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On jail reform, one size doesn’t fit all


Opinions regarding the management of correctional systems by Councilwoman Carlina Rivera and Darren Mack, the co-director of advocacy organization Freedom Agenda, presented in a recent Daily News opinion piece are incomplete in both theory and methodology.

"Nationally, on average, for every four people in jail, there is one correction officer on staff, whereas on Rikers, for every four people in jail, there are four and half,” they wrote in a piece advocating for the closure of the island penal colony by 2027.

Oft-cited studies, such as those by the Vera Institute of Justice, demand re-examination to ensure comprehensive matrix are instituted, particularly regarding comparisons of staffing ratios. One size does not fit all. 

Those comparative studies need to take into account not just the incarcerated populations being managed and but also the various conditions that require redress, including those that deal with the carceral system itself. They range from proper and effective management of the mentally distressed to operational logistics such as mismanagement of staffing resources. 

Inefficient systems, including those where staff is excessively attrited, require the reconstitution of a badly depleted and demoralized workforce. Systems subject to mismanagement will maintain magnified conditions of duress as priorities in funding rehabilitative systems are neglected. Visions of judicial transformations must be comprehensive in facts, actions, and comportment. If not, we will continue to see a deterioration in services, whether Rikers Island is closed or not.

Partisan polarization can be destructive to democracy since it can invite demagoguery and irrationality and lead to constitutional decay as the opinions of elected leaders, appointed officials, advocacy groups, mass media, and social-media outlets collide. 

When that happens during debates on jails and prisons, that’s mostly because those groups fail to understand and take into account the incarcerated populations and the various conditions that require redress as constituted by law.

National debates regarding criminal justice reforms require systematic conversations on public safety to address core dysfunctions. Legislative dictates are structured to strengthen effective forms of government and ensure that the rules under which all persons, institutions and entities are accountable to publicly codified regulations, methodically prepared, and equally enforced. 

Government mismanagement can be reconstituted into practical governance by elected leaders who can then act with the certitude of intentions by providing framework, absent political bias, to transition away from dysfunctions toward sustainability and accountability within the criminal justice system.

Dysfunction primarily exists because of mismanagement. As elected leaders engage in the public arena on contentious matters, particularly those that consider the complexities of criminal justice reforms, they must ensure that their actions are the result of careful consideration. Failure amounts to societal disinvestments. 

William D. Colón is a 26-year New York City Department of Correction veteran and founder of Analytical Solutions Consulting Inc.


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