In April 2017, a landmark new law made New York the 49th state to acknowledge that 16- and 17-year-olds should not be automatically considered adults in the eyes of the criminal justice system. It was a hard-won victory for reformers and for many criminal justice practitioners, who had long decried the high human costs of setting the age of criminal responsibility so unreasonably low.


'Rikers is Horrible': Venida Browder Recalls Her Son's Ordeal - And Her Own

In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder of the Bronx was arrested for stealing a backpack – a crime he insisted he never committed. Nevertheless, he then spent some three years jailed on New York City’s Rikers Island, including roughly two years in solitary confinement.

Urban Matters presents this video excerpt of Venida Browder's recent powerful description of what she typically endured in visiting her son in Rikers’ bleak, remote lock-up.


Close Rikers Island? 
A Former Correction Commissioner Offers a Five-Minute How-To Guide

Recently, key City and State elected leaders have made public pronouncements warming to the once seemingly unthinkable goal of closing New York City’s violence- and scandal-scarred jail complex on Rikers Island.

Former New York City Correction Commissioner Martin Horn, now a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, offered this succinct, step-by-step plan for decreasing the inmate population on Rikers Island by more than 90%. It’s a process that would reduce the number of inmates -- through bail reform, swifter processing, more appropriately serving the mentally ill and adolescents -- and enable a more decentralized, efficient, modern, and humane City correction system.


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" 

Scars that Remain a Lifetime: Why Rikers Island Must Be Closed 

By Glenn E. Martin
Less than 300 feet from the runways at LaGuardia Airport lies a longstanding and notorious stain on our city’s integrity: Rikers Island. On any given day, approximately 9,600 New Yorkers languish in its 10 jail complexes where they are exposed to a “deep-seated culture of violence,” in the words of a report issued last year by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Brutality pervades the island, inflicting irreparable physical and emotional trauma on the men, women, and adolescents housed there.


Raise the Age: Changing Youth Justice in New York City (2014)

New York is one of just two states in the country that automatically treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. In recent years, advocates and legislators—including the state’s chief judge—have pushed to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Now, in the midst of a national scandal over the treatment of adolescents at the Rikers Island Jail, we convene the experts for a discussion of the movement to Raise the Age: How will the influx of adolescents impact the city’s newly reformed juvenile justice programs? How can the system ensure that 16- and 17-year-olds get their best shot at success?

Hon. Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, administrative judge, New York County Family Court; Commissioner Ana Bermudez, NYC Department of Probation; Sonja Okun, founder + executive director, exalt; Soffiyah Elijah, executive director, Correctional Association of New York; Kevin Williams, participant, exalt; Charles Nunez, community advocate, Youth Represent; Abigail Kramer, associate editor, Center for New York City Affairs, The New School.