NYC Moves Teens from Rikers Island: ‘Kids Will Be Treated Like Kids,’ says Mayor

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The Rikers Island jail complex in New York City has experience large spikes in coronavirus infections . Photo by David Oppenheimer via Flickr

The city Correction Department has completed the move of 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers Island to juvenile facilities in what Mayor de Blasio on Monday called “an historic day for criminal justice reform,” according to The New York Post. 

“Beginning today, no one under 18 will go to Rikers Island,” De Blasio said on Twitter. “Kids will be treated like kids instead of adults,” 

“This is an historic moment for criminal justice reform and another step toward replacing Rikers Island with smaller, safer, more humane facilities that are closer to communities and loved ones,” he continued.

A new “Raise the Age” state law approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the  state legislature took effect Monday that treats 16-year-olds accused of crimes as juveniles instead of adults.

The law extends to 17-year-olds on Oct. 1, 2019.

All of the nearly 100 teenagers under the age of 18 on Rikers were transferred to the Horizon Juvenile Detention Center in the South Bronx, according to the Legal Aid Society and a release from the City, reports the Gothamist. 

In the future, 16- and 17-year-olds charged with serious crimes will be sent to Horizon, while those charged with less serious crimes will be sent to Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Both facilities are operated by the City’s Administration for Children’s Services, (ACS), but Horizon will continue to be staffed and run jointly with the City’s Department of Correction; unions for the Correction Officers had sued to prevent this from happening, but last month a judge ruled that the 300 Correction Officers and 200 ACS employees had to show up to work.

Significantly, children jailed with adults are more likely to be beaten, raped, or commit suicide, and they’re also more likely to be arrested again than those who go through the juvenile jail system, writes Christopher Robbins in the Gothamist.

Now, teens under 18 charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies (barring “extraordinary circumstances”) will be referred to family court as juveniles; those charged with violent felonies will also be referred to family court, unless their case involves a weapon, serious injuries, or a sex offense, in which case they will be tried in a “youth part” of regular criminal court.

“While Raise the Age is a critical reform for New York’s criminal justice system, I have serious concerns that the city’s use of DOC staff in juvenile correction facilities will fundamentally undermine [the] goals and spirit of this landmark legislation,” Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman said in a statement.

“Officers trained in adult jails should not be supervising kids.”

This summary was prepared by TCR staff reporter Megan Hadley.

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