Today, to address the ongoing situation on Rikers Island, Governor Kathy Hochul, in partnership with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Announced an agreement between the State and City of New York to transfer nearly all of women- and trans-identified individuals currently incarcerated on Rikers Island to two State-run facilities in Bedford Hills, Westchester County, the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (Bedford) and the Taconic Correctional Facility (Taconic), both operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).
This agreement to temporarily transfer approximately 230 individuals into State settings builds on Governor Hochul’s recent signature of the Less is More Act, which will prevent unnecessary detentions at Rikers, into law, as well as the Governor’s Executive Order that expanded remote hearings for detainees and will ultimately help to reduce the amount of time detainees must 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,” Governor Kathy Hochul said. “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.”
“New York City is committed to forging a fairer, more humane justice system,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “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.”
According to the plan, which is authorized under Section 504 of New York State Correction Law, the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) will begin to transfer incarcerated individuals to the two facilities starting the week of October 18, 2021. The transfers will occur twice per week, starting with 10 to 20 individuals being transferred during each transfer. No current detainees with any pending immigration-related matters will be transferred.
All the transferees will receive the same services provided to all individuals currently incarcerated at Bedford and Taconic, and the transferees will be integrated into the existing populations at both facilities, with the exception of those who are currently housed in the Special Consideration Unit (SCU) at Rikers; DOCCS will mimic the housing and services conditions at the two facilities for this population.
Bedford offers academic education, vocational training, transitional services, volunteer services, alcohol and substance use services, including Medicaid Assisted Treatment (MAT), college programming, aggression replacement training, Trauma, Addiction, Mental Health and Recovery (TAMAR) services, gender-informed cognitive behavior programming, and a nursery. The facility has a regional medical unit, and DOCCS and the State Office of Mental Health jointly operate two Residential Mental Health Treatment Units, a therapeutic behavior unit, and an immediate care unit. Taconic offers similar programming opportunities, as well. In addition, any individuals currently receiving hormone replacement therapy at Rikers will continue to receive this treatment at the Westchester facilities.
Upon arrival at either facility, each detainee will undergo various assessments, including for medical and mental health, as well as academic, vocational, and substance use-related needs. Once each individual’s needs are identified, they will see the facility’s Program Committee for a program or work assignment. The Committee is comprised of the Chair, who is usually a Supervising Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator, other program staff, as well as a representative from each facility’s security services.
DOC will provide daily transportation from New York City to the facilities for family members and loved ones of detainees, beginning Friday, October 22. There will be one pick-up location in The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn each. Buses will pick up visitors from each location twice a day. DOC will announce additional details on its website regarding exact locations and times in the coming week.
Given the temporary nature of this transfer, Governor Hochul has tasked DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci to advise the City on approaches to longer-term solutions. The Commissioner and his team will also liaise with advocates as part of this process, and will continue to support the work of the entire advocacy community in identifying pre-detention alternatives to incarceration.
Last month, Governor Hochul signed legislation S.1144A/A.5576A, also known as the Less is More Act, into law. This legislation modified the standard of evidence and capped the amount of time an individual can be re-incarcerated, among other procedures to determine whether to revoke the community supervision of a person on parole. The Less is More Act aims to ensure the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision focuses its resources on helping people successfully complete community supervision and avoiding future return to DOCCS custody or supervision. To date, 239 individuals have been released from Rikers as a result of this legislation.
Governor Hochul previously announced an agreement with the NYS DOCCS and the city to allow for incarcerated individuals who have been sentenced to at least ninety days to be transferred from Rikers Island to New York State facilities. A total of 143 male incarcerated individuals have been transferred from Rikers to New York State facilities.
The City has taken numerous actions to address the situation on Rikers. The City opened a new intake operation, including two clinics, and has sped up the intake process to ensure swift and proper housing. The City has also expedited the installation of new cell doors to improve safety, brought in extra cleaning services to improve conditions, and expanded programming for people in custody to help engagement and reduce violence. The City has also increased accountability for staff who don’t show up for work, created greater oversight over the sick call-in process, and incentivized staff who are working hard through bonus payments and on-Island supports.