Teachers Against Jail Expansion

As teachers and people working in schools who care deeply about our students, we call on all members of the New York City Council to vote no on the “Borough-Based Jail System” land use application and to take action for the immediate closure of the jails on Rikers Island. To build the healthy and safe communities our students need to thrive, we must divest from policing and incarceration and invest in community resources. We cannot end mass incarceration by creating new jails. Approval of this land use action cannot guarantee the closure of the Rikers Island jails nor address the human rights abuses that occur within jails, regardless of design or location. The City can and must close the jails on Rikers Island without building new jails by embarking on a community-based abolitionist planning process, like No New Jails’ robust abolition plan, and investing in decarceral and abolitionist strategies, including existing city programs and policies.

The mayor, his office of criminal justice, and a handful of councilmembers are currently pushing through a plan to invest $11 billion dollars in jail expansion. If the plan goes through, 4 new massive jails will be built in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. Additionally, 1 or 2 nursery jails would be constructed for women and their babies, and 3-6 jail facilities would be built into hospitals across the city. Though its proponents insist that the plan’s purpose is to close Rikers, it provides no path to that goal, no legal guarantee, and not a single dollar budgeted towards the actual process of closing Rikers, which would be a massive and costly undertaking.

We do not need new jails to close Rikers. We can close Rikers now without building a single new cage by investing that $11 billion in our communities--especially on housing, healthcare, and education--and divesting from policing and incarceration.

These new jails would be built over the next decade, and we know that they are being built for our students. The same children we are obligated to protect and care for, the same children we are responsible to ensure a meaningful future for - the city government is so terrified of them it feels it needs to build skyscrapers full of cages to contain and torture them. This jail expansion plan is the product of a failed social vision, and it is the laziest and most vicious means by which our society could seek to redress its failures. When we fail to provide adequate mental health care for the children of this city, we lock them in cages. When we fail to provide them adequate substance abuse treatment, we lock them in cages. When we fail to provide them adequate homes, we lock them in cages.

This nation’s schools have become places of increased surveillance with heightened police presence as a result of “zero tolerance” policies stemming from the war on drugs in the 1980’s and the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994. The adoption of such punishment paradigms in schools has created the school-to-prison pipeline, as students are taken out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Today most students involved in minor, non-serious infractions are handled by law enforcement officials, generally armed, that work full-time as school resource officers (SROs). The National Center for Education reported that as of 2015, there are “more than 43,000 school resource officers and other sworn police officers, and an additional 39,000 security guards, working in the nation’s 84,000 public schools”. Here in New York City, there are more cops in schools than school counselors. In 2016 the NYC Department of Education reported 4,043 in-school counselors and social workers, both full and part time, compared to a reported 5,200 in-school security personnel, including resource officers and uniformed police. With 22% more school security staff than counseling staff, many of our children are threatened with forceful punishment more often than they are offered support and care. Increased police presence in schools has led to the criminalization of students of color and those struggling with poverty, resulting in more arrests on school campuses.

We must do better! We can support our students through the many challenges they face in and outside of schools by funding the resources that have been proven to work, such as school counselors. From connecting those in need of mental-health support to finding wrap around services to alleviate the stresses of poverty, school counselors are important advocates for the social and emotional well being of our most vulnerable students. As is too often the case, students in most need of these supports often attend schools with the fewest resources. The national average student-to-school-counselor ratio is 482-to-1—nearly double the 250-to-1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association.

Jails serve as an extension of a punitive school system that already harms many of our students, especially Black and Brown students: suspensions and detentions that force them out of school, schools with few or no guidance counselors and many cops that create militarized learning environments. As teachers we have seen firsthand how these policies disrupt our students’ learning, dehumanize them, and put them at risk daily. In June, NYC schools chancellor Richard Carranza announced that the city would add 85 new licensed social workers, limit suspensions to 20 days, and overhaul its agreement with the NYPD’s involvement in schools. While we celebrate this baby step towards demilitarizing our schools, we know it is not nearly enough. Our students are still terrorized daily by cops, still regularly forced out of school for too long, still fear public shaming, violence, or arrest every day they walk into what should be a space of learning, creativity, and growth. How well can we possibly serve our students when we cannot protect them from police violence and discrimination inside the hallways and classrooms of our schools?

