Emerging Adults Incarcerated at Rikers Island: An Overview

Lael Chester, Soraya Shri-Pathman, Maya Sussman
October 18, 2022

Public alarm is growing in response to recent reports of the increasingly inhumane conditions at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City. Reporting and footage of people being held in overcrowded and unsanitary cells has become common knowledge among many New Yorkers and has heightened awareness around ongoing advocacy efforts to accelerate the planned closure of Rikers Island.

This report from Columbia Justice Lab’s Emerging Adult Justice Project (EAJP), released today, examines the population of emerging adults, aged 18 to 25, incarcerated at Rikers and the violent and neglectful conditions they are forced into. The report, Emerging Adults Incarcerated at Rikers Island: An Overview, describes the harmful impacts emerging adults  disproportionately face in the violent environment of Rikers Island. Available data show that younger emerging adults, 18 to 21 year olds, only accounted for about 8% of the daily average population in early 2021, yet they were disproportionately involved in 22% of the reported uses of force by staff. Exposure to this neglect and violence during the transition to adulthood causes long-lasting trauma, hindering young people’s well being and impeding their healthy development. 

The EAJP calls on lawmakers and officials to decarcerate and act on alternative approaches for this vulnerable age group. The EAJP’s recommendations include:

  1. Expanding the definition of “young adulthood” to include 18-25-year-olds;
  2. Collecting data on this distinct population and establishing data transparency; 
  3. Investing in and using alternatives-to-incarceration courts and programs to stop detaining (and sentencing) emerging adults at Rikers; and
  4. Removing all emerging adults from Rikers and following successful community-based models and those in alternative settings to implement more effective, developmentally appropriate responses to emerging adults.

Read the full report.

Read the press release.