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As Federal Court Holds Major Hearing to Determine Control of Rikers, Community Groups and Elected Officials Hold Protest to Demand Immediate Action

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**PRESS RELEASE**

August 10, 2023

Contact: gabriel sayegh  646-335-2264 | gabriel@katalcenter.org 

Follow online: #ShutRikers #CloseRikers #CutShutInvestNY | @katalcenter

As Federal Court Holds Major Hearing to Determine Control of Rikers, Community Groups and Elected Officials Hold Protest to Demand Immediate Action to Improve Conditions and Save Lives

Until Rikers is Shut Down, Federal Courts Must Immediately Appoint a Federal Receiver to Take Over Notorious Jail Complex

At Least 26 Incarcerated People Have Died in City Jails Since Mayor Adams Took Office; Four Dead in July Alone 

New York, NY – Today at City Hall people directly impacted by Rikers, along with community groups and elected officials, gathered to demand that Mayor Adams take immediate action to shut down the notorious Rikers Island Jail Complex. The group then marched together to Foley Square to make it clear that until Rikers is shut down, the federal courts must appoint a receiver to improve conditions and save lives.  

The march and rally took place before the U.S. District Court hearing about Rikers, called by U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain, to discuss whether control of the jail complex will be taken away from Mayor Adams and assigned to an independent “receiver” who would be tasked with reducing violence and addressing the longstanding issues plaguing the jail system. This officer of the court would have full authority to manage day-to-day operations “independent of the politics, bureaucracy, and other dysfunctional structures that perpetuate the harm.” 

This hearing was prompted by several recent federal monitor reports, including from July 10th, where for the first time, the federal monitor recommended Judge Swain hold the Adams administration in contempt for failing to improve conditions at Rikers and implement promised reforms. In previous reports, the monitor raises the alarm about how the people incarcerated at Rikers are at an “imminent risk of harm” due to the DOC’s mismanagement, outright lack of care, and the administration’s unwillingness to address the longstanding issues plaguing the city’s jail system. The state of affairs at Rikers has become completely untenable. 

Since Mayor Adams took office, at least 26 people have died in NYC jails, including four in July. But the federal monitor notes that the real number is unknown because the DOC won’t disclose information as required under the federal consent decree. 

Over the last few weeks, calls for the federal court to appoint an independent receiver have grown. Last month, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York called for a court-appointed receiver to take charge of Rikers. Williams joins a growing list of community groups and current and former officials who support the call for a federal receiver to take over at Rikers, including, most recently, the Board of Correction, a city watchdog agency.

Speakers at today’s march and rally demanded Rikers be shut down. Many speakers demanded that until the complex is closed once and for all, the federal courts should appoint a receiver to take over to immediately improve conditions at the jail complex for incarcerated people and those who work there.

Statements from elected officials, impacted people, 

and community and advocacy groups: 

NYC Comptroller Brad Lander, said: “After a year of closely watching the numbers, this much is clear, without significant changes to management the dysfunction on Rikers Island will persist. The City has proven unable and unwilling to overhaul its jail operations on its own. That’s why I support the appointment of a federal receiver, who would have the authority to implement reforms to jail operations, improve accountability and conditions in our jails, and get us back on the path to closing Rikers.” 

NYC Public Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, said: “The crisis at Rikers Island, hidden by distance and lack of transparency, is made clear in the lives lost and the alarming reports by the federal monitor. If any progress is being made on the island, it’s clearly nowhere near what’s needed, and not enough to save lives. We cannot afford to continue waiting and let conditions worsen, which is dangerous for people on both sides of the bars. In addition to legislative reforms like banning solitary, we need a federal receivership to intervene and oversee operations while we continue the work to finally close Rikers for good.” 

Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, said: “The City of New York is either unwilling or incapable of ensuring basic constitutional rights and minimum standards at Rikers Island, prolonging the humanitarian crisis which Mayor Adams inherited but has failed to address. The federal courts must immediately intervene and appoint a receiver to take over the jail. It’s the only way to save lives now and put us on a path to close every facility on Rikers, as required by City law.”

