A conversation about reforming incarceration in New York City has to start with the urgency to close Rikers Island. Decades of efforts by mayors, governors, city and state legislators, prosecutors, civil rights lawyers, and judges have left us practically at square one: a brutal and destructive institution that endangers inmates, correction officers, and civilian staff.

Rikers must be closed, and newer, modern jail facilities built in its stead. The Lippman Commission has laid out the path to closure (described in this website’s “Detention” section), and we must follow it.

Beyond closing Rikers, 16- and 17-year-olds who will no longer be incarcerated with adults under the state’s new Raise the Age law should also no longer be supervised by adult jail corrections officers, but rather by Administration for Children’s Services staff specially trained in the care and custody of teenage detainees; adult inmates should have access to educational program; graduated discipline should be allowed, with solitary confinement severely restricted to only the most serious security threats, as well as in duration and degree of isolation; mentally ill and addicted inmates should get the treatment they need, rather than be merely warehoused as part of the never ending cycle of recidivism; excessive fees for phone calls and other necessities should be ended, and the City should return left-over commissary funds upon release from confinement. The Department of Corrections should also make it impossible for contraband to be smuggled into jails, and cameras should cover every inch of every City jail

The City Council has passed numerous laws to improve conditions on Rikers Island, both for inmates and staff, which Councilman Lancman either co-sponsored or voted for. These include overseeing the limiting of punitive segregation (aka, solitary confinement); keeping children under one year of age with their mothers; protecting visitation rights; requiring social services and employment counseling discharge planning for inmates; establishing an “inmate bill of rights” to guard against abuses; and requiring that all inmates incarcerated for more than ten days get a minimum of education or other programming five hours daily. The Council also allocated millions of dollars to the Bronx District Attorney’s office to establish a satellite office on Rikers Island so that inmates who commit assaults against other inmates, correction officers or civilian staff should face separate prosecution for those crimes.

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