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RELEASE: Community Groups, Impacted People, and Families Rally to Protect Bail Reform and Close Rikers

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**PRESS RELEASE**

February 28, 2023

Contact: Yonah Zeitz – 347-201-2768 yonah@katalcenter.org

Follow online: #CutShutInvestNY #CloseRikers | @katalcenter

Community Groups, Impacted People, and Families Rally to Protect Bail Reform and Close Rikers 

Governor Hochul’s Retrograde to Rollback Bail Reform will Send More Legally Innocent People To Rikers, Most of Whom are Black, Brown, and Low-Income, and Doom Jail Closure Plan

New York, NY – Today, outside of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s NYC office, people and families impacted by mass incarceration, along with community groups and advocates, gathered together to denounce the governor’s budget proposal to gut bail reform and increase pretrial detention across the state. The proposal, if enacted, would lead to thousands more people – mostly Black, Brown, and low-income – being jailed across the state, including at the notorious Rikers Island Jail Complex. Gov. Hochul’s proposal would also imperil the plan to close Rikers. 

Historically, the cash bail system in New York cruelly undermined safety and equal justice under law. The system was marked by stark racial disparities that led to jails across the state being filled with mostly Black and Latinx people who couldn’t afford to buy their freedom. In 2019, a legislative package of pretrial reforms, including bail reform, was passed to address this problem and advance safety and justice.   Subsequent reports have repeatedly shown Bail reform to be a success.  

Gov. Hochul’s proposal would decimate these reforms, exacerbate racial disparities in the state’s pretrial system, and lead to thousands more legally innocent people being jailed across the state simply because they can’t afford to pay bail.  And the measure would make the situationsat the violence-plagued Rikers Island Jail Complex – which is currently in a state of crisis – even worse.

Since Mayor Adams took office 20 people have died in New York City jails, and Rikers is the deadliest it has been in 25 years when the population was more than twice the size. Under Adams, the city’s jail population has increased to nearly 6,000 and is rising  further still. Gov. Hochul’s awful proposal would send even more people to Rikers, and derail the closure plan. 

Impacted New Yorkers and community groups turned out today, in winter weather, to reject the Governors regressive and dangerous budget proposal and to demand a budget for a just,  equitable New York which cuts correctional populations, shuts down Rikers and other deadly jails across New York, and invests in real public safety: housing, healthcare, education, and jobs.

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

Assemblymember Latrice Walker, said: “Gov. Hochul vowed in her recent budget address to eliminate the state’s restrictive means standard with respect to bail. Without the ‘least restrictive means’ standard, judges will be free to set bail for whatev er reason they want. It would create an arbitrary nature that opens the door to judicial bias. It opens the door to an unspoken dangerousness standard. It would open the door to the kind of torture suffered by Kalief Browder. The facts are the facts. This shouldn’t even be a debate. The jail population in New York is nearly 75 percent Black or Latino. The governor’s plan will only ensure that more Black and brown people are sent to jail pretrial. And it will ensure that more Black and brown people will die on Rikers Island. No more rollbacks!”

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, said: “Rikers Island is a death trap and every moment that we delay its closure we put more New Yorkers – especially black and brown ones – at risk. The facility is mandated by law to close in 2027, yet both the Mayor and Governor have refused to take the proactive steps necessary to reduce the jail population and keep us on the correct track. Instead, we continue to lock up more and more of our fellow citizens and regressive bail reform rollbacks will only further exacerbate the human rights catastrophe occurring there. No more deaths. No more bail rollbacks. Close Rikers.”

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, said: “It may be a new year, but it is the same story. Once again, Governor Hochul wants to roll back bail reform, put more poor New Yorkers in jail and ignore the clear evidence that these reforms have not had any negative impact on public safety. As long as the Governor insists on fighting a battle based on fear, we will respond with a vision based on fact.”

