Criminal justice advocates, City Council members and families of the incarcerated gathered at City Hall Sept. 8 to speak out against the city’s newly proposed limitations on jail visitation at Rikers Island.
Advocates say the proposed changes are harsh and discriminatory and will disproportionately impact minorities and those who cannot afford bail. In an effort to stem violence and contraband smuggling, the city plans to screen visitors based on criminal records, visit patterns and trends, and visitor and inmate contraband history. The city is also proposing limits on physical contact, which includes preventing individuals from holding children over the age of 9 during a visit.
Julia Davis, staff attorney at Children’s Rights, said the new rules pose grave risks for adolescents and young adults.
“These changes will only further disconnect young people – whom are already on an island – from the critical support of loved ones and the community at a time when they need it most,” said Davis. “From our experience working with vulnerable youth, we know that they need more interaction with their family, friends and loved ones – not less.”
City Council member Daniel Drumm called the proposed changes “degrading” and spoke out against limiting physical contact during visits. “How do you rightfully think you can separate children from their mother? The key to recovery and re-entry into society is having a close relationship with family.”
Critics of the proposal dispute the city’s claims that reducing visits will curb the amount of contraband being brought into jails. According to the Jails Action Coalition (JAC), reports confirm that the primary source of contraband is Department of Correction (DOC) staff, not visitors – and that the majority of violent incidents do not involve smuggling contraband.
“Why not look inside the house, and face the problems inside?” said Rev. Que English. “My brother was on Rikers Island, and when I came to visit his face lit up. My visits to him were a fragment of hope. This plan has the capacity to deteriorate the already fragile family unit of people of color.”
Thirty organizations, including Children’s Rights, have signed on in support of the JAC’s “Save Visiting” at Riker’s campaign. The Board of Corrections is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes, however a hearing has not yet been scheduled.