City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers, said: “The situation at Rikers Island is intolerable. Repeated, well documented abuses have gone completely unaddressed and it is clear now that the city cannot or will not act to improve conditions. An outside intervention is needed, and I believe Rikers should be placed in federal receivership. The jail is currently failing to meet even the lowest standards, and new, competent management is needed to change this sad reality.” 


Council Member Tiffany Cabán, said: “The Department of Correction is a rogue agency whose leaders do everything in their power to undermine every oversight body assigned to them and avoid any semblance of accountability. The reason they want to escape oversight is the reason they are subjected to oversight in the first place: Rikers Island is a hellhole, a torture dungeon, a death chamber, a modern-day slave plantation, a site of relentless suffering and terror in every direction. We need to close Rikers and invest in jobs, housing, and mental health in the communities most impacted by its horrors.”


Council Member Shekar Krishnan, said: “The humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island is the most urgent human rights crisis our city faces. The rampant deaths and inhumane conditions on Rikers Island cannot be improved until federal courts step in and appoint a federal receiver. However, that is not nearly enough. Rikers must be closed. I am sending my thanks and gratitude to the Katal Center for hosting this rally and fighting to improve conditions for everybody on Rikers.”


Council Member Lincoln Restler said: “As the conditions at Rikers continue to worsen, it’s clear that the federal government must step in and take control of this humanitarian crisis. We need to swiftly close Rikers Island, but in the interim a federal receiver can cut through intractable issues and start addressing this disaster.”

Council Member Alexa Aviles, said: “For years, New York City has failed to treat justice-impacted people and their families with dignity. We must stop the suffering for those unfortunate enough to find themselves on Rikers Island immediately, a majority of whom have not been sentenced to any crime. Receivership is no guarantee that things will get better, but this administration’s habitual reliance on punitive measures in response to poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse has not instilled confidence in me that they are up to the task. Something must change.”

Council Member Sandy Nurse, said: “The Riker’s Island Jail Complex continues to have egregious conditions that do not address the basic health and medical needs of detainees. We know that detained and incarcerated individuals are acutely impacted by this summer’s heat waves and air quality emergencies. We know that people have died on Rikers and that these conditions are further deteriorating. We must demand action and we must close down Rikers as mandated by law.” 

Council Member Nantasha Williams, said: “Closing Rikers is not just a call for justice, but a crucial step towards healing our community. As we rally for federal intervention, we recognize that the time for change is now. By appointing a receiver to oversee Rikers, we signal our commitment to improving the lives of those detained and employed within its walls. Our collective demand for closure reflects our dedication to a safer, more equitable future for all.”                                                                     

Council Member Rita Joseph, chair of the Council Committee on Education, said:            “In 2019, our predecessors voted to close the infamous Rikers Island. Now four years later, and four years from the deadline we are no closer to that goal. Since January 2022, 26 people have died on the island. It is obvious that Rikers is not safe for guards, staff nor those incarcerated there. It is time that the federal courts appoint a receiver.”

Henry Robinson, Katal Leader, said: “I was incarcerated at Rikers, and I have been exposed to the violence and mistreatment found there. Absolutely no one deserves to go there. The horrors that you see within the walls of Rikers are unimaginable. Once you get arrested and get sent to Rikers you lose everything and lose critical contact with your loved ones. That is why there are so many people that lose their minds during, and after Rikers. Since the Mayor took office we have lost 26 human beings who were incarcerated in NYC jails out of sheer negligence and lack of care. Mayor Eric Adams must shut down Rikers Island. However, since the Mayor won’t address the corruption and mismanagement found within Rikers there federal courts must appoint an independent receiver to improve conditions.” 


Lori Zeno, Executive Director of Queens Defenders, said: “For years, the horrific humanitarian crisis at Rikers Island has been well known to public defenders across the city. Further highlighted this week by the Federal Monitor’s scathing report, it is imperative that the federal courts appoint a receiver to address the chronic health and safety issues that have so far led to 26 deaths under the Adams Administration and where half of the current population requires mental health services. These are human beings who need urgent medical and mental health treatment, supportive housing, and employment services, not squalid, violent, and inhumane living conditions. The mismanagement of Rikers Island is an abhorrent waste of taxpayer dollars that requires creative solutions to integrate formerly incarcerated people back into their families and communities.”   