NYC Public Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, said: “The 2019 criminal justice reforms represented a long-overdue move toward justice, away from a predatory, cash bail system that unnecessarily and unjustly incarcerated New Yorkers pre-trial. The real rise in some crimes is not a reason to return to the harmful, unjust, failed policies of the past – and the governor herself has admitted the reforms are not responsible for the rise. Removing the ‘least restrictive measure’ standard will put more people into crisis conditions on Rikers, and we cannot continue to cast blame and claw back that progress out of a misguided sense of safety. At the same time, we must advance a model of true public safety that includes immediate and long-term investments in the same communities that already have the burden of both an increase in crime and inequitable incarceration that has yet to solve the problem.”

Henry Robinson, Leader of the Katal Center, said: “We cannot diminish the impact that mass incarceration has had on our communities. For centuries, our Black and Brown communities have been devastated by unjust practices and laws. The cash bail system is one them, it is unconscionable to hold people behind bars simply because they cannot afford Bail. The end goal of these laws is to crush and destroy our families. I remember, growing up there were many kids in my home and we didn’t have any money to spare. So when I found myself behind bars because of the conditions in which I grew up in and the lack of access to mental health, I always felt stuck. In 2006, I was sent to Rikers with a bail of 250,000 dollars. I couldn’t post bail and spent my days at Rikers Island. Rikers Island today, is a death trap, and subjecting more people to these horrible conditions is unacceptable. If Governor Hochul’s proposal to gut Bail Reform moves forward there will be more preventable deaths at Rikers. Governor Hochul you need to protect Bail Reform!”

Melanie Dominguez, Lead Community Organizer at Katal, said: “It is shameful that in New York, Black and Brown communities have to fight every day for our livelihoods. In NYC we are facing the ongoing human rights crisis at the Riker’s Island Jail Complex. Since Mayor Eric Adams took office 20 people have passed away in New York City Jails and Rikers is the deadliest its been in 25 years. Governor Hochul’s proposal will make it worse, driving up the jail population at Rikers and at jails across the state. No one should be held behind bars simply because they cannot afford bail.  Governor Hochul must drop her disastrous proposal and instead work to shut down Rikers and other deadly jails across the state. We reject efforts to incarcerate more people and we demand investments in real community safety: housing, health care, education, and jobs.”

Archana Jayaram, President and CEO of Osborne Association, said: “Sending more New Yorkers from communities of color and low-income families into the criminal legal system while jails are in extreme crisis is not a solution. Instead, we need investments in alternatives to incarceration, substance use disorder services, and employment and housing programs instead of yet another effort to roll back bail reform that undoes decades of New York law and jurisprudence. We must protect the progress we have made in reducing detention and focus on the fiscal and moral imperative of closing Rikers.”

Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said: “Governor Hochul’s proposed rollbacks to bail reform violate decades of established constitutional law and would lead to a dramatic increase in the biased and arbitrary detention of Black and brown New Yorkers.”

Anthony Maund, Leader of the Katal Center, said: “No one deserves to be held behind bars simply because they do not have the means to afford bail. Before Bail reform, I was given a 300K cash bail, no one in my immediate family could afford that. It is traumatizing to not be able to post bail– especially when you are innocent. What elected officials need to understand is that being able to fight your case on the outside improves your chances. When a jury sees a person in jail uniform they already form their own judgements about the individual even when they are innocent. Governor Hochul, I demand that you protect Bail reform and use the state budget to invest in real public safety like giving people access to mental health!”

Susan C. Bryant, Executive Director of the New York State Defenders Association, said: “We must not go backwards with bail reform implementation or make any further changes. The data simply does not support additional rollbacks, including those set out by the Governor in the proposed budget. That proposal would allow judges to choose between four options—remand, bail, release under non-monetary conditions, or release on recognizance—without requiring judges to consider the individual’s likelihood of returning to court. For decades, New York has correctly used the return to court standard to guide bail determinations. The Governor’s proposed language would not only gut the recent bail reforms but move the law further back. Giving judges complete discretion, without any standard, will result in the pre-trial incarceration of more people who are presumed innocent. This change would have a disproportionate impact on Black and brown people and people with limited financial means, subjecting them to dangerous jail conditions, such as those at Rikers Island. Larger societal problems, such as the lack of housing, healthcare (physical and mental), family support, and education, can only be solved by greater investment in communities, not the criminal legal system.” 

