Jail populations across the country have been rising steadily for months, subjecting more people to the harms of incarceration with the added threat of COVID-19.
In New York City, the jail population is more than 5,600 people—greater than it was at the start of the pandemic a year ago. Given the spread of the virus behind bars, this is an ongoing public health crisis. The rising population also puts in question the city's promise to shutter its notorious Rikers Island facility.
But even with the recent disturbing increase, New York City still has the lowest incarceration rate of any big city in America. It can return to steadily reducing its jail population by using the same methods that got it there: relying on the city's rich infrastructure of community-based alternatives to jail.
In Queens—New York City's second-largest borough with a population of more than 2 million—what was once our Youth Center is getting a new name, and an urgent new role.
The Queens Community Justice Center will now work to keep people of all ages from across the borough out of jail and in their communities. Services will include mental health and substance use treatment, vocational and educational supports, and trauma-informed individual and group counseling, with the goal of keeping 340 people from jail in the first two years.
What are called “alternatives to incarceration” allow people to remain in their communities while eliminating the well-documented harms of time spent behind bars.
At the Center, we’re working toward a world in which the justice system is vastly smaller. Even then, we believe community-based programming should be the justice system’s default setting, not an “alternative.”
With the expansion of our Justice Center in Queens—“The World’s Borough”— that is another big step toward realizing that goal.
Learn more about the Queens Community Justice Center's work by clicking here.