Charles King, President and Chief Executive Officer, Housing Works, Inc, said: 

“Those of us serving homeless people here in New York City are all too familiar with the revolving door that carries the people we serve in and out of Rikers Island.  This revolving door keeps people homeless and disrupts their services.  Incarceration also interferes with any possibility of gainful employment, even while placing folks in one of the most dehumanizing situations imaginable. We need much smaller Borough-based jails with much less capacity.  We should not let the City off the hook from providing decent mental health services to people who are homeless by affording the capacity to just throw people who are mentally ill in jail.  And we shouldn’t be jailing people for petty offenses or demanding bail of people arrested on charges that don’t involve violence or felony behavior.  We need to shut Rikers Island down as soon as we can do so.”

Victor Pate, #HALTsolitary Campaign Co-Director, said: “We have gone beyond the point of inhumane and devastating consequences for those detained in DOC’s custody. In light of the four most recent deaths of detainees on Rikers Island which brings the death toll to forty-two souls since 2021 is far too many. For the sake of humane treatment and the preservation of life, Rikers needs to be closed immediately. How much more time will DOC get to continue to do nothing about the crisis on Rikers Island?”

Donna Hylton, founder and president of A Little Piece of Light, said: “Like many of our members at A Little Piece of Light, I’ve been incarcerated on Rikers.  I’ve experienced first hand the awful conditions, the violence, the disregard for human life. But these experiences weren’t unique.  Everyone incarcerated at Rikers faces horrific conditions. And all too often, certain populations, like women, LGBTQ people, gender variant people and young people, are targeted for particularly heinous violence and abuse. Rikers has been a hellhole for decades. What makes this moment stand out is that under Mayor Adams, the situation at Rikers is getting even worse. Rikers must be shut down. And until then, A Little Piece of Light calls on the federal courts to intervene and appoint an independent receiver to improve conditions and save lives.”

Eileen Maher, a leader with VOCAL-NY’s Civil Rights Union, said: “The mere existence of Rikers is a humanitarian violation, and the Adams Administration is culpable every day it takes steps to delay shutting it down. With a receiver, true safety demands someone who is committed to decarceration and can move us closer to finally shutting down Rikers once and for all. A receivership without an eye towards decarceration will just land us back in the same spot we’re in now, and that’s deadly and unacceptable.”

Sharon McLennon Wier, Ph.D., M.S.Ed., CRC, LMHC, Executive Director for CIDNY, said: “The Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) supports the rights of people with disabilities living throughout New York City. Importantly, this also includes people with disabilities who are incarcerated in facilities such as Riker’s Island. Disabled people must have human rights.  Disabled people must have access to the environment, print access, food security, rights to understand legal charges cast against them, access to assistive technology, access to physical and mental health care, and so much more.  CIDNY advocates for disabled rights to all regardless of their zip code”

Luke Steele, Member of the Katal Center, said: “It is infuriating to know that since Mayor Adams took office 26 people have died in NYC jails as far as the public knows. I have been to Rikers in the past and can tell you first-hand that it is unsafe for anyone to be detained there. The conditions at Rikers have only gotten worse. It is so scary to hear about everything that is currently happening there. The Federal Monitors report stated that everyone in NYC jails is at imminent risk of harm. That is unacceptable. Our Mayor up to this point has been nonchalant about the crisis unfolding at Rikers. People are losing their lives and he doesn’t even care. New Yorkers and their families are struggling, we need the mayor to shut down Rikers and invest in mental health and housing. Until he shuts down Rikers we need the federal courts to appoint a federal receiver to improve the conditions there so no more lives are lost due to negligence and corruption.”