The NYPD and the Department of Correction have long been the source of violence against our communities, and especially those of us who are Black, Brown, immigrants, poor, disabled, women, youth, and/or transgender. Our responsibility to our students, therefore, is to minimize the impact of the criminal justice system on their lives and communities while supporting them in visioning and building transformative justice systems that will actually keep them safe. We must oppose the caging of human beings in jails, a practice widely evidenced to enact violence against our students of these identities regardless of location or design.

We reject the morally abhorrent vision for the future of our students put forward in the jail expansion plan and we reject the hatred, the cynicism, and the white supremacy at the heart of it. We reject the absurd claim that to build more cages for humans is to somehow create a more just city or a safer community. We reject the assumption that jails and prisons are necessary. We reject the lie that the forces and apparatuses of state violence keep our communities safe.

We reject the plan and its inevitable repercussions because we know that we can and we must build alternatives to the carceral state which fails to keep our communities safe. According to the U.S. Department of Education, state and local governments in the last three decades have increased spending on jails and prisons at triple the rate that they have on elementary and secondary education. Spending on higher education has remained virtually stagnant from 1989-2013 while spending on corrections has risen 89%. New York City currently has the opportunity to set a new precedent for where investment should be made. We call on the city to take the billions of dollars it is seeking to spend on these cages and invest them back into our communities. We call on the city to provide the adequate mental health care, substance abuse care, housing and education our students need. We call on the people of New York to speak out against this jail expansion plan and to let their politicians know that we can and must shut down Rikers Island now with no new jails.

To end the school to prison pipeline, we must demilitarize our schools. Our demands to realize this goal include a reimagination of school space, away from one that assumes danger from our students and teaches discipline through police violence, and towards one that holistically prevents harm, restores trust, and builds a liberatory vision of safety. In action, we must eliminate the presence of school “safety” officers that exist solely to inflict violence on our students and prepare them to inhabit occupied communities. We must end the extended security apparatuses and means of surveillance and intrusion that distrust our students and serve to capture them in the prison industrial complex. We must end school suspensions and other punitive models of discipline that are enforced along racial lines and punish entire communities. We must, instead, build restorative justice programs into regular administrative protocols to address harm in schools; we must train staff to employ such methods, create spaces for students to engage in safe processes of accountability, and gather resources that will allow our students the agency to build truly transformative approaches to community safety. We must provide access to positive methods of mental health care with comprehensive wellness programs and a well equipped staff of counselors and social workers. We demand that New York City divest from the building of cages that would incarcerate our children for generations to come and, instead, invest in resources that will create the possibilities for a liberated future.

