Department of Correction could not show that 68% of sampled inmates 18-21 years old were offered the opportunity to enroll in educational classes

Special Education Plans were never created for more than one-third of special education students sampled

(New York, NY) — The New York City Departments of Correction and Education are unable to prove they gave many young adult inmates held on Rikers Island the opportunity to attend the City’s Rikers-based high school, even though they are legally entitled to educational services, according to a new audit released today by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. The audit outlines how the City has failed to follow state regulations while overlooking internal rules and procedures, and ignoring federal court rulings.

Under New York State regulations, inmates are eligible to receive educational services if they are under 21 years of age, have not received a high school diploma, and will be incarcerated in a correctional facility for 10 or more calendar days. Yet, the audit uncovered that the Department of Correction (DOC) systemically neglected to ensure inmates between the ages of 18 and 21 were given the opportunity to sign up for classes. Auditors also found that the Department of Education (DOE) did not consistently produce Special Education Plans for students who needed those services within 30 school days, as required by the courts.

“Offering young inmates the chance to attend high school is not only smart policy, it’s required by law. But the Department of Correction doesn’t adhere to its own rules to make sure that the law is followed. That’s wrong, because if we’re going to reverse decades of backwards criminal justice policies, it’s going to be with bigger and better schools — not bigger and tougher prisons,” Comptroller Stringer said. “We have to do better. Rikers Island doesn’t just reflect antiquated criminal justice policies, and the facility doesn’t just symbolize an ill-conceived approach of being ‘tough on crime’ instead of being smart on crime. It’s an institution that needs to close. If we want to lower recidivism and end the cycle of crime and poverty, then we have to give everyone the opportunities they need to succeed.”

State education law requires 16 and 17 year old inmates to attend high school classes, and gives inmates aged 18 to 21 who do not have a high school diploma the opportunity to pursue an education. Further, the DOE must develop Special Education Plans for student inmates with special educational needs within 30 days of enrolling in classes. The audit found that DOC and DOE defied these requirements and failed to properly support students. Specific findings include:

The DOC did not consistently inform 18-21 year old inmates of their right to attend classes

  • During inmates’ initial orientation, DOC is supposed to inform them of their right to educational services and have 18-21 year-olds submit a form accepting or rejecting DOC’s offer of educational services.
  • DOC, however, did not have evidence that 74% of sampled 18-21 year old inmates ever attended those orientations and were informed they had a right to educational services.
  • Further, DOC could not show that 68% of the sampled 18-21 year old inmates filled out the forms agreeing to or rejecting the offer of classes — which means those individuals might never have been offered the forms, and education services, to begin with.

The DOE did not consistently develop special education plans for students with special needs

  • DOE must develop and implement a Special Education Plan for each special education student on Rikers Island within 30 school days of the student’s beginning classes.
  • Despite that requirement, auditors found that Special Education Plans were not created within 30 days for 48% of sampled special education students on Rikers Island.
  • Some of the sampled students — 12% — eventually had Special Education Plans created, up to three months after they began classes. For 36% of the sampled students, however, the plans were never created.

To read the full audit, click here.