This event has been postponed
For the third set of speakers in our Myths of Public Safety: Pretrial speaker series we have invited a panel including Andrea James, Founder and Executive Director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls; Rev. Sharon White-Harrigan, Executive Director of the Women’s Community Justice Association; and Vincent Schiraldi, Adjunct Professor at the Columbia School of Social Work and Senior Fellow at the Columbia Justice Lab.
Women and gender expansive people sent to the Rose M. Singer Center (“Rosie’s”) at Riker’s Island are overwhelmingly detained pretrial or on technical violations of parole—presumed innocent and/or detained for challenges meeting their conditions of release. The number of women entering New York City jails has plummeted from a peak of 15,678 in 1998 to 1,207 last year. New York City now has the lowest incarceration rate for women of the five largest U.S. cities—considerably lower than those cities. Still, on any given day, roughly 300 women are detained at Rosie’s. As the public debates what should happen to these women, we seek to convene a conversation that gets to the root of the implicit assumptions around safety, resources, and the permanence of institutions implicated by ongoing debates.
New York City’s draft plan situates a future jail for women in Kew Gardens attached to a new men’s jail. In response, some have put forth a vision to close Rosie’s by instead substantially decarcerating and repurposing a former state prison in Harlem with a capacity less than one-third of the current daily population at Rosie’s, with a nonprofit entity providing trauma-informed services to women there and a perimeter secured by the City Department of Corrections. Still others question whether it is possible to offer trauma-informed care in any structure tied to a city or state correctional agency and how to chart the quickest and most durable path away from incarceration altogether.
At the root of this debate is a sticky question: why do we wait for people to be in jail in order to build infrastructure that provides them needed resources? This conversation aims to unpack that question and search for possibilities for alignment among people who identify as reformers and people who identify as abolitionists in public discourse. What is the most liberatory possible version of a plan for the women and gender-expansive people stuck at Rosie’s which includes decarceration and reducing jail admissions? Given the urgency of brutal, dismal conditions of confinement – and acknowledging that any time-horizon for abolition may be decades if not centuries – what are ethical ways to address conditions that real people must endure in the present and near-term? Is it possible to invest in a future without jails while repurposing a former prison building that might still be connected to a city correctional agency? How do these proposals interface with the politics and realities on the ground, including a NYC Mayoral administration opposed to change—whether reformist or abolitionist? And finally, how do we build the future where people receive the resources that produce safety—housing, nourishing food, healthcare, childcare, dignified employment and income, individualized, trauma-informed services—in the community without incarceration, detention, or surveillance?
Andrea James, JD, is the Founder and Executive Director of The National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Founder of Families for Justice as Healing, author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration, a 2015 Soros Justice Fellow, and recipient of the 2016 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award. As a former criminal defense attorney and a formerly incarcerated woman, Andrea shares her personal and professional experiences to raise awareness of the effect of incarceration of women on themselves, their children, and communities. Her work is focused on ending incarceration of women and girls and contributing to the shift from a criminal legal system focused on police and prisons, to a system led by directly affected people from within their communities and based on individual and community accountability.
Rev. Sharon White-Harrigan, LMSW, has been the Executive Director of the Women’s Community Justice Association since 2018. Drawing on her experience as a licensed social worker, domestic violence survivor, and formerly incarcerated person, she has expertise in various direct services and policy advocacy campaigns that support justice-impacted women. Sharon was a leader in the successful effort to enact New York State’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act in 2019. She also serves as an advisory member of the Survivor’s Justice Project, the co-lead of the Bedford Hills project, a strategic consultant and senior advisor to the Women & Justice Project, a member of the International Advisory Committee with the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, co-creator of the Justice 4 Women Task Force (#J4WTF), Policy Council Member, and co-founder & executive member of Women Building UP. She holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Lehman College, a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Criminal Justice from City University of New York where she was a Thomas W. Smith Fellow, and an associates degree in Liberal Arts from Marymount Manhattan College. Sharon is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Frank & Lisina Hoch Award for Social Justice Advocacy and Activism, and the 2019 Leadership Award for her advocacy to pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.
Vincent Schiraldi is an Adjunct Professor at the Columbia School of Social Work and Senior Fellow at the Columbia Justice Lab. He has extensive experience in public life, founding the policy think tank, the Justice Policy Institute, then moving to government as director of the juvenile corrections in Washington DC, as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation and Correction, and Senior Policy Adviser to the NYC Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. Schiraldi gained a national reputation as a fearless reformer who emphasized the humane and decent treatment of the men, women, and children under his correctional supervision. He pioneered efforts at community-based alternatives to incarceration in NYC and Washington DC. Schiraldi received a MSW from New York University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Binghamton University.
Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is the moderator of the Myths of Public Safety speaker series.
The Myths of Public Safety speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.