  1. Nabil Hassein
  2. Milo Giovanniello
  3. Myra Hernández, Educator
  4. Grace Woods
  5. Matt B, Teacher, NYC DOE
  6. Saber Khan, Educator
  7. Nikita, Special Education Teacher, NYDOE
  8. Jabari Brisport, Teacher/Medgar Evers Prep
  9. Jonathan Rooke, Teacher, Maspeth High School
  10. Andom Ghebreghiorgis
  11. Michelle Vera, DOE ENL teacher
  12. melanie hoff
  13. Taeyoon Choi, School for Poetic Computation
  14. Nicholas Shannon
  15. Marlene Acevedo
  16. Jessica Ayala, Teacher-Pache Montessori
  17. Stephina Fisher, NYC DOE
  18. Courtney Zollinger
  19. Yvonne LaRoche, Teacher
  20. Andrea Morrell, Guttman Community College CUNY
  21. Justin Olson, Paraprofessional
  22. Daniel Genoves-Sylvan
  23. Janella Cuyler, Teacher, Achievement First
  24. Julia Chang, Learning Gardens Educator, City Parks Foundation
  25. Sultana Ahmed
  26. Greg Baffuto
  27. RJ P
  28. Vishnu Neppala
  29. Sarah Kaplan Gould, Churchill School
  30. Shreya S, global history teacher
  31. Angela
  32. Maddie Neufeld
  33. Sarah Sklaw
  34. Tanya Kinigstein Pascoe, Teacher
  35. Melissa Giroux, Graduate student - hunter college
  36. Joel Solow, MORE
  37. Taylor B, Social Worker
  38. Alexandros Orphanides
  39. Maura Smale, NYC College of Technology, CUNY
  40. Sienna Chambers
  41. Eliseo Rivera, Teacher
  42. yvonne spaulding
  43. Jan-Kristòf Louis-Mansano, NYC DOE Guidance Counselor
  44. Blake Myers
  45. Karen John, 25 years @ Department of Youth Services ( DYS)
  46. Kristen Rucki
  47. Jessica Klonsky, NYC DOE
  48. Desireé
  49. Shirobei Nieto
  50. Jon Mermelstein, Social Studies Teacher, NYC Department of Education
  51. Bahati Kidayi
  52. NAHEE KIM, Hunter College
  53. Karla Robinson
  54. Shanita Francis, Ember Charter School
  55. Roxanne Leff
  56. Marcia White, KIPP NYC
  57. Veronique Bernard
  58. Rosanne Clark, MORE-UFT
  59. Lilliana
  60. Shelley Shin, College Advisor
  61. Zachary Brida, New York University College Advising Corps
  62. Sam K
  63. Allison Shyer, Adjunct at Hunter
  64. Laura Cooper
  65. Daniel Fenjves
  66. Janeen Mantin
  67. Marieke Thomas, NYC DOE Teacher
  68. Amanda Madden, Hunter College adjunct
  69. Josephine Perez, School Secretary
  70. Ying Dong
  71. Aaron Donaldson, Ph.D., Director of Forensics, Lecturer, Humboldt State University Arcata, CA
  72. Maria Monica Andia, Director of College Success
  73. Juliansito Perez, College Adviser/LoMA
  74. Shaun Lin, CUNY Graduate Center / Queens College
  75. Harmonie Coleman, Ethnic Studies Teacher
  76. Grace Allende, New York University College Advising Corps
  77. Benjamin rubin, CUNY lehman college
  78. Sofia Ben-Hur
  79. Juliany Taveras
  80. Celina Cuevas
  81. Kelsey Cummings
  82. Natania Kremer, Brooklyn Friends School
  83. Tommy Wu, CUNY
  84. Timothy Prolific Edwaujonte, Ember Charter Schools
  85. dathan
  86. Shantel Moten
  87. Camille Mitchell, Brooklyn Heights Montessori School
  88. Tian Yi, Service & Justice Coordinator at Brooklyn Friends School
  89. Jasmine Alvarez
  90. Amanda Fahey
  91. Carolyn T, NYC DOE
  92. Ian Alexander, GSOC-UAW 2110
  93. Madelyn
  94. Maggie prendergast
  95. Meg Wiessner
  96. Ian McKenzie, NYU
  97. Nantina Vgontzas, NYU GSOC-UAW
  98. Joss Lake
  99. Murphy Austin, Bard Early Colleges
  100. Guilherme Meyer, Literacy Tutor, Brooklyn Public Library
  101. Tiffany Marte, New York University College Advising Corps
  102. Elise Bare, Teacher
  103. Jacqueline Du, Art Educator
  104. Tatiana Stolpovskaya
  105. Zev Levi Spiegel, Pre-School Teacher
  106. Rebecca Manski
