As part of last year’s statewide “Raise the Age” legislation in which juveniles under 18 will no longer be prosecuted as adults, dozens of incarcerated teens have been moved from Rikers Island to a dedicated juvenile facility.
“Beginning today, no one under 18 will go to Rikers Island. Kids will be treated like kids instead of adults,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Monday. “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.”
According to Department of Correction data cited by The New York Times, there were 79 boys and five girls ages 16 and 17 at Rikers in August. The city plans to close Rikers Island by 2027 and replace it with community-based jails across the five boroughs.
“Evidence shows that 16- and 17-year-olds should not be treated the same as adults — in the courts or in our prisons,” added State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Passing this legislation and removing youth from Rikers are significant steps that give young people a second chance to grow up and pursue meaningful rehabilitation for non-violent mistakes without forfeiting their futures.”
From Rikers to age-appropriate facilities
The teens have been transferred from Rikers to the newly revamped Horizon Juvenile Detention Center in the South Bronx, where officials said they have better access to age-appropriate services such counseling, health care, mental health services, recreational activities and a full-time education program run by the city’s Department of Education.
“If we are to grow and improve as a society, we need to work with our youth so they become the contributors we want them to be, not the criminals we fear they will become,” said Karol Mason, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Our responsibility now is to go even further; investing in education, investing in support; to provide resources that allow them to become successful adults.”
Initially, the Horizon facility will be staffed by counselors from the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), correction officers and Department of Education staff. The DOC will phase out its officers at the facility over the next 18 months, when ACS will take over all operations.
“This is a historic day, as we witness the implementation of one of the most groundbreaking juvenile justice reforms in New York’s history: Raise the Age,” ACS Commissioner David A. Hansell said. “We have developed a unified set of standards and practices to ensure the law and spirit of Raise the Age is implemented with youth development as the focus, all while preserving the safety and security of youth and staff and protecting public safety.”
Horizon is one of two ACS-operated detention facilities. The other is Crossroads in Brooklyn, which will house those under 17 who are charged with certain crimes. In addition to housing the just-moved adult-charged teens from Rikers, Horizon will also accept newly arrested 17-year-olds who will be charged as adults until Oct. 1, 2019, officials said.