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Elected officials found Rikers library for moms

State Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera (l.) and City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras show off books to be given to Rikers Island so incarcerated women can read to their children. Photo by Rebecca Henely
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City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and state Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera (D-Bronx) announced last week that they are collecting children’s books for female prisoners in Rikers Island and women’s facilities upstate to read to their children.

“We cannot wait until they are released to reintegrate them with their children,” Ferreras said.

The drive, which is still ongoing, was the brainchild of both lawmakers. Rivera said she and Ferreras were at a mutual friend’s house for a barbecue and began discussing the subject of mothers in prison.

Their talk lasted two hours, and by Oct. 26 they had hundreds of books to donate to Rikers as well as three women’s prisons upstate.

“We have women who are mothers who are not being given the additional support they need to be reunited with their child,” Rivera said.

Ferreras and Rivera visited Rikers after the announcement.

A fact sheet from the Correctional Association of New York, a Manhattan nonprofit with authority from the state Legislature to monitor prison conditions, said about 73 percent of New York’s incarcerated women are mothers, compared to 58 percent of men in prison who are fathers.

The association also said 83 percent of women were sent to prison in 2008 for non-violent offenses and 35 percent of women in prison read at an eighth-grade level or below.

“We just learned that Rikers does not have a library for these women,” Rivera said.

The assemblywoman said children’s books at the prison would encourage bonding activity and promote adult literacy.

“This is the one opportunity that a mother may have, even though she’s being detained, to be taken somewhere else,” Ferreras said.

In addition to the Correctional Association, Ferreras said she and Rivera have been working on this project with other nonprofits, such as the Osborne Association and the Jewish Board of Family & Children Services.

“Books are a powerful way to strengthen the parent-child relationship while nurturing a child’s love of learning,” Tanya Krupta, of the Osborne Association, said in a statement. “No matter what the literacy level or language of the mother, she can animate, narrate, cuddle and laugh with her child through a book.”

Rivera has also introduced legislation calling for female inmates to be placed in correctional facilities closest to their homes.

Ferreras said she is still collecting children’s books to be donated to Rikers Island. Books to be donated must be softcover for easier storage. They can be dropped off at the councilwoman’s district office at 32-33 Junction Blvd. in East Elmhurst.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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