Event | Justice, Criminal Justice Reform

Rikers Island: Reform It — or Shut it Down? (2015)

The Rikers Island jail complex has become a symbol of criminal justice dysfunction. Last year, The New York Times uncovered 129 serious injuries to inmates. The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York documented widespread abuse and neglect of teenagers in the jail's adolescent unit. And Mayor de Blasio described an environment so toxic that inmates are released “more broken than when they came in.”

The City administration has initiated reforms. But a growing number of community groups, advocates and elected representatives say that piecemeal changes are not enough. Their cry is getting louder: Shut Rikers Down.

Neil Barsky, founder and chairman, The Marshall Project
Elizabeth Glazer, director, Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice
Martin Horn, executive director, NYS Sentencing Commission
Khary Lazarre-White, executive director & co-founder, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol
Ann-Marie Louison, co-director of adult behavioral health programs, CASES
Glenn E. Martin, founder and president, JustLeadershipUSA
Charles Nuñez, community advocate, Youth Represent
Carmen Perez, executive director, The Gathering for Justice and co-founder of Justice League NYC
Jeff Smith, assistant professor of politics and advocacy, Milano School for International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy
Scott M. Stringer, comptroller, City of New York
Moderated by Errol Louis, political anchor, NY1 News and host, "Inside City Hall"

Urban Matters | Justice, Criminal Justice Reform 

Backwards on Purpose: The Wrong-Way World of Jobs and Prisons

“You’ll be back, sh*tbird.”

If I heard it once during my nearly year-long incarceration for federal election law violations, I heard it a dozen times. It’s what correctional officers (COs) told prisoners nearing their release date, especially those who had “slick mouths” or who otherwise created problems. “Jackasses like you are how I know I’ll always have a job,” one officer frequently said – his way of reminding us that not only did he expect us to return, but his livelihood depended on it.

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Event | Justice, National Politics

Mr. Smith Goes to Prison (2015)

The fall from politico to prisoner isn't necessarily long, Smith—a former Missouri State Senator—learned, but the landing is a hard one. In 2009, Smith pleaded guilty to charges related to seemingly minor campaign malfeasance and earned himself a year and a day in Kentucky's FCI Manchester. Mr. Smith Goes to Prison is the story of his time in the big house—of the people he met there and the things he learned: how to escape the attentions of fellow prisoner Big C and his pals in the Aryan Brotherhood; what constitutes a prison car and who's allowed to ride in yours; how to bend and break the rules, whether you're a prisoner or correctional officer. And throughout his sentence, the young Senator tracked the greatest crime of all: the deliberate waste of untapped human potential.

Smith saw the power of millions of inmates harnessed as a source of renewable energy for America's prison-industrial complex, a system that exploits racial tension and bias, building better criminals instead of better citizens. In Mr. Smith Goes to Prison, he traces the cracks in America's prison walls, exposing the shortcomings of a race-based cycle of poverty and crime that sets inmates up to fail. Now an urban policy professor, Smith’s blend of academic training, real-world political acumen, and insights from a sometimes harrowing year on the inside help him offer practical solutions to jailbreak the nation from the crushing grip of its own prisons, and to jumpstart the rehabilitation of the millions behind bars.

Report & Event | Justice, Juvenile Justice 

Reforming Juvenile Justice: Is 'Close to Home' Working? (2015) 

In late 2012, New York City launched one of the most ambitious juvenile justice reforms in the nation: Rather than sending kids who commit low-level offenses to Upstate lockups plagued by histories of abuse and failure, the city opened its own network of small, secure group homes within the five boroughs and nearby suburbs. In this ongoing investigation, we look at the success and challenges of the "Close to Home" reform: Is the program living up to its promise? Are New York City kids better off?

Read our latest stories for a look at Close to Home programs and the young people who spend time in them.