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PRESS RELEASE – Rikers is in Crisis Rally 11.17.22

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November 17, 2022


Yonah Zeitz – 347-201-2768 |

Follow online: #CutShutInvestNY #CloseRikers | @katalcenter

People Impacted by Rikers, with Elected Officials and Community Groups, Rally Outside of the Courthouse in Support of the Federal Takeover and Demand Closure of Rikers Island 

Humanitarian Crisis on Rikers Grows after 18th Death this Year 

New York, NY – Today, the U.S. District Court in Manhattan held a hearing about Rikers Island jail complex which could lead to a federal takeover by a receiver. Before the hearing, people directly impacted by Rikers, family and community members, community groups, and elected officials gathered to rally in support of the federal takeover and to demand Mayor Adams close the notorious facility once and for all. 

For over 7 years, the Department of Correction (DOC) has failed to comply with the federal consent decree and conditions at Rikers continue to deteriorate. In a shocking report today, WNYC detailed how the federal monitor, appointed in 2015, has failed to rectify the crisis at Rikers, and has cost NYC taxpayers more than $18 million to date. At the federal hearing today, the Mayor’s team argued that they have the situation under control, which could not be further from the truth. This year alone, 18 people have died at Rikers – the most since 2013, when twice as many people were behind bars there – and things are only getting worse. The previous DOC Commissioner has gone public to expose the violence and chaos at Rikers, and just this week, the former director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice under Mayor de Blasio published a study showing “almost every measure of violence is well above the levels the court found unconstitutional in 2015.”

Under Mayor Eric Adams, the jail population is going up when it should be going down. Nearly 90% of everyone held at Rikers is Black and Latinx, most being held pre-trial and can’t afford bail. Instead of working to save lives and shut down Rikers, Mayor Adams calls for more people to be incarcerated at Rikers and to further roll back bail reform. This is unacceptable.

Speakers at the action shared how they have been impacted by Rikers. To stop the suffering and end this crisis, the feds should take over to improve conditions of confinement. And speakers highlighted what Mayor Adams must do immediately: 

CUT the jail population on Rikers. SHUT down the Rikers Island Jail Complex. INVEST in real public safety: housing, health care, education, and jobs. 

Statements from elected officials, impacted people, and community and advocacy groups: 

Henry Robinson, Leader at the Katal Center, said: “I will not stop fighting until Rikers Island is Shut Down. The experiences that I and others have endured on the Island should be enough of a reason to close it. It should have never gotten to this point, where 18 people have died this year alone. Presently, there are nearly 6,000 people incarcerated at Rikers. All of their loved ones who are in our communities live in constant fear of getting the call that their loved one is dead. This was the fear my family had while I was stuck at Rikers and I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody. This is torture. I could never understand how our Mayor can go on with his day-to-day knowing that families are grieving. In 2017, I was incarcerated in Rikers for almost three months for a technical parole violation. At the time, I had a fractured foot for which I received no medical assistance and I was put in dangerous situations that led to me being assaulted by several people. Every day that I was in there I was afraid that I would not make it out alive. The conditions on Rikers seem to have only gotten worse. Mayor Adams, if you don’t even try, then more people are going to die. You need to shut down Rikers Island Now!!”

Melanie Dominguez, Senior Community Organizer at Katal, said: “There is no denying that Rikers Island is in crisis. And under Mayor Eric Adams, it’s getting worse. He promotes lies to roll back bail reform so he can put even more people in jail. Since Adams took office in January, the jail population has steadily gone up, which imperils the plan to close Rikers. The mayor has shown us time and time again that he does not care about the lives of those incarcerated in NYC jails, nor has he demonstrated any commitment to close Rikers. This is a disgrace. After losing 18 human lives at Rikers this year, our communities are grieving. Our communities are outraged. So we are out in the streets today, supporting a federal takeover of Rikres and demanding the mayor take action to close the jail complex NOW. The mayor has all the resources and authority needed to CUT the jail population, SHUT down Rikers immediately, and INVEST in real public safety that our communities need: housing, health care, education, jobs!”

