NYCLU: Poor Education Is Part of Widespread Mistreatment of Youth at Rikers Island

October 8, 2014 – At a City Council hearing about the treatment of adolescents in New York City jails, the New York Civil Liberties Union will today testify about ways to improve the brutal conditions suffered by minors incarcerated at Rikers Island, particularly those in solitary confinement, and the need for educational services critical for rehabilitation.

“Adolescents are growing and need support to become healthy adults and productive members of our community,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Solitary confinement is the harshest punishment in this country apart from the death penalty, and vulnerable adolescents are especially likely to suffer lasting consequences. The young people at Rikers will one day be released back to our neighborhoods. For their good and for the city’s good, we must ensure that they get the tools they need for healthy growth, education and development.”

Earlier this year, the NYCLU and the New York State Department of Community Corrections agreed to take immediate steps to remove youth from solitary confinement in state facilities and to expand access to educational materials. In New York City, however, a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice on violence at Rikers Island found that solitary confinement is used on hundreds of teenagers daily, as part of a “pattern and practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates.” Since then, the New York City Department of Corrections has followed the state’s lead and announced it would end the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year olds by the end of 2014.

Comprehensive reform of the inhumane and dangerous conditions faced by teenagers in New York City jails includes increasing educational services, which is the most effective means for reducing violence in jails and fostering an effective environment for rehabilitation to occur. Young people in New York City jails are an extremely vulnerable population – half of the adolescents at Rikers are diagnosed with mental illness – and the city is responsible for providing them with education essential for their development.

NYCLU’s recommendations include:

  • Immediately raise the minimum hours of educational programming to 5.5 hours a day, equal to what is required in other public schools.
  • Immediately require group education for eligible youth in solitary confinement rather than intermittent phone calls from teachers that let isolated youth fall through the cracks.
  • Effectively screen all students for disabilities, rather than relying on previous tests that may have let serious disabilities go undetected, and develop individual education plans for eligible youth.

Read the NYCLU’s entire testimony here: