Minors to Be Transferred from Rikers to the Bronx

Carmen Arriaga. South Bronx residents spoke about the transfer of minors form the Rikers Island jail to the Horizon Juvenile Center. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

On Monday, Oct. 1, the “Raise the Age” law, which mandates that all criminal offenders under 17 are not treated as adults, took effect in New York. Beginning in October 2019, it will extend to those under 18. The law also requires that all inmates under 18 currently held at Rikers Island be transferred to the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, managed by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

At the moment, there are 28 youths at Horizon, and nearly 90 inmates will be moved there from Rikers.

(…) Political leaders and activists claim that the city has turned a deaf ear to the concerns voiced for the past 17 months. Many have criticized the fact that the guards of the notorious prison – not new specialists – will be the ones looking after the youths at the ACS center, and have gone as far as asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the city to halt the transfer until there are further guarantees.

(…)  “As a former counselor myself, I know the job, and I have concerns about the trained prison professionals who are used to an environment and culture different from the one Raise the Age intends to create,” said Andy King, chair of the City Council’s Juvenile Justice Committee (…) The leader called on those in charge of implementing the new law to promote a system that truly “protects and serves our children.”

Chair of the Council’s Committee on the Justice System Rory Lancman (…) said: “The objective of Raise the Age was to fundamentally change the way in which youths interact with the justice system and are treated.” (…) He added: “By using personnel from the Department of Correction in the juvenile detention facility, the City is violating the spirit and objectives of this historic reform of the criminal justice system.”

ACS said that it is complying with the new law.

(…) ACS Deputy Commissioner of Youth and Family Justice Felipe Franco not only dismissed the allegations but guaranteed that “everything is ready to implement the new law.” Franco pointed out that the changes will be evident because the Horizon Juvenile Center operates under rules different from those followed at Rikers, and asked critics to give them a vote of confidence.

“The difference between Rikers and Horizon is abysmal. Not just in the physical aspect, but also in the amount of services provided to the kids and the way things are handled. While, in prison, guards attempt to regulate behavior by suppressing it, here we intend to teach them so they can learn to do things differently, and those guards were already retrained for that,” said Franco.


Welcome in the Bronx

(…) In the South Bronx, residents agreed that they are not worried about the presence of the new inmates in their neighborhood, and even said they welcome them with open arms.

“We have had that teen detention center here for many years, and nothing bad has ever happened. I think it’s great for them to take them out of Rikers, because they only learn more bad stuff there and are also exposed to more violence and conditions that are not good for kids, who may have gotten in trouble because they were immature,” said Edwin Hernández, who works at The Butcher Shop, located one block away from the Horizon center.

Similarly, as she walked past the new home of these youths held at Rikers, Carmen Arriaga applauded the decision to transfer them. However, she said that it is important to make sure there is no overcrowding.

“Putting teens and adults together is not right. I’m glad they corrected that mistake. But I hope they don’t cram them all in here and, if they find that they don’t have enough space, that they build more floors,” said Arriaga, who is a mother, adding that she called on the authorities to invest more in children to prevent them from committing crimes. “I live three blocks away from here, and I am not worried to see that they are coming to the neighborhood. I do worry that there is a lot of violence around here, and it would be good for the city to create new programs as a means of prevention, such as in the arts, sports and sciences, to prevent our children from ending up there,” said the Puerto Rican-born resident.

Evelyn López, who has lived in the neighborhood for over 50 years, did not protest the arrival of the young offenders to her area, but criticized the fact that the community was not taken into account.

“They should have informed us, because no one knows anything about that around here, and it is not nice for the city to do something and not inform us. (…),” said the former teacher, who lives a block away from the center.

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