New York City's long-criticized practice of housing adolescents with adult offenders at its notorious Rikers Island prison appears to be coming to an end.
On Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration announced that 16 and 17 year old offenders who currently reside in the reputedly violent prison will be relocated to a youth facility in the Bronx. The move comes after a 2014 federal investigation, which concluded that "there is a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates" from both prison staff and other inmates.
In June, Fusion reported on Kalief Browder, who at the age of 16 was jailed at Rikers after having been arrested at the age of 16 for robbery. Despite spending over 1,000 days behind bars, Browder was never convicted of a crime, and was released in 2013, only to kill himself two years later.
"If [Kalief Browder] had gone to family court then he would have potentially gotten a diversion program or put on probation. Unfortunately, he went through the adult system,” Carmen Perez, executive director of Gathering for Justice, told Fusion at the time. New York and North Carolina are the only states in the country where adolescents can be tried as adults, and subsequently sent to adult prison facilities.
According to The New York Times, 95% of the teenagers housed at Rikers are there simply awaiting trial dates, as Browder was while he was locked up. The Associated Press reports that there are nearly two-hundred 16 and 17-year olds currently behind bars in the prison, a significant decrease from the 337 there in 2013.
“We think this is a very big step,” Liz Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice told the Times.“By moving [the adolescents] off the island, we’ll be able to ensure that they have the opportunity to have state-of-the-art facilities that provide the kind of programming that’s appropriate." To that end the Horizon Juvenile Center, where the teens will be relocated, is slated to be refurbished to include classrooms and therapy space for the inmates.
de Blasio's four-year initiative to relocate Rikers Island's adolescent population is expected to cost $300 million. It is subject to approval from various municipal agencies responsible for the proposed construction on the juvenile centers tapped to house the teens upon their move.