January 16, 2015
Mayor Bill de Blasio
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor de Blasio,

We are writing to express our profound concern over conditions for those incarcerated on Rikers Island, particularly the hundreds of adolescents detained in the Robert N. Davoren Complex. First, we acknowledge that neither yourself nor Commissioner Ponte created these problems, as we recognize that the current conditions are inherited from a legacy of neglect that the current administration seems genuinely committed to remedying. To that end, we commend you for the expressions of concern for the conditions of detainment on Rikers and the initial steps that you have taken to mitigate the harms of solitary confinement, a culture of violence, and isolation on Rikers Island. However, as service providers and advocates working with those directly impacted by the criminal justice system, we have an obligation to advocate for our elected officials, particularly our Mayor, to embrace a zealous commitment to broad reform on Rikers Island.
We write to request a meeting to share with you our vision – informed by the experiences of those directly impacted by the criminal justice system – for ensuring meaningful improvements to the intolerable conditions of detainment on Rikers Island. Although we have many ideas for reform, for the purpose of this meeting we hope to focus our discussion on those most vulnerable and desperately in need for compassionate treatment – juveniles. What follows is an outline of the most pressing policy changes that we ask for you consider:

1. Stop the practice of incarcerating adolescents on Rikers Island by the end of 2015. Having closely observed conditions on Rikers deteriorate due to decades of neglect, we believe that the practice of incarcerating thousands of people on an insolated island, with poor accessibility and far from public view, is a failed model. In our opinion, there is no meaningful reform that involves adolescents remaining incarcerated on Rikers Island. Whether achieved through utilizing more close-to-home placement options or an expansion of alternative programs, we view this as a necessary first step in reevaluating the proper treatment of youth involved in the criminal justice system.

2. Dramatically reduce the number of adolescents incarcerated in New York City. It is our opinion that incarceration of juveniles should be viewed as an extreme measure that is used sparingly for youth who pose genuine threats to public safety. To that end, we encourage you to consider a significant expansion of the City’s alternatives to incarceration programs. New York City has a renowned network of such programs that serve as model for providing the essential services and support to divert at-risk youths from a life of crime. And although additional funding is needed and bureaucratic barriers likely exist, we are ready to use our considerable community connections and resources to help develop policies that will best ensure the opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration of youths who would otherwise be incarcerated on Rikers Island. Ultimately, Mr. Mayor, we need your leadership, support, and commitment to advancing this morally imperative endeavor.

3. Elevate the voices of directly impacted communities in the reform process. We request the creation of a Community Advisory Panel, appointed by the Mayor, that includes formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, on-the-ground practitioners and advocates, and academics, to ensure more inclusive public discourse and input on reforming the City’s criminal justice policies. Although we do not envision providing the Panel with regulatory powers akin to the Board of Corrections, it would instead serve as your administration’s eyes and ears and inform the development of sound policies that reflect the needs of the community as a whole.

Conclusion: The three recommendations outlined above – moving adolescents off Rikers Island, safely reducing the number of youths incarcerated in New York City, and establishing venues for enhanced community input on criminal justice policies – are a starting point for more exhaustive reform efforts to improving the unacceptable conditions on Rikers Island. We believe that you share many of our concerns and hope that you’re receptive to engaging in a robust discourse on these issues. We look forward to meeting with you to share our ideas and offer our support to improving New York City’s treatment of those involved in the criminal justice system.

Please contact Glenn E. Martin (glenn@justleadershipusa.org) to coordinate next steps in undertaking this important dialogue.


Glenn E. Martin
Kate Rubin
Managing Director
Civil Action Practice
The Bronx Defenders
Sebastian Solomon
Policy Associate
Legal Action Center

Alison Wilkey, Esq.
Director of Policy and Legal Services
Youth Represent
JoAnne Page
President & CEO
The Fortune Society
Khary Lazarre-White, Esq.
Executive Director
The Brotherhood/Sister Sol

Patricia Warth, Esq.
Director, Justice Strategies
Center for Community Alternatives

Elizabeth Glazer, Director
Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
1 Centre Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10007