It is simple, and it is just.



January 2017



Policy & Reform

Inspiring drops in juvenile incarceration; innovation in local public policy.


The Marshall Project recently published an article reporting on the steady and dramatic drop in juvenile incarceration rates – including an 82% drop of juveniles held in adult prisons since the peak year in 1997.

Attitudes surrounding how we treat young people in the criminal justice system have not only experienced a bipartisan, but a nonpartisan shift in American culture.

From the 1970s into the 1990s, we criminalized vast swaths of young people across the United States. Over the past five years in particular, across the political spectrum, we have begun to recognize that treating juveniles as other than what they are is morally unjust, and endangers public safety.

New York City has become a leader in this effort, consistently having the lowest incarceration rate of the 10 largest cities in the country, dropping its incarceration rate by half in the last 20 years, as detailed in the New York Bar Association Report on Mass Incarceration. In contrast, New York State is soon to be the last remaining state in the nation in which youth at 16 are prosecuted automatically as adults in the justice system.

New York City is rich in advocates, organizations and services, large and small, prepared to embrace the 200 16- and 17-year-olds at Rikers tonight, and the ones who will be there tomorrow – and for each day thereafter until they can be moved off of Rikers Island permanently.

Friends has already gotten to work with our system of triage; pre-release support; and individualized, neighborhood-based aftercare, mentorship and advocacy for the youngest people admitted to and released from Rikers Island—the Youth Reentry Network.

The Network addresses the systemic gap that exists in New York, where 16 and 17-year olds are placed in the adult system with no system of aftercare upon release. Friends is working to fill in this gap in New York City, so that every young person that gets off of the DOC bus on Rikers has to meet with one of us – that person who will be there from the inside out.

Since the Network was launched in November, our youth advocates have met with 167 young people, primarily ages 16-18. Out of the 81 youth who have been released, we have met with 59 of these young people or their families.

So while the City works to transition the youngest off of Rikers by 2020 – as promised by Bill DeBlasio – we will be there, partnering with organizations around the city to help young people rebuild their lives and reclaim their futures. Simple Justice Monthly will be Friends’ way of keeping you updated on our big push for youth justice, and asking for your help in this mission.


Simple Justice Monthly. It is simple, and it is just.



Friends in the News

PBS NewsHour Spotlights Friends

On January 8, PBS spotlighted Friends with the segment, “Should Juveniles be Incarcerated with Adults?” NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano interviews Friends staff and youth members to discuss how young people should be treated differently in the justice system.




News at Friends

Friends’ envision the year ahead, and welcomes youth member turned youth leader, Zaron to our staff.

Zaron has been with Friends since 2014, when he met Youth Advocate Messiah inside Rikers. Since then he’s been connected to Friends upon release in 2015, and now joins our staff full-time as a Youth Mentor.

You can read Zaron’s story here.

“After I was out, I was coming here a lot and volunteering. I was even able to get a co-defendant of mine that came home a job through Friends. And now I’m working here full time.”

As a Youth Mentor, Zaron meets one-on-one with young people in the agency to serve as their anchor and guide through a process that he went through himself. In tandem with his new full-time position, Zaron has just been accepted into the Institute for Transformative Mentoring. The program was launched by the Center for New York City Affairs to train individuals who were justice-involved to mentor to other court-involved youth, and act as “Credible Messengers”.

Zaron says, though he’s mentored others during his time at Friends, this training will help him reach more youth: “I am going to use this Credible Messenger certification to further my youth mentoring and affect more lives, but in order to do that you have to be able to understand and heal the issues within yourself”. We are grateful that Zaron has joined our staff, and look forward to keeping you updated on his success as a Mentor.