in the form of a city-subsidized temporary internship.

MOCJ allocated almost $9 million -- $8,885,492 -- to the Jails to Jobs program in its first year, which it’s spent mainly in the form of grants to service providers. That money pays for the minimum wage salaries of program participants for up to 21 hours a week, assuaging, the hope is, any sense among employers that to employ a formerly-incarcerated person is to undertake a risk.

Employers can choose to supplement the schedules and salaries of their formerly-incarcerated employees beyond what the city guarantees. Such is the case of Alexandra, who spent 18 months on Rikers Island and a little over a year in state prisons. She connected with the Fortune Society while on Rikers through taking its anger management, family safety, and job training workshops. Upon release, Alexandra entered into an internship at a home health services facility that employs her for over 40 hours a week, paying the half of her full-time salary that the city, through the Fortune Society, does not cover.

Like Judith, Alexandra (Gotham Gazette agreed to withhold last names) credits her connection with an incarceration-services group for her stable re-entry process. Immediately following her release from the Taconic State Prison, where she was sent after time on Rikers, staff at the Fortune Society helped Alexandra open a Medicaid account, apply for food stamps, and begin learning skills necessary for re-integration. She called it a “one-stop shop” in an interview with Gotham Gazette, and is now poised to be hired full-time as a coordinator at the home health services facility once her internship ends this month.

It is difficult to ascertain whether the successes of Judith and Alexandra are representative of most participants’ experiences with Jails to Jobs; most organizations only began running the program two or three months ago. But each service provider, as per the terms of MOCJ’s solicitation for proposals, already has extensive experience in reentry programming in New York City.

Data points for the program are tricky to come by. For example, Gallahue, the MOCJ press director, told Gotham Gazette that the city does “not have a precise number” regarding the expected demand for jobs among recently-released individuals. Though at this time it is known that approximately 8,500 people leave city jails after serving a sentence each year, MOCJ could not say how many individuals who had served a sentence could be expected to be looking for a job at any given time.

No organization told Gotham Gazette of having to turn away an individual for lack of space in an employment program; if anything, most are eager to grow. But, in the words of City Council Member Rory Lancman, who chairs the Committee on the Justice System, without a figure from the city, it is nearly impossible to assure that “every person serving a city sentence would have access to this job training, job placement program...it’s incumbent on the city to explain how it’s going to meet its commitment of serving every person serving a city sentence.”

Anecdotally, a minority of those released from city jails, even those who’d been involved with a service provider while incarcerated, seek post-release services. Judith said that she is the only one of her roughly 20 peers who’d been enrolled in Osborne’s classes on Rikers to seek out the organization’s help once off the island.

Her two closest friends from Rosie “have every excuse [to not go to Osborne]...For one, it’s easier for her to sell drugs on the street, and, for the other one, it’s her boyfriend.”

Improved outreach would help, she said — for some, organizations should “take them by the hand.”

The employment services Jails to Jobs has added resources to have changed Judith’s life, she said.

“I’m so grateful to that program. They did a wonder job on me. A wonder job.”

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio ‘Jails to Jobs’ Program Launches Thu, 05 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Criminal Justice Reform in New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7712-max-murphy-podcast-criminal-justice-reform-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7712-max-murphy-podcast-criminal-justice-reform-in-new-york mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


June 5, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Criminal Justice Reform in New York

fortune society reps for 277

The Fortune Society is on the front lines in the fight to keep people out of jail, help those leaving jail successfully reenter larger society, advocate for criminal justice reforms, and make sure that housing, jobs, and social services are available to all. JoAnne Page, president and CEO of the Fortune Society, and Stanley Richards, Fortune's executive vice president and a formerly incarcerated person, joined the podcast to discuss a wide range of topics related to the work they do, criminal justice policy, and next steps in New York for a fairer justice system.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Criminal Justice Reform in New York Tue, 05 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Wrong Site for a Bronx Jail http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7715-the-wrong-site-for-a-bronx-jail http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7715-the-wrong-site-for-a-bronx-jail De Blasio Rikers Bronx Jail

Mayor de Blasio on Rikers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Closing Rikers Island jails is the right decision for New York City, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of a thriving community. The Concourse neighborhood in the West Bronx has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Densely packed blocks of tenants and homeowners, public and parochial schools, libraries and mom-and-pop shops surround a glut of municipal uses. Shoehorning a 25-story, 1,500-bed jail into this neighborhood would be a significant and lasting mistake, one that would undermine the progress the West Bronx has made and the progress we hope to achieve through new borough-based jail facilities.

A new jail at East 161 Street, behind the Bronx Hall of Justice, would bring additional traffic to an area that already regularly experiences gridlock. There’s practically no parking in the area and it’s not uncommon to find court and police cars parked on sidewalks and in medians. And that’s before factoring in Yankees game-day traffic.

Proponents of the 161 Street site argue that by eliminating Department of Correction bus trips, the jail would relieve congestion. It might help, but the traffic generated by correction staff and visitors would increase traffic in the area tenfold. The de Blasio administration admits it has no plans to expand available parking in the area. Unless the City comes up with a real plan to reduce congestion, it’s unfair and unsafe to site a jail in this area.

If the 161 Street proposal were to go through, the Bronx’s borough-based jail facility would be less than 50 feet away from one of its highest performing high schools. In addition to the high school, an elementary campus, and a parochial school share the same block. I strongly believe no student should go to school in the shadow of a jail. It would disrupt the learning environment and undermine our efforts to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Simply put, our young people deserve better.

