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Rally to Shut Rikers

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**PRESS RELEASE**

July 9, 2024

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

Followl Courts to Immediately Appoint an Independent Receiver to Take Over at Rikers and Save Lives online: #ShutRikers #CutShutInvestNY | @katalcenter | shutrikers.org 

Community Groups, Elected Officials, and Directly Impacted People Rally, Calling for Federal Courts to Immediately Appoint an Independent Receiver to Take Over at Rikers and Save Lives 

Growing Support for Federal Receiver Includes More Than 75 Community and Advocacy Groups, Dozens of City and State Legislators, NYS Attorney General Letitia James, NYC Bar Association, Current and Former Public Safety and Correctional Officials 

New York, NY—Today, a federal court in Manhattan held a hearing about the ongoing crisis at the Rikers Island jail complex. Prior to the hearing, people directly impacted by Rikers, along with community groups and elected officials, gathered outside the court to demand that the city shut down Rikers and called on the federal courts to intervene immediately by appointing an independent receiver to improve conditions and save lives. 

Since Mayor Eric Adams took office, the overlapping crises and scandals on Rikers Island have worsened. As violence spikes and dysfunction continues to reign at the New York City Department of Correction (DOC), at least 31 people have died in city jails under Mayor Adams. The jail population is increasing. In the federal monitor’s most recent report, issued on June 27, he stresses that “the jails remain dangerous and unsafe, characterized by a pervasive, imminent risk of harm to both people in custody and staff.” The myriad problems and the monitor’s consistent reports have prompted the federal courts to seriously consider taking control of city jails away from Mayor Adams and appointing an independent federal receiver.

U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain presided over today’s hearing, which focused on the call for an independent receiver to take over at Rikers in motions filed by the Legal Aid Society and the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York. A federal receiver could cut through red tape and circumvent political obstacles that contribute to the cycles of chaos at Rikers, improving conditions for people incarcerated and employed there. 

While calls for a federal receiver have circulated for years, substantial, widespread support for a federal receiver has grown dramatically since 2022. (See the full list of supporters.) Many of the city and state’s elected leaders have called for a federal receiver at Rikers, including New York State Attorney General Letitia James, the city’s Comptroller Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, over 20 city council members, and more than two dozen state legislators.

Earlier this year, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams re-introduced City Council Resolution 183, expressing “a loss of confidence” in the DOC and calling for the “immediate appointment” of a federal receiver. Council Member Sandy Nurse, the chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice, was the first sponsor. The resolution now has 19 cosponsors and is pending in the city council.

Speakers and other participants at today’s rally continue to demand that Mayor Adams shut down Rikers. Until that happens, the federal courts must appoint a receiver who can help save lives.

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

Senator Julia Salazar, Chair of the New York State Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime, and Correction, said: “The conditions at Rikers have been egregiously dangerous and inhumane for far too long. At least 31 individuals have died in NYC jails just since Mayor Adams has been in office, and federal officials have warned that incarcerated people and corrections staff at Rikers face an ‘imminent risk of harm on a daily basis.’ The status quo is undeniably untenable. Control over Rikers must be stripped from the City and put in the hands of a federal receivership. I urge the court to take this urgently necessary step to protect the lives, well-being, and dignity of everyone at Rikers, as we move toward our ultimate goal of closing this deeply afflicted facility.”

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, said: “In this moment, it is vital to restate our collective belief in the power of justice, compassion, and reform. The time has come to close Rikers Island, a symbol of a broken system, and the first step toward that goal must be for the federal government to step in and take receivership of Rikers in order to stem the tide of violence and devastating loss of life that the city has allowed to continue unabated. Let us transform this dark chapter of our city’s history into an opportunity for change, building a society where rehabilitation triumphs over punishment, and where every life has the chance to rebuild and contribute positively to our community.”

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, said: “It’s been clearly demonstrated that a federal monitor is not only appropriate but desperately needed at Rikers. I have witnessed the deplorable conditions firsthand on multiple occasions and it cannot continue. Between the repeated outbreaks of violence and tragic loss of life, the City has failed in its responsibility to oversee a safe environment for incarcerated New Yorkers. Ultimately the law must followed and Rikers must close. However, a federal monitor is needed today while Rikers remains in operation.”

Council Member Alexa Avilés, said: “If we have hundreds of millions for a training academy in Queens, almost a billion in overtime, and hundreds of millions to pay for misconduct lawsuits, we have the money to shutter Rikers for good. We have the resources to close a site known most prominently for its human rights abuses and dire conditions. To not close Rikers is a political decision, not a practical one. The administration has had ample opportunity to make things right and has failed our people. I’m calling for federal receivership. We must act urgently.”

Council Member Crystal Hudson, said: “There is no debating the City’s moral and legal obligation to close Rikers Island. This Administration has shown it is incapable of handling the ongoing humanitarian crisis plaguing our City’s jails, specifically at Rikers Island. The Department of Correction has taken no meaningful steps to demonstrate it is fit and willing to manage the jail in a way that meets bare minimum standards of human rights laws. And Mayor Adams has reversed course since his campaign, indicating that he no longer sees a need to shut down this torturous facility. It is time for the federal government to take control of Rikers Island, and for the City to fulfill its promise to shut down Rikers once and for all.”

Council Member Shekar Krishnan, said: “The continuing humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island is an urgent human rights crisis that our city cannot continue to overlook. The Federal monitor, prosecutors and advocates agree that the rampant deaths and inhumane conditions on Rikers Island cannot be improved until federal courts step in and appoint a receiver. However, that is not nearly enough. Rikers must be closed. I am grateful to the Katal Center for fighting to improve conditions on Rikers.”

