Fights breaking out among teen inmates transferred from Rikers under new law

The new law, designed to separate kids from the confines of one of the nation’s most notoriously violent jails, went into effect Monday


By Thomas Tracy , Graham Rayman and Leonard Greene
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — New York’s new Raise the Age law has raised a lot of problems with fights breaking out among teen inmates being transferred from Rikers Island to juvenile detention centers, officials said.

The new law, designed to separate kids from the confines of one of the nation’s most notoriously violent jails, went into effect Monday — but not without a number of bloody weekend clashes under the watchful eye of correction officers who said they felt handcuffed in their ability to step in.

The fighting occurred at the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, where about 90 juveniles have been transferred from Rikers. Gang members were involved in the nine or 10 weekend incidents, sources said.

A fight between two Bloods members Sunday night quickly escalated to involve 16 teenagers before about a dozen correction officers were called in to pull the teens off each other, the sources said.

On Monday, shortly after noon, a correction officer was escorting an inmate along a corridor when he broke free and ran off down the hall. When the officer told him to stop, he turned and tried to head-butt the officer before he was taken down, a source said.

“There was a fight a few minutes ago,” said one source. “It looks like (officers) are hands-off. They are letting them do anything they want. Guys fighting and throwing chairs and tables across (the room) and the officers are basically just standing there, just saying ‘Stop it, don’t do it.’

More than 100 correction officers, on loan to the city-run facility, have complained because they are not allowed to use pepper spray there. That forces them to physically step in to break up fights, or rely on their training to de-escalate conflicts.

Many of the officers volunteered for the assignment.

“Moving them hasn’t done anything to stop or curb their violence or their behavior,” said Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association. “It’s worse because we can’t stop them other than getting physically involved.”

The city’s Administration for Children’s Services’ Division of Youth and Family Justice, which runs the facility, said there have been incidents, but no serious injuries.

“All 16- and 17-year-olds have been transferred from Rikers Island to Horizon Detention Center,” said ACS spokeswoman Chanel Caraway. “We are in a transitionary period for a historic reform that’s never been done before and there have been some incidents involving youth and officers, which were quickly addressed. None of the injuries were serious, but we take these and all incidents seriously.”

The transition also received high praise from elected officials.

“Beginning today, no one under 18 will go to Rikers Island,” tweeted Mayor de Blasio. “Kids will be treated like kids instead of adults. This is an historic moment for criminal justice reform and another step toward replacing Rikers Island with smaller, safer, more humane facilities.”

Gov. Cuomo also tweeted Monday, writing “As of today, NY's Raise the Age Law is now in effect. This law raises the age of criminal responsibility, removes 16-year-olds from the adult criminal justice system, and prohibits 16- & 17-year-olds from being housed at Rikers Island. A big step forward for our justice system.”

Officials said they’re hoping to change the culture.

There are no bars on the large bay windows at Horizon, and the hallways and common areas — all painted in warm and welcoming tones — are filled with murals and artwork the teens drew while at Rikers.

Juvenile offenders 15 and under will be held at Crossroads, a sister ACS facility in Brooklyn.

According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, juvenile arrests have dropped by 70% between 2008 and last year, falling to 4,080 from 13,564 across the city.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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