COBA's Position on Adolescents

Inmates are to be treated with respect and this goes for 16 and 17-year old adolescents as much if not more than other inmates. These teens need to be engaged and not ignored. Programing is essential, and COBA would welcome substantive programming beyond that provided by the television. These kids need to have something to direct their energy towards, and look forward to once they are released. They have to look beyond fighting each other and taunting and fighting Officers. Mention has been made repeatedly of taking adolescents off of Rikers Island - to one facility or community-based housing. This is not a problem from the Union’s perspective, and even welcome, but has no traction from the City of New York and those who guard the treasury.

But COBA remains unconvinced that 19 - 25 year old inmates should be treated exactly the same as 16 and 17 year old inmates. According to the BOC “expert” at a June 12, 2014 panel, and repeated testimony before the BOC at the December 19, 2014 hearing on Enhanced Segregation Housing, humans’ brains in some individuals are still developing until about 24 or 25 years of age.  Nothing about the reports referred to deals with the subset of individuals who are in jail between the ages of 16 and 25.  

So-called inmate advocates do not confront the fact that adolescents are violent. In the first quarter of 2013, 51% of infracting inmates were under 24 years old. According to testimony given by Joseph Ponte at the November 18, 2014 BOC meeting, 16 – 18 year olds make up just 6% of the inmate population, but account for 26% of the assaults in the system[1].

Granted, a teen with a cigarette does not merit punitive segregation, but a large percentage of this minority population is responsible for the violence at Rikers.

As acknowledged by the Union in hearings, sixteen year olds are going to engage in horseplay and should not be placed in punitive segregation for mere silliness[2]. In his testimony before the New York City Council[3], Norman Seabrook clearly stated that  adolescents need something to do – they need programs. Their only outlet cannot just be watching reruns of 1970s programs on the dayroom television. These youth should be taught useful skills to use outside of the jail setting[4]. 

[1] Testimony of Joseph Ponte at 25:00 to25:10

[2] December 19, 2014 hearing video at 3Hours 42 min.

[3] Testimony of Norman Seabrook at 3 hours 42 minutes and 48 seconds:

[4] Testimony of Norman Seabrook at 48:40 – 49:19