Jared Trujillo, Policy Counsel at the NYCLU, said: “New Yorkers care deeply about safety and justice. We need and deserve both. However, Gov. Hochul is pushing misguided policies that sacrifice key criminal justice system reforms that have made New York more fair. Bail reform has allowed tens of thousands of New Yorkers to maintain their jobs, take care of their families, and manage their health care. Undoing it would put legally innocent people’s lives at risk in dangerous jails. We must immediately and proactively support the policies that will make community safety a reality. The safest communities are the ones with the most resources, not the highest jail populations.”

Liz Martinez, Harlem Resident, said: “No parent should have to mourn the death of one of their children. Rikers Island has claimed the lives of so many of our people who were all worthy of a fair chance at life. Since Mayor Eric Adams took office, 20 people have died in New York City Jails. While my son was incarcerated at Rikers, he became friends  with Michael Nieves who was one of the individuals that passed away at Riker’s last year. My thoughts and prayers go out to those that knew him. The city failed him. My son like many others was dealing with a mental health problem which is how he ended up at Rikers. He needed help not to be put behind bars. To make matters worse, he was held at Rikers on 100,000 dollar bail. I spent days on end calling 311 to make sure he received medical attention but most of those calls were unanswered. My son constantly told me about the horrible conditions found at Rikers. Conditions that are not fit for any human being. Governor Hochul you need protect bail reform to ensure that Black, Brown and Low-income New Yorkers are not being funneled into Rikers. If you do not protect bail reform it will wreck efforts to close this jail complex”

Lauren Velez, Associate Director, NY at the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) said: “CSH is supportive of city-wide efforts to #closeRIKERS, and protect bail. We strongly encourage Mayor Adams to maintain the stance that he had taken, of working to shut Rikers down, when seeking election as mayor of NYC. With now TWENTY recent deaths, Rikers has proven to be a dangerous place with serious human rights concerns for those on the island. Efforts to keep Rikers open, especially without significant action to invest in housing and support for people coming out of incarceration are in direct contrast to what is best for the city and for the safety of New Yorkers overall. Bail reform is necessary to avoid overcrowding and keeping people in jail before they have even been convicted of a crime. Continuing the cycle of overcrowded, under resourced conditions is not only unethical, it will have a lasting, negative impact on thousands of New Yorkers and their families, particularly black and brown communities. We urge the city to continue the plan to protect bail, close Rikers as well as invest in evidence-based interventions such as supportive housing for folks returning from jail and prison.”

Dr. Donna Hylton, Founder and CEO of A Little Piece of Light, said: “A Little Piece of Light supports Bail Reform and its imperativeness to improve public safety, upholding due process, and advancing racial justice. This attempt to roll back bail reform will disproportionately impact Black people and other people of color. How much more should they endure? How many more deaths? There is NO such talk about public safety when we treat the citizens inhumanely. Our hearts are heavy with grief on the recurrence of death at Rikers Island Jail Complex. The CRISIS on Rikers Island needs to be addressed! Reports from the Federal Monitor contain years of data detailing the many ways the city’s Department of Corrections exhibits deliberate indifference to the health and safety of those in its care. We urge, in the strongest possible terms, a serious humane investment in true public safety: housing, education, greenspace, and jobs.”

Anthony Feliciano, Vice President for Community Mobilization at Housing Works, said: “We must protect New Yorkers from the harmful proposals to roll back bail reform that are included in Governor Hochul's executive budget in support of Mayor Adams’ wrong-headed approach to public safety. Efforts by Hochul and Adams to gut bail reform and increase the City’s already bloated police budget instead of increasing resources to community services will only contribute to the historical trauma experienced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. It’s disheartening that we can’t learn from the stark realities of Black and Brown New Yorkers’ experiences of the criminal justice. We simply can’t go back to high bail amounts for low-income defendants that undermine rather than advance public safety by ripping people away from their families, homes, and jobs to place them in unsafe jail conditions. Wealth-based bail practices shamefully discriminate against low-income New Yorkers, not only making it impossible for them to go home but leaving them facing violence and increasingly deadly harm in the City’s jail system.”

