Graduation Date

Fall 12-14-2018

Grading Professor

Daryl Khan

Subject Concentration

Urban Reporting

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


New York City's Rikers Island has a medically assisted treatment (MAT) program for detainees who are addicted to opioids, providing buprenorphine or methadone. For many locked up there, though, Rikers is only a way station before a trip upstate to prison. Even now, over 30 years after its treatment program began, only six other correctional facilities in New York offer pilot opioid treatment programs, which are available only to limited segments of their respective populations.

So for those taking medication in the form or methadone or buprenorphine on Rikers Island pretrial and awaiting sentencing, they're tapered off their doses to serve out a prison sentence in a state correctional facility.

Reform advocates call this tapering “forced detox.” Many of those who have experienced or witnessed it describe it in a vocabulary reserved for violence.

For those fortunate enough, medically speaking, to spend incarceration time at Rikers Island, leaving poses a challenge.

If they’re sent to serve out a sentence at a state prison, they face the painful detox. A bill before the state legislature, expected to be taken up in 2019, represents an effort to alleviate that pain. If the bill becomes law — never a given, Albany being Albany — all New York State prisons and jails will need to adopt MAT programs.

Going home from Rikers Island is tough, too. Reentry is a precarious time, especially for those with opioid use disorder. Studies have shown that those returning from prison are vastly more likely than the general population to die from an opioid overdose. Because people coming from the MAT program on Rikers have been taking an exact dose, their bodies aren’t ready for street hazards such as heroin cut with fentanyl.

Advocates say that beyond the hazards of overdose, the system is set up for them to fail and return to incarceration. However, a new partnership with the Fortune Society is designed to provide reentry help for those returning from Rikers and struggling with opioid addiction.

Link to capstone project:

PHOTO_Boyer_Trevor_1.jpg (1700 kB)
Photo by Trevor Boyer. Taken 1/3/2019 in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Carlos Pagan Recovery Center in Red Hook, Brooklyn, offers a methadone maintenance program.

PHOTO_Boyer_Trevor_2.jpg (1039 kB)
Photo by Trevor Boyer. Taken 11/30/2018 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Hands of Edward M., 29, of Brooklyn, who spent nine months in Rikers Island's methadone program and now attends a program in Brooklyn.

PHOTO_Boyer_Trevor_3.jpg (1190 kB)
Photo by Trevor Boyer. Taken 11/28/2018 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Hands of Marilyn Reyes, 56, of the Bronx, who never again used drugs after being detoxed from methadone on Rikers Island in 1995

PHOTO_Boyer_Trevor_4.jpg (888 kB)
Photo by Trevor Boyer. Taken 11/28/2018 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Hands of Eddie, 56, of Manhattan, who detoxed seven times at Rikers Island since 1985

AUDIO_Boyer_Trevor_1.mp3 (1292 kB)
Audio clip of Edward M., 29, of Brooklyn, explaining his troubles starting a methadone program after being released from Rikers Island.

AUDIO_Boyer_Trevor_2.mp3 (1721 kB)
Audio clip of Marilyn Reyes, 56, of the Bronx, explaining her experience detoxing from methadone on Rikers Island in 1995.

AUDIO_Boyer_Trevor_3.mp3 (1532 kB)
Audio clip of Eddie, 56, of Manhattan, explaining the detox process on Rikers Island.

Available for download on Saturday, December 31, 2022