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release – city plan to close rikers facing delays due to covid-19 related budget cuts

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Yan Snead, | (518) 360-1534

Yonah Zeitz, | (301) 802-1978

City Plan to Close Rikers Facing Delays Due to COVID-19 Related Budget Cuts 

Directly Impacted People and Community Groups Respond, Call on City to Expedite Timeline to Close Rikers, Further Decarcerate, and Reinvest Savings into Communities Harmed by Mass Incarceration 

New York –The news site THE CITY published an article today with new details about prospective delays to New York City’s timeline to close Rikers Island Jail Complex. According to THE CITY, as the City and nation struggle with COVID-19 and the impacts on the economy, budget cuts have been made to the City’s plan to close Rikers Island Jail Complex, extending the projected timeline to close the notorious jail complex from the initial target date of 2026 to as late as 2028.

The delay flies in the face of community demands to close Rikers as quickly as possible.

Response to THE CITY report by directly impacted and community organizations, and advocacy groups: 

Sharon White-Harrigan, Executive Director of Women’s Community Justice Association, said: “There are under 200 women at the RMSC, the only women’s jail on Rikers Island. Community-based programs and services, ATI’S and ATD’S can be utilized now rather than waiting until 2027-8 to remove the women. It’s time that we dismantle and rebuild the systems that have been oppressive and dehumanizing to the black and brown communities and allow the people closest to the problem, bring the solutions to the table.”

Donna Hylton, Founder and President of A Little Piece of Light, said: “The pandemic has upended all our lives and realities. One  of the things we’ve learned in the pandemic is that when a crisis strikes, the City can respond by doing things it previously said was not possible. Early in the pandemic, the de Blasio administration did the right thing by working to move people off Rikers Island into more human shelter environments, to divert people from jail to the community, to get people out of jail. And we saw the jail population drop during the first months of the pandemic as a result of these actions. Recent reports show that the jail population is now rising again, largely due to rollbacks to bail reform, and today we learn that the City may delay closure of Rikers to 2028. This is unacceptable. The City must understand that for those of us who have been held on Rikers, like I have, and subject to the abuses of Rikers, as I have, the mere existence of this facility, and the fact that human beings are detained there, is a crisis that warrants immediate action. The City must SHORTEN the timeline to close RIkers, not delay it, and must invest more into the communities impacted by mass incarceration. The COVID-19 crisis has taught us all we must adjust to new realities, and now the City must adjust as well and improve its plan by decarcerating and speeding up closure.”

Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Alliance of Families for Justice, said: “As an organization that works with families impacted by mass incarceration, we know that the City’s timeline to close Rikers should be sped up, not slowed down. The damage caused by Rikers – to the people incarcerated there, to their families, and to the communities these individuals and families are a part of — is immeasurable and devastating. The COVID-19 crisis has forced a rethinking of every aspect of our lives. Rather than delay the process, the CIty should instead revise its plan to speed up the process.”

Tracie M. Gardner, Vice President of Policy Advocacy of the Legal Action Center, said: “The news of this delay is incredibly disturbing given previous commitments made both by the Mayor and the City Council. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic makes any postponement in closing Rikers simply untenable. The pandemic has shone an even brighter spotlight on the inhumanity of jails like Rikers. The broader health field, as reflected in a recent article in the Lancet, clearly demonstrates that decarceration is the only logical response to COVID-19 in corrections. This mandate should accelerate – not delay – plans to close Rikers. It is unlikely that COVID-19 will be our last health emergency that threatens the Rikers population disproportionately, and we can’t put off the closure of Rikers nor the necessary investments into the communities that have been devastated by decades of racist policies focused on criminalization and incarceration.”

gabriel sayegh, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “Any delays to the closure of Rikers are unacceptable. Rikers shouldn’t exist. It needs to be closed and demolished. The COVID-19 crisis has shown things can be done differently. Because COVID-19 has upended everything, the City must reassess and improve the current plan  by further decarcerating and shrinking the Plans’ proposed carceral footprint, speeding up the timeline to close Rikers and all the existing facilities, and reinvesting the savings into the communities most affected by mass incarceration and mass criminalization.”


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