A Queens lawmaker and more than 30 social services providers are trying to delay a transfer of female prisoners from Rikers Island to Westchester that is scheduled to start today.
In a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio, Queens Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and the providers are asking for a pause on the transfer of more than 230 female and transgendered detainees from Rikers Island to Bedford Hills Correctional facility in Westchester.
The letter raises concerns over whether Bedford has the resources to handle the incarcerated women, who have different needs than those in state prison. Rikers is a city jail, while Bedford is a maximum security state prison.
The letter claims the hastiness of the transfer raises concerns about access to legal services, family visitation and health care, with some of the women in Rikers are pregnant. According to the letter, not enough time was given to perform assessments of each person scheduled to be transferred.
“The service providers at Rikers and attorneys need to have immediate access and the transfers have to be postponed for this to be put in place or there will be irreparable harm to these women,” Rozic says.
On October 13, the mayor and the governor reached an agreement to make the transfer, coming in response to what advocates have called a humanitarian crisis at Rikers due to inadequate staffing.
Hochul announced the transfer as part of her signing of the “Less is More” legislation, which is designed to prevent individuals from being returned to incarcerated status for minor parole violations.
Kelsey DeAvila, who works as project director for Jail Services at Brooklyn Defender Services, said the move is likely to negatively impact a population that is already vulnerable.
"We're going to move 200 women to a maximum security prison, away from their families, away from community support, from social workers," DeAvila told NY1.
Brooklyn Defender Services represents several clients currently held at the Rose M. Singer Center, the women's jail which is also known as Rosie's.
NY1 spoke to the husband of a woman currently at that facility. He asked not to be identified as his wife's case remains unsolved.
"I am speaking for my family. It's not going to be easy, I am raising a 4-year-old autistic daughter of mine," he told NY1.
For days, he's been worried about his wife's potential transfer to a Westchester prison — a move that may make nightly calls to their daughter infrequent and require travel that he can't manage.
"She told me there is a lot of females complaining about this situation, they don't want to go up there, they don't," he said.
The Department of Correction said the transfer will free up to 400 officers to work in other facilities.
“The move to Bedford Hills will connect our female and transgender population to the same or better services as on Rikers Island," Patrick Rocchio, a spokesperson for the department said in a statement. "This will be a positive step forward as we work to end triple shifts and support regular services in the jails.”
There are currently 245 people detained at Rosie's, 206 of them have a mental health diagnosis, 19 identify as transgender and 5 are pregnant, including some on their third trimester.
So far, what started out as a joint plan to stabilize a crisis appears to be backfiring.
Assemblywoman Amanda Septimo, a Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx visited the women's jail days ago. She reported seeing conditions that were not out of the ordinary for the jail.
"It's ironic and heartbreaking that the first woman governor of New York is considering a move that will really affect women and their families in such a negative way," Septimo said.
Unlike other facilities on the island, Rosie's has not been plagued by violence, hygiene or a lack of services.
"When I visited Rosie's what I actually saw is the kind of facility that you want to be running for people who are awaiting their trials," Septimo said.
The vast majority of Rosie's population are being held pre-trial but now they're likely headed to a prison, intended for convicted people whose cases have already seen their day in court.
Hochul has said that the women from Rikers will get the care they need at Bedford and Taconic, another state prison in Westchester where women will be sent, but so far, the administration has not responded directly to the letter.
The Hochul Administration says six women were transferred Thursday from Rikers to Bedford. Ten more will be transferred on Monday.
Transfers will then continue on a twice weekly basis, but only for individuals who’s specific needs have been assessed.
In a statement, Hochul spokesman Avi Small says, “The State has committed to making accommodations for these individuals, including increased daily family and counsel visitation, expanded access to teleconferencing and videoconferencing, and access to comprehensive mental and physical health services. The crisis on Rikers Island requires action from all levels of government, and the Governor urges the City to work with all elected officials and impacted communities on safe and dignified solution.”