Kevin “Renny” Smith, Executive Director of Families and Friends of the Wrongfully Convicted, Inc., said: “Holding people on bail status should not be used as a punishment to detain people in sake of crime prevention. This only produces mass incarceration, which primarily effects Black and Hispanic people.”

Yung-Mi Lee, Legal Director of Brooklyn Defenders’ Criminal Defense Practice, said: “The data is clear, and Governor Hochul admits, there is no correlation between New York’s bail laws and nationwide crime trends. “Despite this, the Governor seeks to upend long-standing principles in the law in her executive budget, which would condemn more New Yorkers to pretrial incarceration in dangerous jails, including the deadly conditions of Rikers Island. We urge the legislature to reject  this regressive change to the law, and instead invest in resources and policy solutions that would strengthen communities and promote real safety.”

Frantzy Luzincourt, Co-Founder & CEO of Strategy for Black Lives, said: “We stand in firm solidarity with the countless organizations across New York State committed to criminal justice reform and fighting against the Governor’s bail proposal. For far too long, Black people, people of color and low income communities have suffered disproportionally at the hands of the prison industrial complex that is held together by harmful bail policies and prisons remaining open like Rikers. New Yorkers deserve better and we must fight tooth and nail to prevent any further rollbacks, eliminate racist and discriminatory bail policies, and prioritize investing in people over incarcerating them.”

Kevin Stadelmaier, Chair of New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACD) Legislative Committee, said: “Given consistent data showing that New York’s landmark 2019 bail laws have had no impact on crime rates, we again ask New York to resist the fearmongering and false news. Decades of research shows that community investments keep all New Yorkers safer, while jailing results in destabilizing communities and increases the chances of being rearrested. Worse, given the ongoing crisis at Rikers Island, being unjustly jailed for even one day can have deadly consequences. We need long-term solutions and investments. It is time to close Rikers Island. We strongly urge the Legislature to hold firm against any more changes to the bail laws.”

Ibrahim X, Civil Rights Union Leader at VOCAL-NY, said: “When City Hall and Albany continue to weaponize bail and the court systems against New Yorkers, and advocate for sending people to a death trap that has claimed nearly 40 lives in the past 2 years, it makes clear that they are not concerned with justice or accountability. Rather they are focused on economics and genocide. I have experienced firsthand the horror of pretrial detention and I know that it is impossible to say you care about public safety and also call for bail rollbacks and sending people to Rikers.”

Daniele Gerard, Senior Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights, said:“As incarcerated persons continue to die on Rikers Island, Governor Hochul must keep the focus on working with legislators and Mayor Adams to allocate resources to actually serve their constituents – not on actions that will send even more of them to the Island. This means funding programs and services to keep young adults and others off Rikers in the first place, including ending the foster-care-to-prison pipeline, and supporting young people once they’re no longer incarcerated. Sending our fellow New Yorkers to a penal colony at a yearly cost per person of more than $500,000 is no way to build thriving communities. Rikers is no place for thousands of people who could be more humanely and effectively served, at greatly reduced cost, in their communities.”

Ken Edwards, Leadership & Organizing Manager at Center for Employment Opportunities, said: “We must end the criminalization of poverty, addiction, disability, and mental health needs by continuing to reduce the number of people incarcerated in New York City. We can do this by protecting the presumption of innocence for everyone and investing in resources and community programs that create safety and opportunity for all.” 

TS Candii, Founder and Executive Director at the Black Trans Nation, said: “We must not be complacent in the face of the crisis on Rikers – it is only getting worse. Instead of working to save lives and shut down Rikers, Mayor Adams has done everything within his power to drive up the NYC jail population. Now Governor Hochul has proposed gut bail reform, a proposal that will undoubtedly increase pretrial detention and drive up the jail population. This unconscionable action is an attack on Black, Brown, and low-income New Yorkers and we cannot accept it.” – Black Trans Nation

Jen Janargin, a Member of the Culture & Accountability team at the Fled Collective, said: “The Rikers Island Jail Complex is in a state of crisis and it’s the deadliest it’s been in 25 years. There is no reason for anyone to die on Rikers Island. Amidst this crisis, Governor Hochul has proposed to roll back Bail Reform, which will have a detrimental impact on the lives of Black, Brown, and low-income New Yorkers. If this proposal moves forward there will be more people sent to Rikers who will be subjected to the deadly conditions found there. Governor Hochul’s proposal goes against every study that has found Bail Reform reduces crime and better serves communities that have been negatively impacted by over-policing and incarceration. We’re calling on the Governor to stop attempting to roll back bail reform! 