  107. Joseph Davis, District 9 Public School Teacher
  108. Victoria N Grubbs, New York University
  109. Jorjina Koffi, Teaching Artist
  110. Carthlina Jean
  111. L Mariko Pasco, Middle school teacher
  112. Rai Arsa Artha
  113. Layla Quinones, NYC DOE - CS4ALL
  114. Daniel Shiffman, New York University
  115. Caroline Snell
  116. Nicollette Ruiz, Special Education Provider
  117. Meredith Loop
  118. Stephanie Mota Thurston, Princeton Seminary
  119. Nircely Batista
  120. Shari L Cancel, BHMS
  121. Jennifer Goldfrank
  122. Neta Bomani, The School for Poetic Computation, Pioneer Works
  123. Laura Wang
  124. Francis Tseng, The New School
  125. Jomaira Salas Pujols
  126. Bhumika Chauhan, GSOC-UAW-2110, NYU grad worker
  127. Sonia Guajardo, Reading Specialist, M.A. Ed.
  128. Veronica Garcia
  129. Tyaela Nieves, College Educator
  130. Langston Sanchez, Teaching Artist
  131. Rosebeth Akharamen
  132. Scott Kiernan, Hunter College
  133. Jamela Joseph, Teacher
  134. MinJi K
  135. Colin Wang, School for Poetic Computation
  136. Chioma D.
  137. Anthony Beckford, Activist / Community Leader / Mentor
  138. Amber Cogswell
  139. Shawn McGibeny, teacher
  140. Sam Kellogg, New York University
  141. Amy-Sharee S., SpEd Teacher, LCCS
  142. Pam Segura, ELA/Advisory teacher from the Bronx
  143. Jessica Ayala, Teacher- Pache montessori
  144. Britt Kroll, Teacher
  145. B. Kaiser, Teacher, NYC DOE
  146. Carter Swope, Special Education Teacher
  147. Tristan Beach, NYU
  148. Natyna Bean
  149. Taiyo Ebato
  150. A Clarke, NYC DOE Teacher
  151. Emma Charno, Compass charter school
  152. Nicole R, College Adviser
  153. L.Miao, NYC DOE
  154. Joelle Dupiton, Compass Charter School
  155. Carmela Ortiz, Churchill School
  156. Grace Beniquez
  157. Cindy Gao, NYU
  158. Gabriel Solis, TA, Columbia History Dept.
  159. Cait Carvalho, Education Manager, The Independent Filmmaker Project
  160. Paolina Lu, Graduate Student, New York University
  161. Faith McGlothlin
  162. Damaris Dunn, Doc student
  163. Tim Lord, DreamYard
  164. Bonnibel Rosario, College Coordinator/Sadie Nash Leadership Project
  165. Elvira Blanco, Teaching Fellow, Columbia
  166. Elibanesa Duran
  167. Rafaelina garcia, Speech language pathologist
  168. Marisa Solomon, Assistant Professor, Baruch College
  169. Bridget McCormick, Museum and Community-Based Educator
  170. Lena Smith
  171. Tamar Rothenberg, Bronx Community College
  172. Mark Vaughn
  173. Mara Lazda, Bronx Community College, CUNY
  174. Amy Tong, Teen Health Educator
  175. Maureen Santella, Special Education Administration NYCDOE
  176. Jude, Bronx Prep HS
  177. Katie Gentile, John Jay College
  178. Alex Jallot, Special Education Teacher- Department of Education
  179. Achim Koh, Pratt Institute School of Information
  180. Carol Lang, Bronx Community College
  181. Carolyn Yao, CUNY
  182. Rudy Blanco, Director of Entrepreneurship and Gaming, DreamYard Project
  183. Leondria Godfrey, Early Learning Program Coordinator at DreamYard Project
  184. Anna Meyer
  185. B. Britt, Preschool Teacher
  186. Elise Sommers, Preschool Teacher - Brooklyn Sandbox
  187. Emily Bennetts, Brooklyn Sandbox
  188. Mariam Rivera Aryai, Program Director
  189. Kathleen Gavin, Art teacher
  190. Ariana Allensworth
  191. Shoshana Brown, Social Worker
  192. NIcs Lawrence
  193. Christine Fleming
  194. Dylan Gauthier
  195. Matilda Wysocki
  196. Ulrike Bialas, Princeton University
  197. Natalia Torres, DreamYard
  198. Shania Sanchez , College Advisor