Written Testimony to the Committee on Criminal Justice: Department of Correction Programming

New York City Council

Committee on Criminal Justice

Hearing re: Oversight – Department of Correction Programming

February 26, 2019

Written Testimony of The Bronx Defenders

By Elizabeth Williams

Good morning Chairman Powers and members of the Committee on Criminal Justice. My name is Elizabeth Williams and I am a social worker in the Criminal Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.

The Bronx Defenders is deeply committed to the work of decarceration and closing Rikers Island. We believe justice and the presumption of innocence demand dramatically decreased reliance on jail in the criminal legal system. To the extent that our clients are incarcerated pretrial, however, we believe that DOC must provide services and support that are therapeutic rather than punitive, and that maximize our clients’ chances for successful reentry in the community. Ideally, voluntary participation in educational, vocational, therapeutic, and prosocial programming would address underlying issues leading to our clients’ criminal justice involvement, decrease the likelihood that they will be involved in violence, and prepare them for future reentry. Sadly, DOC programming often fails to live up to this ideal. We are hopeful, however, that a radical reorientation of the culture of corrections, informed by the experiences of those most profoundly affected, is possible. We believe that the availability of high-quality programming tailored to address our clients’ underlying needs and future goals could positively affect their reentry efforts. The Bronx Defenders supports Int. No. 260, as any plans to improve conditions and access to programming must be informed by our clients’ experiences while incarcerated. The annual survey of conditions of confinement and treatment by corrections officers is a critical step to addressing long-standing issues for our clients who are incarcerated pretrial.

It is my hope that this testimony will support your efforts to provide broader oversight of and create changes to the Department of Corrections’ existing programming structure. We support both bills under consideration today, and offer the following ideas for your consideration:

  1. Increase transparency and centralize information about the availability of programming to advocates and clients
  2. Ensure that DOC’s goal of providing standard programming across housing units is accessible to all who are interested, without preclusions based on charge, bail amount, security status, or housing unit
  3. Expand the variety of educational, vocational and therapeutic programming, including music and arts, to support our clients’ successful re-entry into the community upon release

Read the full testimony here