While New York state’s prison system continues to see increased capacity and limited staffing like the rest of the state, politicians are working hard to remedy the growing situation on Riker’s Island. Recently, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, working in conjunction with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced an arrangement between the State and City of New York to transfer virtually all women and trans-identified persons presently incarcerated on Rikers Island to either the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility or the Taconic Correctional Facility.
The agreement, emphasized as only being a temporary transfer, includes a total of 230 individuals, building on Hochul’s recent legislation known as the Less is More Act. The legislation, signed into law last month by Hochul, aims to prevent unnecessary detentions at Rikers and expand remote hearings for detainees to ultimately reduce the sum of time inmates spend at Rikers.
"The situation on Rikers Island is grave and complex, and thus requires bold action from all levels of government to deliver change," Hochul stated of the agreement. "I am especially heartened that the State is able to assist some of the most vulnerable populations on Rikers, and today, I am proud to announce the State's agreement with the City to temporarily move the majority of these populations off Rikers and into safer State facilities, and I thank the City for its partnership on this important step. These actions will further help ease staffing concerns, capacity constraints, and improve safety for several hundred detainees until such time that the City can identify and implement a permanent solution that will bring justice to the situation at Rikers."
The plan, authorized under Section 504 of New York State Correction Law, permits the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) to transport these incarcerated individuals to the two facilities beginning the week of October 18. Transfers are expected to take place twice a week with ten to twenty individuals transferred each session. No existing detainees with imminent immigration-related matters are expected to be transferred.
All those transferred will have access to the same services offered at Bedford and Taconic, including academic education, vocational training, transitional services, volunteer services, alcohol and substance use services, Medicaid Assisted Treatment (MAT), college programming, aggression replacement training, Trauma Addiction Mental Health and Recovery (TAMAR) services, and gender-informed cognitive behavior programming at Bedford and similar programs at Taconic.
"New York City is committed to forging a fairer, more humane justice system," remarked de Blasio of the agreement. "I'm proud to work with Governor Hochul on this initiative, which will provide important relief for the situation on Rikers. Our reform efforts on Rikers Island have made encouraging progress, and our borough-based jails plans are moving forward and will fully transform this system - but there is no substitute for immediate support from our State partners at this critical moment in time."
Transfers will be integrated into the existing prison populations at both facilities, except those currently housed in the Special Consideration Unit (SCU) at Rikers. Once at the new facility, each inmate will have their medical and mental health checked, and vocational, academic, and substance use-related needs will be evaluated as well.
The DOC will also be available to provide transportation to the facilities from New York City for family members and loved ones of inmates beginning on Friday, October 22. Pick up locations will run twice a day and will be in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, with more specific locations forthcoming.
“I think it is absolutely necessary what Hochul and De Blasio are doing,” local New Yorker Todd Crenshaw noted of the news. “The prison system needs a total overhaul, everything needs to change, and this looks like a good step forward.”