President's Message

It’s Time to Treat Children in the Justice System as Children

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara recently issued a chilling report regarding the treatment of young people, ages 16 to 18, who are in the State’s custody.  Fifty-one percent of these young people have a diagnosis of mental illness, but it is clear from the report that the care they receive is not designed to improve their health—mental or physical.  In my home, a sixteen-year-old is still a kid—a child.  With that mindset, I changed one word in the account of the child abuse occurring at our publicly-administered, publicly-funded corrections institution at Rikers Island:

Several other officers, including probe team members, arrived and brutally assaulted the four inmates children, punching and kicking them and striking them with radios, batons and broomsticks.  This continued for several minutes after the inmates children had been subdued and handcuffed.  The probe team then took the inmates children to holding pens in the clinic intake area where they were handcuffed and beaten again by several DOC Gang Intelligence Unit Members, who repeatedly punched and kicked them while they were handcuffed and slammed them against cell walls.  Two of the inmates children reported that they thought that they had lost consciousness or blacked out for some period of time.

It is time for New York to:

  • Raise the age of criminal responsibility.
  • Stop using our corrections institutions as a holding pen for people who have mental illness.

New York Times, U.S. Inquiry Finds a ‘Culture of Violence’ Against Teenage Inmates at Rikers Island, by Benjamin Weiser and Michael Schwirtz, Aug. 4, 2014