Visiting Matters: Women on Rikers

15 February 2018

On February 1, Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s office announced a $6 million investment intended to support women incarcerated at Rikers Island facilities, and lessen the chance that they return. First Lady Chirlane McCray is leading the charge to improve the frequency and quality of family visits for women on Rikers, as well as broadening mental health and transitional career counseling.  

Humanizing Visiting 

We applaud the First Lady’s recognition of the importance of visiting for incarcerated women and their families. Visiting offers critical benefits for all parties: it promotes transformation and rehabilitation, safety, child well-being, and successful reentry.  The Osborne Association has long worked to protect, facilitate, improve and expand visiting in prisons and jails.   

Yet, visiting Rikers currently is uniquely challenging  and especially  insensitive to the needs of children. There are huge improvements needed in the visiting design and process to provide for quality time. The announcement of new funding offers great promise that soon women on Rikers - who receive many fewer visitors than men do - will be able to maintain critical relationships, reassuring their children and families and reducing their likelihood of ever returning.

Second Look at Rose M. Singer

We are eager to roll up our sleeves and support this effort. Ultimately, we envision women leaving Rikers Island to safe and supportive homes as the best outcome, and have launched a pilot program to achieve that goal.

Since September, our Court Advocacy Services has piloted Second Look, an initiative to send women at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island home to their families as quickly as possible. 

Seeing Early Success

Andrea Goupalsingh, Program Director of Court Advocacy Services, explains "Second Look is a great opportunity to accomplish what we know works. The idea of the program is to get women home, to their children and families." 

Already, the promise of Second Look is beginning to show results. Since the work began, Second Look has over-performed, screening more than 300 women at Rose M. Singer.  As a result, 18 women have already been released and returned home without bail, or have had their cases closed without further  incarceration. 

The community outcry that preserved visiting at prisons seven days a week, the First Lady's investment in humane visiting and rehabilitation services, and programs like Second Look are all victories in the larger effort to make our justice system compassionate, fair, and cognizant of the human impact of incarceration.  

There is much farther to go to drastically reduce the number of women held on Rikers Island, and to insure that those who remain receive the support they need to return home. We need your support to do so. Thank you for being part of our work to transform lives, communities, and the criminal justice system.

Elizabeth Gaynes
President and CEO