Tahirih Anthony, Senior Policy Manager at Common Justice, said: “Rikers Island symbolizes a broken system, perpetuating inhumane conditions and despair. Common Justice envisions a healing future, with closing Rikers as a vital step. Long an incubator of trauma and tragedy, we witness its impact on lives and our community. We must confront systemic injustices. Closing Rikers reallocates resources for innovative, community-driven solutions addressing violence’s root causes. Our vision: a supportive, rehabilitative NYC, rejecting punitive cycles. We implore city leaders to answer justice’s call, shut Rikers, and embark on an equitable, humane path. Common Justice stands unyielding, demanding change for a safer, fairer society.”

Lauren Velez, Associate Director, NY Metro Team at CSH said “Rikers is a formidable danger, and sending people there for incarceration should be considered cruel and unusual. People are languishing on the island far longer than they should due to a lack of resources, support, and the city’s failure to prioritize interventions that would achieve better outcomes. There are alternatives to institutionalizing our neighbors, including making further investments in solutions to help exit Rikers and into stabilizing settings, like supportive housing. Finally, we know that positive change can only come with substantial influence and support from advocates. CSH continues to urge Mayor Eric Adams and his administration to prioritize life and fundamental human rights for all people and to stop the harm inflicted on those incarcerated at Rikers while actively working to close the facility once and for all. We urge you, the public, to not become desensitized to the repeating news of the inhumane conditions and unfathomable loss of life occurring at Rikers and to keep fighting to hold city leaders accountable.”


NYC Metro Raging Grannies, said: “Raging Grannies are furious! Holding people because they can’t pay bail is immoral. Our grandchildren must not continue to die in filthy neglected NYC jails. No human being belongs in our filthy neglected deadly NYC jails. We are outraged that there is now a city plan to hide these crimes and shut avenues of transparency. The Mayor must shut down Rikers immediately to save lives.”

Mr. Five Mualimm-ak, Incarcerated Nation Network, inc & founder of Youth Anti-Prison Project, Said: “For over a decade, hundreds of advocates & us survivors have organized to bring attention to the human rights violation that is rikers island, during that time New Yorkers have continuously suffered, died in record numbers, and yet still this facility still exists at our expense. In order to save lives & reappropriate funding for solutions we must Close Rikers Island.”

Michael McQuillan, Member of the Social Justice Committee at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, said: “With your survival at stake, your “bed” a tile floor, when those in charge taunt or assault you but ignore illness or injury, when the Commissioner expels the Fortune Society and other nonprofit program providers while the Mayor proclaims “all is well, we’ve got this,” you would want the whole city to rally and march. Heed your conscience! All hands on deck to call for a Federal Receiver now!”

Kevin Valentine, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I have been involved with the criminal legal system and I’m grateful to be here today. Grateful to be with my family, friends and community. I have been so concerned and saddened with the many deaths of incarcerated people under the NYC Dept. of Corrections. Just like my family advocated for me during my incarceration, I will continue to advocate for those being held at Rikers. It’s time for solutions. Mayor Eric Adams you must decarcerate and shut down Rikers!”

Corazón Valiente, Member of the Katal Center: “It is disheartening that so many incarcerated individuals have had to die to bring to attention that the Adams administration has woefully failed New Yorkers. As far as we know, at least 26 incarcerated people have died in NYC jails. At least 26 human beings have died. We don’t know if there are more that have passed away since the Mayor took office because they have been working hard to shut down avenues of transparency. Our communities deserve so much better. Mayor Eric Adams you have blood on your hands. You must shut down Rikers. However, until Rikers is shut down the federal courts must appoint an independent receiver to save lives in NYC jails.”

Melanie Dominguez, Lead Organizer at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “My heart goes out to all the families who have lost a loved one because of the insidious jail complex we know as Rikers Island. Since Mayor Adams took office we have lost at least 26 individuals who were being detained in NYC Jails awaiting their day in court. This is a disgrace. There is no denying that the conditions at Rikers have gone from bad to worse under this mayor, but rather than fix these problems, this administration is trying to hide them. Just this week, the federal monitor released a scathing report that called the mayor’s so-called plan to fix Rikers “Haphazard, Tepid, Insubstantial”. We are out in the streets today to demand immediate action by the city and courts. Rikers must be shut down. And until Rikers is closed once and for all, we urge the federal courts to appoint an independent receiver to take control of Rikers and to improve conditions and save lives.”

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