The Raging Grannies, said: “We are a group of older women who sing songs to promote social justice and global peace. We are proud to be here. We believe that no person should ever be abandoned in the violence and despair on Rikers and we want the entire 10 building complex to be permanently shut down. Rikers is an outrage against humanity and represents a major theft of the public purse ($2.7 billion per year). Mayor Eric Adams, you must commit to shutting down the entire Jail Complex now! Governor Hochul, you must protect bail reform in order to keep us on the path to shut down Rikers. CLOSE RIKERS NOW! SIERREN RIKERS AHORA!

Nubia Earth Martin, President & Founder of Birth from The Earth Inc., said: “As a mother of three Black sons, I have witnessed the ways in which the school to prison pipeline impacts our boys and young men. We are consciously aware of how systemic racism and the prison industrial complex have had detrimental effects on the future and freedom of our children and members of our community. This is why I am passionate about, and dedicated to supporting the efforts to protect bail and close Rikers. Our future and our freedom are at stake.” 

Lah Franklin, Member of the Katal Center, said: Rikers Island is in complete chaos. I remember when I was sent to Rikers, I was terrified and did my best to prepare for the absolute worst but still praying for the best. I don’t think anything can prepare you for what you experience there. I am just grateful to have made it out alive. I feel for those that are currently at Rikers, whose lives are at Risk. It is heartbreaking to know that in just a year, 20 people have died New York City Jails. Mayor Eric Adams you need to commit to shutting down Rikers Immediately. And Governor Hochul, I implore you to protect bail reform to ensure that that our people are not being sent to Rikers simply because they cannot afford bail.”

Mcgregor Octave, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Black and Brown people are more likely to be convicted of a crime even if they are innocent. They are constantly railroaded into taking plea. In the past, I have been put in these situations. When I was incarcerated in 2018, I was given unaffordable bail. I remember there was a young white kid who was being accused of a very violent crime and was given a more affordable bail than me. The racism that exists in these systems of oppression is clear. Not being able to fight for my case on the outside made it so much harder to get a good attorney, and gather the necessary information. You essentially cannot do anything when you are locked up and you have better a better chance of advocating for yourself on the outside. Governor Hochul, you need to do the right and reasonable thing here! You must protect Bail Reform.”

Nana Asare Nova Felder, Educational Program Officer at BABA Inc., said: “This Black History Month marks 50 years of celebrating Black History during this February as a month. Yet while we celebrate, Black people and their Brown counterparts are dying and being mistreated in prisons across the United States but specifically in America’s financial capital, NYC, most notoriously in America’s largest prison, the blight known as Riker’s Island. Since the beginning of the Adams administration, 20 comrades have died while in custody on “The Island” awaiting trial. All while the clock is being turned back in NYC to “Giuliani Time’ policing tactics that stand to swell jail populations across the city, combined with a serious increase in the ongoing mental health crisis. At the same time Gov. Hochul’s Administration is defunding and dismantling Bail reform and making low-income and affordable housing less Accessible. Nearly half a million persons every day in America are detained in a pre-trial condition without being convicted of any crime. This is a financial, health and social burden on the entire society. Many are not able to secure release via current bail policies and laws because of the poor economic conditions that they face. Many of these victims are Black and Brown hence are the same victims of slavery, tenant farm slavery, Jim Crow segregation, convict leasing and the now infamous cutting edge prison industrial complex of the late 20th and current 21st century. We at BABA stand in solidarity with our comrades at the KATAL Center against these policies of backwardness. We stand with them on their principles of Equity, Health and Justice for all peoples. The only way forward is forward, please stand with us as we continue building bridges and bonds to strengthen everyday people as we fight to end needless oppression. #CloseRikersNow #BailReformNow”

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