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest said: “Rikers, under New York City’s Department of Corrections, is a human rights catastrophe that has been allowed to persist for far too long. The city has proven it is either unwilling or unable to treat the people held there with the minimal level of decency and care, which is why we must look to the federal government for receivership. I will continue to fight for the people on Rikers  and for the investments in real public safety, like Treatment Not Jail, that our communities deserve.”

Rabbi Hilly Haber, Director of Social Justice Organizing and Education, Central Synagogue, said: “Rikers is a constellation of decrepit buildings, exhausted and overworked staff, and men and women who have not yet been convicted of a crime, living away from their families surrounded by violence and illness.  It is a jail turned prison turned mental health facility, ill-equipped to be any of those things. In Genesis, we read God’s blueprint for creation. In God’s world, all people are created in God’s image, imbued with divine breath, renewed each day with God’s sacred gift of life. This teaching must be our blueprint as well — the principle by which we live our lives, the standard to which we hold our city and the guiding vision for the ways in which we care for those under its watch. As a city, we are failing to care for the people whose lives have been entrusted to us.”

Kaeshalee Vega, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I am so sick and tired of getting the news that yet another person passed away at Rikers. We are constantly hearing how bad things are at Rikers on every news outlet and from our loved ones. Every day that passes I worry about my friend who is currently incarcerated at Rikers. I fear for his safety. He should not be there right now, but he was denied bail because our Mayor and the legal system does not care about poor Black and Brown families. What we need now is action. We demand that Mayor Eric Adams shut down Rikers Island before we lose another soul.”

Serena Martin-Liguori, Executive Director of New Hour for Women & Children, said: “The overwhelming humanitarian crisis at Rikers reflects the continued turning of a blind eye towards justice by key decision makers. Among others, mothers and women are suffering in the death trap jail at Rikers. We will continue to call for justice and accountability for those who allowed 18 people to die, this year alone, through state-sanctioned murder. It is a direct result of serious neglect and overt indifference, as well as a lack of basic medical and mental health care that have created consistent and flagrant death. We will not give up until those in power are held accountable for the notorious violence inflicted on our families detained at Rikers.”

Corazon Valiente, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Our Black and brown communities are under attack. Even though Black and Latinx people make up about 53% of the city’s population, we represent almost 90% of jail admissions. The majority of people at Rikers Island are disproportionately Black and brown. This is unacceptable. In addition, this year alone we lost 18 community members who were killed at Rikers. How many more lives need to be claimed by the Rikers death sentence before the Mayor takes action? How many deaths will it take to move our Mayor to finally take action and to actually start protecting the people? Enough is enough. It is time to cut the jail population and shut down Rikers Island!”

Renny Smith, Families and Friends of the Wrongfully Convicted, Inc., said: “Rikers Island is sadly and tragically a human refuse collector filled with men and women who have become emotionally and psychologically impaired from being exposed to the deplorable conditions – inadequate medical treatment, rotten food, overflowing toilets, and floors covered in feces, urine, and cockroaches – nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.”

Akeem Browder, brother of Kalief Browder, said: For me, it’s a constant reminder to hear the atrocities that continue to take place on Rikers. The mothers like mine that are ripped apart whether or not it’s their son who is killed while at Rikers because of the fear that it may be their child next. They, like Kalief, shouldn’t die in vain. I plead with you – when is too much enough? We must, for the sake of the humans on Riker’s, shut it down, now!”

EllaRose Chary, Natasha Sinha & Jay Stull, Founders of Amplifying Activist Together, said: “Amplifying Activists Together supports and stands with the organizers and elected officials demanding the closure of Rikers Island. The health and safety of our communities is threatened daily by its presence and Mayor Adams’ efforts to send more of our neighbors there is morally abhorrent. We agree that with 18 deaths this year, the Mayor does not have the situation under control and the federal government must intervene and close it down.”

