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NYC’s juvenile jail system must evolve to focus on rehabilitating youths rather than just incarcerating them

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New York City’s youth has experienced a violation of their basic human rights by juvenile detention centers located in Brooklyn and the South Bronx. When inmates are unsure of where they will be sleeping, they cannot store their belongings or have their personal space. City officials must address the overcrowding concerns immediately.

Around 200 of New York’s youth aged 12 to 21 are held in jails, with more than 93% of them being Black or Hispanic. The Gothamist had reported these violations since June when an inmate was seen sleeping on a chair inside a classroom. He was using a single sheet to cover his body.

However, the Administration for Children’s Services deputy commissioner denied the claims on Oct. 13. They said the center only placed the detainees in classrooms “other than for school purposes during the school day.”

Less than two weeks later, a waiver was granted on Oct. 23, allowing the Crossroads and Juvenile Jails to bypass the law, allowing for a change in sleeping arrangements for the teens.

The law states that every detainee is entitled to a single bed in a room with sheets, pillows and storage for their clothing. Bypassing this law meant that these jails were allowed to have them sleep in unsafe conditions.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, WNYC announced that NYC juvenile detention centers were granted temporary waivers allowing for “dormitory-style housing.” The waivers authorize them to bypass this law until January 2024.

Since the waiver, there have been reports of at least two detainees claiming they had been assaulted.

An ACS spokesperson has disputed these reports and states that they are given portable beds, including a mattress, sheets and pillows. Additionally, the spokesperson claims they are under close surveillance to avoid harm to the detainees.

The agency is attempting to ease the overcrowding issue by working on expediting the release of some inmates, which can prove to be an effective method. Overcrowding has been a prominent issue in managing the NYC jail system.

On the same day the housing waiver was passed, the OCFS issued another waiver, permitting city officials to raise the jails’ capacity of 200 by 19 people. While this excludes inmates of serious crimes such as murder and attempted murder, it still proves to be harmful to the inmates it applies to.

While some contest the detainees’ claims, three current anonymous employees have told the Gothamist that the conditions are as they are being reported. An employee alleges that some detainees have slept on tables due to the lack of beds.

Moreover, there needs to be an emphasis on rehabilitating youth to benefit society. The detainees should not leave the jails with more problems than they entered.

A productive jail system is vital. Instead of setting kids out on bail or keeping them for an unreasonable amount of time, jails should give appropriate help. Proper allocation of funds, resources and staff are necessary to support programs that can help detained teens.

Incarceration is not a valid reason for denying a safe environment to stay in. NYC must make the appropriate changes to the prison system to properly deal with the overcrowding of jails, insecurity of inmates and violation of human rights.

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