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Rikers Island Is Violating An 8-Year-Old Court Mandating Access To Education For Incarcerated People Under 22 According To New Court Filings

In June, New York City Mayor Eric Adams addressed Rikers Island graduates who earned high-school-equivalence diplomas while incarcerated, encouraging them to embrace their achievements and look forward to future goals. This graduation highlighted the law's impact on educational access for incarcerated individuals in city jails. 

According to reports, many young inmates have reported ongoing denials of their right to education, contrary to a 2016 court order mandating educational services for those aged 18 to 21 under Department of Correction custody.

"It's proven that when an individual attains their high school diploma or the equivalent in custody, their prospects for success improve on the outside," Prisoner's Rights Stefen Short said. "DOC is essentially letting folks sit idle rather than provide them with access to educational services to which they have a right. That renders everyone in the jail setting less safe. It's a strange state of affairs. It doesn't serve anyone's interests."

Legal filings from a long-standing class-action lawsuit stress the city's non-compliance with this order and advocate for the appointment of a new court monitor to ensure its enforcement. Plaintiffs, young inmates lacking high school diplomas, claim they are denied education unless housed in specific facilities. According to Lauren Stephens-Davidowitz from the Legal Aid Society, this not only violates legal standards but also moral ones, as it obstructs the educational aspirations of these young people.

The city's Department of Education and Department of Correction were initially accused in a 1996 lawsuit of failing to provide mandated educational services. The ongoing issue primarily affects individuals in non-program housing units, where access to education is restricted. A spokesperson highlighted additional funding aimed at enhancing educational programs, including GED preparation. 

However, challenges persist, particularly for those needing special education, with some losing significant educational progress during disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It's disheartening to see Rikers Island, despite Mayor Eric Adams's recent acknowledgment of educational achievements among incarcerated individuals, failing to uphold their right to education as mandated by court order. The ongoing denial of this fundamental right, especially to young inmates, not only undermines their prospects for success upon release but also perpetuates a cycle of inequality and injustice within our criminal justice system.


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