Shéár Avory, Lead Statewide Community Organizer of NEW Pride Agenda, said: “The crises that have been plaguing Rikers Island for generations makes painstakingly clear that policing doesn’t equate to safety and that mass incarceration isn’t the answer to mitigate violence. The unfortunate and preventable death of Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza in 2019 should’ve been the end to solitary confinement — and with  more than thirty people losing their lives on Rikers Island over the past two years it has become even more apparent that the only solution is to close the Island for good. Enough is enough – jail shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

Audrey Johnson, A.K.A “AJ”, Housing Manager at A Little Piece of Light, said: “Our hearts are heavy with grief as we mourn the 18 lives needlessly lost at Rikers Island Jail Complex in under one year. We are enraged and devastated by the state-sanctioned murders occurring with shocking regularity in the country’s most notorious jail. Most horrific, however, is the government’s utter failure to respond to the crisis adequately or with any true sense of urgency. Reports from the Federal Monitor contain years of data detailing the many ways the city’s Department of Corrections exhibits deliberate indifference, or worse, to the health and safety of those in its care. Mayor Adams has not taken steps to reverse this. On the contrary, under the Adams administration, the death count only continues to climb as an emboldened DOC ignores the repeated cries of incarcerated individuals, their loved ones, and experts’ measures to reduce the jail’s population and save lives. The Mayor appears intent on doubling down on the very same failed strategies that have brought us to where we are today. This cannot continue. We urge, in the strongest possible terms, a federal receiver to take control of Rikers Island, slash the number of people held there, shutter its doors permanently and invest in true public safety: housing, education, greenspace and jobs.”

Diego, NYC BrownBerets, said: “A Federal receivership is the best chance New York City has to unequivocally close down Rikers. It’s clear that the closure of Rikers Island and the safekeeping of all those inside – many of whom have not been convicted of any crime — is not a priority for this Mayor or his administration. I praise all of the Katal members who have been on the frontlines telling their horror stories from their time inside Rikers. We demand a federal receivership.”

An Doc, Public Safety Team at Red Hook Initiative, said: “SHUT DOWN RIKERS ISLAND. The CO’s job is to guard and secure the facility as well as maintain order, enforce regulations, and secure incarcerated people’s safety. Instead, they are abusing their authority, violating people’s rights, and treating them with an utter lack of human decency.” 

Kim Belizaire, Director of Advocacy at Good Call, said: “Good Call stands in support of the #ClosingRikers campaign. Since the beginning of this year, 18 people have died on Rikers Island this year, the most since 2013, when twice as many people were in custody. The conditions at Rikers Island are grotesque and inhumane, with stories of overcrowdedness, people sleeping in unsanitary conditions, receiving inadequate food, and more. This is not just a criminal justice issue; it’s a human rights issue. The percentage of incarcerated people in custody with a mental health diagnosis is 50%. Stories of physical and mental abuse by correctional officers towards incarcerated individuals are constant. The average daily incarcerated population in the fiscal year 2022 is 5,559. That’s up from last year, at 4,921. 82 percent–4,487 people–had not been convicted of a crime. As an organization that deals with pretrial justice, this number is unacceptable. According to the #CloseRikers campaign, closing Rikers Island jails and shrinking citywide jail capacity by 75%, in alignment with the plan to close Rikers adopted in 2019, will create a pathway for $1.8 billion dollars to be divested from the Department of Corrections and can be used for reinvesting in housing, rehabilitation, and others services sorely needed in our city. Good Call stands in solidarity with the Katal Center and The #CloseRikers campaign to call on Mayor Eric Adams to CUT the NYC jail population, SHUT down the Rikers Island Jail Complex, and INVEST in real public safety, such as housing, health care, education, and jobs.”