Finally, if the administration wants to truly create a more humane jail, I question the rationale behind choosing the site with the smallest square footage. The proposed NYPD tow pound site boasts a lot of 183,000 square feet, in contrast to the 93,000 – 115,000 square feet afforded at the East 161 Street site. Cells, communal spaces, medical facilities, and even correction officers’ quarters will all have to be smaller. Recreation facilities will have to be on the roof, where detainees could potentially see into the apartments of nearby residents.

Female prisoners will have to be housed elsewhere, adding even more traffic to the community when they’re bused in for court appearances. The lot size at East 161 Street would require the jail be built at a towering 25 stories, raising concerns about officer response time in the event of an emergency, like a riot or a fire.

These are serious concerns and must not be taken lightly.

Ultimately, the proposal to site a jail at East 161 Street falls short. Its proximity to the courts may speed up cases and benefit court officers, but the risk to the community, to our children, and to the integrity and intent of borough-based facilities is too great to ignore. The City originally proposed the tow pound site, just two miles away. That site has a larger footprint, allowing for a 10-story facility with ground level recreation, and is several blocks away from the nearest school. I urge the administration to return to its original plan: build a borough jail facility at the tow pound, and allow the Concourse community to keep thriving.

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City Council Member Vanessa Gibson represents parts of the Bronx. On Twitter @VanessaLGibson.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Wrong Site for a Bronx Jail Tue, 05 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Must Stop Using Incarcerated People as Revenue Source http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7628-city-must-stop-using-incarcerated-people-as-revenue-source http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7628-city-must-stop-using-incarcerated-people-as-revenue-source mayor depart cc ponte rikers island

(Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The City of New York, like many cities and states across the country, profits from people experiencing poverty who come into contact with the criminal justice system. New York imposes a plethora of fees on persons charged with and/or convicted of a crime or minor infraction, ranging from a fee to support the DNA Bank, to an incarceration fee, to a fee for parole or probation.

Among the most egregious of these fees involve phone calls in New York City jails. New York City reaps millions of dollars in profits from people who are in city jails and simply want to make a phone call.

Many of these people have not been convicted of a crime. Nearly 75% of people in New York City jails are held pretrial, many because they were arrested and cannot afford to make bail. Some are in jail serving short sentences for minor misdemeanor offenses. All just want to talk with family, friends, or their attorney.

On Monday, the City Council will take the next step in exploring the opportunity to end this predatory practice when it debates a bill, Intro. 0741, introduced by Speaker Corey Johnson. The bill would put a stop to the City’s practice of using the jail phone as a revenue center. Passing it would be a first and important step toward ending what is truly a tax on justice.

Over the last 30 years, as rates of arrest and incarceration skyrocketed across the country, jurisdictions struggled to pay for the bloated justice system. Cities, counties, and states increasingly tried to generate revenue by imposing fees on people, including children, arrested for and convicted of crimes. In California, the state adds $390 in fees to the $100 fine imposed for running a red light. In Washington State, courts impose an average of $1,347 on every criminal conviction. In New York, people convicted of felonies face mandatory fees of $300; for misdemeanor convictions, the fee is $175.  

Although the criminal justice system is a vital government service meant to protect everyone’s public safety, more and more jurisdictions turned toward a “user-funded” system, unfairly demanding that some of the poorest Americans shoulder the burden.

Justice system fees disproportionately harm low-income people and their families who cannot afford to pay them. Communities of color are particularly devastated because they experience higher rates of poverty and over-policing in their communities. It is a burden that is often too heavy to bear. For the millions of people who cannot afford to pay them, outstanding fees trap them in the justice system for prolonged periods, entrenching poverty, exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities, and diminishing trust in government. And, because so many people cannot afford to pay them, criminal justice fees often generate less revenue than expected.

Some local and state governments have gone beyond simply trying to recoup costs through justice system fees and are trying to generate profits by imposing fees on people who are incarcerated, regardless of whether they have been convicted of any crime. In jurisdictions across the country, fees for “services” in jails and prisons (including exorbitant mark-ups on items for sale in the commissary) as well as fees for mail and “video” visitation are routinely imposed. New York City’s phone fee is a prime example of this unjust, discriminatory, and misguided policy.

Like all justice system fees, the phone fee particularly harms the city’s most vulnerable communities. It may also diminish public safety. When people in jail can’t afford to pay for phone calls, they can be cut off from contact with their families. Research shows that regular communication between incarcerated people and their loved ones correlates with lower recidivism and higher opportunity for successful re-entry to society.

We know the phone fee disproportionately harms people experiencing poverty and communities of color and may lead to higher recidivism rates. Yet, New York City government plans to extract millions of dollars next year from families who wish to stay in contact with their loved ones in City jails. Indeed, the mayor’s proposed budget anticipates that the Department of Corrections will collect nearly $6 million in profits from phone calls made by people incarcerated in city jails. But, budget negotiations between the de Blasio administration and the City Council have until the end of June to get it right.

The Council Speaker’s bill would stop the City from profiting from people who have already been targeted and trapped by a system that takes away freedom, dignity, and hope. It would help ensure that people who are incarcerated maintain critical community ties while they are in jail, increasing their opportunity for successful re-entry when they are released. It should be adopted by the Council and signed by the mayor.

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Joanna Weiss is the Co-Director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. Brandon J. Holmes is the #CLOSErikers Campaign Coordinator for JustLeadershipUSA. On Twitter @joannagweiss and @BJHolmes_NYC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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City Must Stop Using Incarcerated People as Revenue Source Sun, 22 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000