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Release: Katal Center responds to Op-Ed by Mayor Adams and Judge Jonathan Lippman about Closing Rikers

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, December 15, 2023

Contact: Yonah Zeitz, yonah@katalcenter.org • 347-201-2769

Follow on Twitter @KatalCenter • #ShutRikers #CutShutInvestNY

Katal Center responds to Op-Ed by Mayor Adams and Judge Jonathan Lippman about Closing Rikers 

New York, NY: This morning, Mayor Eric Adams and Judge Lippman published an op-ed about closing Rikers Island. The op-ed comes in the midst of two other, notable Rikers-related developments this week.  

Yesterday, federal Judge Laura T. Swain found Mayor Adams’s Department of Correction in contempt for failing to cooperate with the federal monitor around tracking violence and use of force at Rikers and other city jails. “The department’s blatant failure to communicate here is unacceptable and in a word, contemptuous,” Swain said. “We are dealing with the lives and safety of real people.” As noted by legal expert Hernandez Stroud, “Contempt is rare and has often been a prerequisite to prison/jail receiverships.”

Then today, following the new op-ed by the mayor and former chief judge, came the announcement of a new cohort of commissioners to serve on the Independent Commission on Incarceration and Sentencing Reform, also known as the Lippman Commission. The “Lippmann Commission 2.0,” hailed by NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams when first announced in October, is tasked with producing a “revised plan” to close Rikers.

Statements by Katal Center 

Danielle Lynn Shanks-Efuntosin, member of the Katal Center, said: “My son is currently incarcerated at Rikers Island and has been there for over 7 months. Every single day that he is there, I fear for his safety. The conditions at Rikers Island are unfit for any human being. For months, my son wore the same suit with mildew stains. He has been harassed and threatened without protection. At the beginning of his incarceration, he used to receive his medication on a regular schedule. For the past two months, his medication would arrive three hours late or whenever they could give it to him. He is not receiving his medication on a regular schedule, which is not healthy for his diagnosis of schizophrenia and severe anxiety. My son should not have been sent to Rikers first. My son suffers from a mental illness like so many others held at Rikers and needs to be transferred immediately to receive the treatment he deserves. It was with a heavy heart that my daughter and I spoke at yesterday’s rally to shut down Riker, but I knew I had to be there to advocate for my son’s safety. I knew that I could not wait for the Mayor’s empty promises, and I need my son to be safe now. It saddens me that the Federal Courts did not grant a federal receivership to improve conditions. However, the judge’s decision to hold the Mayor in contempt only demonstrates the need to hold him accountable. The Mayor can tell the community that he cares and wants to shut down Rikers, but we need action. Words won’t ensure my son gets the right medication. Words won’t bring back the lives we have lost at the hands of the Department. of Correction. Words won’t reduce the city’s jail population, which has skyrocketed during this mayor’s term. Now more than ever, Mayor Eric Adams needs to shut down Rikers immediately by reducing the jail population and investing in real public safety like housing, mental health and healthcare, education, reentry services, and jobs. No more empty promises. We demand action!”

Melanie Dominguez, Lead Community Organizer at Katal Center, said: “We cannot forget that since Mayor Adams took office, at least 28 people have died in city jails, violence is out of control at Rikers, the DOC has been riddled with corruption, and the jail population has skyrocketed. Communities across New York City are feeling the devastating impacts of the mayor’s ‘jails-first’ approach to public safety. We’re fighting back by doubling-down on our organizing. This year, we canvassed in dozens of neighborhoods across all the five boroughs. We’ve hit more than 100,000 doors, and held conversations with thousands of mostly Black, brown, and low-income New Yorkers. Across those conversations in every borough, New Yorkers told us about their deep concern about what is happening in Rikers and within their neighborhoods. Mothers who want their children to go to well-resourced schools that have after-school and summer programs, but see those schools and programs facing cuts by this mayor while the jail population grows. Elders who need affordable housing and other essential services, and see those programs being cut by this mayor while Riker burns like a dumpster fire. People young and old and in between who have survived the horrors of Rikers and know it must be shut down immediately, but see that under this mayor, even more and more people are being caged there. In talking with thousands of New Yorkers across this city, it is clear to me that Black, brown, and low-income communities in this city want investments in schools, libraries, parks, not policing and incarceration. If the Mayor says that he is committed to shutting down Rikers, his actions haven’t reflected that since he took office. Any verbal statement this mayor gives to shutting Rikers must, at the bare minimum, be coupled immediately with actions to reduce the jail population at Rikers and invest in true public safety: housing, healthcare, education, and jobs.”

gabriel sayegh, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “Yet again, here is the mayor saying one thing while doing another. As a candidate, Adams went on the record saying he was committed to closing Rikers. The 2027 closure plan was in place when he took office. But as mayor, Adams has ignored or otherwise delayed virtually every legal deadline and process benchmark required by that plan, and instead has seemingly done everything possible to keep Rikers open. But he’ll now support a new plan? Based on what evidence?

We’ve previously collaborated with the Lippman Commission on city and statewide reform efforts, we know they can be a good partner in the fight for justice, and we believe the city can benefit from their efforts. But this mayor has made himself the single biggest obstacle to closing Rikers. Words won’t change that, only actions will. Our members demand that Mayor Adams takes real, meaningful, lasting action to shut down Rikers. Anything less than that is an attempt to delay, defer, and redirect.”

About the campaign: #ShutRikers is a campaign of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice. Katal and our allies are working to cut the correctional populations and the budgets used for caging people; shut down Rikers Island; and invest in real public safety: housing, health care, education, and jobs. 

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