Kiara Turner, Public Safety Team at the Red Hook Initiative, said: “Rikers should be closed because they are killing the community. It’s supposed to be a system where people serve time for the things they have done, not a place where they go in and never come back. The amount of people who have died this year alone in rikers is not ok. As a community, we should definitely make sure they close down that whole system. No one should have to see their family members go and suffer in a place they are supposed to learn a lesson from. The lesson shouldn’t be death. We need to show that we care about the people who are put in these systems and either never come home – or come home and are never the same.” 

Alfredo Perez, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I don’t ever want to hear that yet another person has passed away at Rikers. Enough is enough. Earlier this year, I spent 31 days behind bars at Rikers Island awaiting my parole hearing. During my time there, I was attacked and got my hand broken. The correctional officers did absolutely nothing to keep me safe. Instead, the correctional officer walked off his post and left me in the hallway. I was sleeping on the floor and received no medical attention. This is the treatment that human beings are getting in NYC jails. There are countless stories like mine where people are left to just fend for themselves. There is absolutely no compassion. I could have easily been one of the 18 people that passed away at Rikers. The only thing that kept me going was my family. I am lucky to be home now and to be with my loved ones. The individuals that died at Rikers Island were robbed of that. My question to the Mayor is, How many more people need to die before you decide to take action and shut down Rikers? I demand that you do better – You must cut the jail population and shut down Rikers.”

Ashley Craig, Public Safety Team at the Red Hook Initiative, said: “18 dead in less than a year before proper sentencing – for crimes they may or may not have committed – is unacceptable and unjust. Jails are supposed to be a place for reformation, not a death sentence. Rikers is an unfit and unsafe institution that needs to be shut down immediately.” 

Raysha Frazier, Public Safety Team at the Red Hook Initiative, said: “Rikers Island is overpopulated with dangerous and unhealthy living conditions for the people who are incarcerated there. 18 people have died this year alone and it’s because the system doesn’t care about us. We have rights as people – even while incarcerated. Many died from suicide, didn’t receive medical attention when needed, or were just found ‘unresponsive’ – people deserve better as human beings.” 

Luke Steele, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Rikers Island is in crisis. Individuals who get sent to Rikers are being put in harm’s way. The violence you experience there is horrible. You need to always be on guard for your own safety because you can run the risk of being attacked by a person who is incarcerated there or even a correctional officer. In the summer of 2021, I was incarcerated at Rikers for a technical parole violation and my time there was horrific. Much like today, there was absolutely no access to adequate healthcare or mental healthcare. People at Rikers need access to mental healthcare to deal with the years of unhealed trauma. They need access to proper medical care to save lives. If you go around and ask people if they feel safe being held at Rikers they will all immediately tell you no. This is heartbreaking. No one deserves to live in fear. The Mayor must shut down Rikers immediately to save lives!”

Robert Gangi, The Police Reform Organizing Project, said: “Although it’s supposedly a detention facility, Rikers has become a deathtrap — 34 New Yorkers have died there since January 2021. Experience and history have taught us that the usual reforms proposed cannot correct the deep-seated and long-standing problems plaguing the place. The only way to fix Rikers and save lives is to close the jail. Otherwise, blood will continue to stain the hands of our city officials, from Mayor Adams on down, who refuse to step up and shut it down.”

Nilda Coaxum, Member of the Katal Center, said: “As a parent who has had a child go to Rikers Island many years ago, I am truly worried about what is happening at this jail complex right now. I thank God that nothing happened to my kid and that he is here with me today. However, I am heartbroken for all the parents that have lost a child this year because the Mayor did not care enough to protect them. There is absolutely no reason why people continue to die at Rikers. There should be a federal takeover because the Mayor has shown us that he isn’t committed to shutting down rikers. It is time to shut down Rikers Island Now!”

