Incarcerated women are less dangerous than male prisoners and prisons should operate with that in mind, The New York Times reported.
Little attention has been paid to the circumstances of female detainees at New York’s Rikers Island jail, according to the May 14 story by Ginia Bellafonte. Eighty % of the Rikers women are mothers and 77% are domestic violence victims, the story notes.
Bellafante cited remarks by Vincent Schiraldi, New York’s former corrections commissioner and current head of Columbia University’s Justice Lab. He said that incarcerated women are far less trouble than male prisoners and less likely to reoffend. In 2019, for example, there were 49% fewer women than men arrested within one year for a violent crime following an initial arrest, reported the Times.
At the time of the article, about 300 of the 5,400 held at Rikers Island jails were women, said Bellafante.
The city plans to replace Rikers with a series of smaller jails by 2027. But the women’s facility is the last scheduled for closure. Plans call for construction of a new jail for females.
The Women’s Community Justice Association is a group that is working to accelerate the closure of the women’s facility at Rikers.
The association, together with the Justice Lab, pointed out in a recent paper that women are often victims of violence as well as caregivers, and argued for acceleration of women’s rehabilitation, therapy and entry into appropriate carceral settings, and for better representation of women among facility staff.
The new jails will be in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. The plan is to connect the women’s facility to the men’s facility in Queens.
Members of the New York State Legislature have written to Gov. Kathy Hochul seeking an alternative plan and arguing that connecting the women’s jail to the men’s facility puts the women at risk of exposure to their abusers.
In place of a new facility, advocates have proposed to move the women to a vacant state prison in Harlem. Shuttered in 2019, the facility is close to neighborhoods many incarcerated women come from.
The final decision will be up to Gov. Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, “who has not expressed especially progressive leanings around changes in the jail system,” said the Times.