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Inside Look at Closing Riker’s Island/Prison Reform

Posted on September 27, 2017 by Alice Kenny  |  Share


Entrance to Riker's Island

With Riker’s Island, the troubled jail complex that houses the bulk of prisoners in New York City now on the chopping block, Catholic Charities Executive Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Fortune Society President JoAnne Page and “The Peculiar Patriot”  playwright Liza Jessie Peterson took on the sensitive topics of prison closings and reform on JustLove .

The issues are huge: Nearly 1 out of every 37 adults in the United States – 2.7 percent -  is under some form of correctional supervision. 

On any given day Riker’s Island holds 9.500 prisoners.  So how feasible are plans to close Riker’s Island?  What priorities should drive this initiative? And how can it truly benefit and rehabilitate those behind bars?

JoAnne Page from Fortune Society, a New York City-based nonprofit that advocates and provides services for the formerly incarcerated, takes these questions head on.

"There are people who were taken from abuive or neglectful homes, put in abuive or neglectful foster care or juvenile institutions and graduated to Rikers Island and then to state prison," she said during her recent radio conversation with Msgr. Sullivan.  "Prisons are a factory of human damage and rage and there is no good in that."

Msgr. Sullivan next spoke with Ms. Peterson, the writer and performer of the one-woman play, The Peculiar Patriot”, a play focused on a protagonist’s visits to incarcerated friends now playing at the National Black Theatre in Harlem through October 1, 2017. 

Catholic Charities has extensive experience in this field.  Our affiliate Abraham House, sponsored by the Catholic Charities Alliance, for example, offers the incarcerated, ex-offenders and their relatives a place of hope and community where lives can be rebuilt, families mended and lessons can be learned.

Men, women and children deeply marked by crime receive the spiritual, social and  practical tools to become productive citizens. Innovative programs include an alternative- to-incarceration program for first-time offenders, especially those convicted of nonviolent crimes. It  offers extensive services to hundreds of adults and children affected by incarceration. It also provides services to those hurt by other social factors like poverty, violence and truancy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, in his just released analysis, “Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Riker’s Island” estimates it will take at least 10 years to close Riker's Island and replace it with a smaller network of modern, safe, and humane facilities.  Others are skeptical whether it will ever be closed.  

What impact will this have on the bigger issue of prison reform?

Find out on Monsignor Kevin Sullivan’s weekly radio program JustLove on Saturdays at 10 am and Sundays at 5 am EST on SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio on The Catholic Channel 129.