Lah Franklin, Brooklyn Resident, said: “I came out, even with all the struggles I endured on Rikers Island. The conditions found at Rikers are inhumane. People are treated like animals and don’t get access to proper medical care. It is a shame that 18 people have died at Rikers this year alone. I remember that every day that I spent there I felt a step closer to hell. In order to keep my sanity I would continuously tell myself that it would get better – but it never did. The only time it got better was when I was out and reunited with my loved ones. Mayor Adams, you must shut down Rikers to save lives.”

Sami Disu, Adjunct Lecturer in NYC, said: “By now, it’s safe to assume that Mayor Adams and City leaders have become numb to news of more New Yorkers dying on Rikers Island. But for the families losing loved ones, it will never be sufficient to tell them that change is slow or coming. Broken and traumatized people are what these families have to live with when their loved ones get horrifically abused – or lose their lives at the hands of other detainees or corrections staff. Yes, New Yorkers have absolutely had enough of the callous indifference to the widespread human rights abuses that occur daily at Rikers. Rikers cannot be reformed. It is now time for Mayor Adams and all city leaders to live up to their promises and end the Rikers nightmare, once and for all. We must abolish all prisons and jails.”

Tarisse Iriarte, Activist and Organizer in Brooklyn, NY, said: “This system has stolen countless members of our community. Rikers has already claimed the lives of 18 people this year alone, most of whom are still awaiting a court date. Loved ones are grieving and calling on the Mayor to take immediate action. However, he has continuously ignored – and perpetually downplayed – the abusive and atrocious conditions that exist on Rikers Island. We are here to demand that the Mayor decarcerate and close Rikers Island now!”  

Emelissa Curo, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Rikers Island has become an outlier when it comes to the current mortality rate in jails across the United States.  Mayor after Mayor, administration after administration have completely failed to properly run Rikers Island adequately and in a way that is humane to everyone who works or is incarcerated there. As a member of a community where a lot of people have been impacted by the criminal justice system and Rikers Island, I strongly believe that it is time to cut the population of this jail.  It’s time to SHUT down Rikers and INVEST  in real public safety.  Any plan that leads to decarceration and investment in the communities most impacted by mass incarceration should be put into practice immediately. These practices will allow for the rights of those that are incarcerated to be preserved along with their wellbeing and safety. The long overdue closure of Rikers Island should finally become a priority and be shown the importance it deserves. It is with great urgency that I call on the Mayor to close this horrific place known as Rikers Island. This place has long been a death trap, where people are being sent to their death because of the horrible conditions found there. Too many incarcerated people have silently succumbed to their death at Rikers Island. Mayor Adams has had plenty of time, money, and resources to deal with the magnitude of deadly issues that plague the people incarcerated at Rikers Island. These issues subsequently affect, in a very negative way, the families, friends, and communities where these individuals come from. Time has run out, and we don’t want to hear any more false promises. We demand action. Rikers Island should be closed immediately! I urge the public to please join us in holding the Mayor accountable. We will not allow another death or other injustices to continue to happen at Rikers Island. Mayor Adams, CLOSE RIKERS NOW!!!”

Yonah Zeitz, Director of Advocacy at Katal, said: As the crisis on Rikers Island continues and the death toll soars, Mayor Eric Adams is doing everything in his power to lock up more poor people and keep the notorious jail complex open. Because of the mayor’s daily calls to roll back bail reform and increase ‘broken windows’ policing, the city’s jail population has risen by nearly 600 since he took office in January. This year alone, 18 people have died in the city’s jails – surpassing last year’s record number and the most since 2013, when the jail population was twice as large. Unless the Mayor drastically changes course, there will be more needless deaths on Rikers. People are suffering and dying, and the time for action—the time to close Rikers—is now. At today’s hearing, the federal government should take over Rikers as it’s clear the DOC is incapable of addressing the longstanding mismanagement and life-threatening conditions at the jail complex. Whether the feds take over or not,  Mayor Eric Adams must cut the number of people incarcerated at Rikers Island, shut down Rikers, and invest in real community safety for all New Yorkers – housing, health care, education, and jobs.”


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