Melanie Dominguez, Organizing Director at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “Under Mayor Eric Adams, the conditions at Rikers have worsened, violence is out of control, and at least 31 incarcerated people have died in New York City jails. The Department of Correction is riddled with corruption, dysfunction, and mismanagement. The federal monitor has continued to raise the alarm about the long-standing issues plaguing the jail – and the unsafe conditions incarcerated people and staff face on a daily basis. It is heartbreaking that we have lost so many lives. It is clear that now, more than ever, we need to shut down Rikers. There is no time to waste! That’s why Katal members have been organizing across the city to demand immediate action. And it’s why we’re here today, to demand that until Rikers is shut down, the federal courts must appoint an independent receiver to improve conditions and save lives.”

Ana María Archila, Co-Director of the NY Working Families Party, said: “Under Mayor Adams’s watch, conditions at Rikers have only gotten worse and 31 people have died in city jails. In order to save lives, we must appoint an independent ‘receiver’ to manage NYC jails, and move swiftly to shut down Rikers.”

Rev. Peter Cook, Executive Director of the NYS Council of Churches, said: “Rikers should have been closed long ago. The continued loss of life, and the cruel and unhealthy conditions under which those presumed innocent have been held should be a headline from the 19th century, at best. The mayor has consistently failed to follow through on court orders and his own announced intentions. Close Rikers now!”

Lori Zeno, Executive Director of Queens Defenders, said: “Queens Defenders renews our call for the appointment of a federal receiver to address the deplorable conditions at Rikers Island. While the City Council has committed to closing Rikers Island by 2027, the announcement of the 2025 budget is contrary to this promise. The budget prioritizes overspending on incarceration and unacceptable cuts to community investment, including resources for mental health, housing, and unemployment. As Public Defenders, we bear witness to the violence that has plagued Rikers Island for decades, creating a humanitarian crisis for some of our community’s most vulnerable members. Appointing a federal receiver is an important step toward finally closing one of New York City’s darkest chapters.”

Phylisa Wisdom, New York Jewish Agenda (NYJA) Executive Director and steering committee member of New York Jewish Coalition on Criminal Justice Reform, said:  “Rikers remains a blight on New York City’s correctional systems. It is a dangerous, decaying, and toxic facility that needs to be closed as is planned and legally required. City leaders have paid lip service to closing Rikers, but while the reports of excessive force, violence, unaddressed mental health needs, lack of programming, and hazardous conditions continue are ongoing and need to be addressed immediately, we must also see real progress to meeting our commitments to close Rikers and invest in new solutions for New Yorkers.”

Serena Martin, Executive Director of New Hour for Women and Children, said: “Every minute of inaction is another minute a life is at risk. The unconscionable conditions at Rikers Island jail leave no other option but immediate receivership to ensure safety for all. Women and men detained there continue to die where normalized abuse, exploitation, a culture of violence and a lack of transparent oversight fester. Women and mothers deserve to live and return home to their children, Rikers must be shuttered once and for all.”

Matt Kudish, CEO of NAMI-NYC, helping individuals and families affected by mental illness, said: “More than half of the people at Rikers are affected by mental illness, yet not receiving the care they need and are subjected to inhumane, unsafe conditions, including solitary confinement. At least 31 of our fellow New Yorkers have died at Rikers—many of them lost to suicide and preventable medical issues. Rikers is a death sentence. We must do better for the mental health of our community members.”

Ziyadah Amatul-Martin, Leader at the Katal Center, said: “Individuals incarcerated at Rikers Island are facing horrifying conditions that are not fit for any human being. As someone with a loved one that is incarcerated, we worry constantly about their well-being because their basic needs are not being met. I have lost my brother at the hands of the prison system because of medical neglect. It is heartbreaking, and no one should have to go through this. People detained at Rikers don’t have access to adequate medical care, clean bathrooms, and programming. Incarcerated individuals and their loved ones are constantly being forgotten. It needs to stop. We need immediate action from the federal courts to appoint an independent receiver to improve conditions in city jails until the Mayor shuts it down once and for all.”

Abraham Velazquez, Jr., the Liberation Progam Coordinator at The Brotherhood Sister Sol, said: “The Brotherhood Sister Sol continues to demand the closing of Rikers Island. The jail has been, and continues to be, a horrific place that is a stain on our city. It is a moral and ethical horror. 31 people have died in this jail since 2022. Once again deemed ‘unsafe’ and ‘dangerous’ by the federal monitor, it is a dreadful place that holds overwhelming low income people who have been convicted of no crime – but languish there due to economic poverty. It must close. Now.”

Tawana Atkins, Member of the Katal Center, said: “It’s truly hard for so many parents to go through the experience of having your child behind bars. Not being able to protect them and shield them from any harm is hard. Their care and well-being are completely out of your hands, and that is terrifying. My son, who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, is being held at Rikers Island. How is it that we live in a society that does not invest in the well-being of people who have a mental illness? People keep falling through the margins and are being left with no resources and, in many instances, left homeless where they then are left in conditions of despair. Where they then can come in contact with police and end up at Rikers. This is not right. People should receive help from the very beginning and they should not be sent to Rikers. A jail complex that is not equipped to deal with people with mental illness because it is not a medical institution. Yet, Rikers has become the city’s largest mental health institution. This does not make sense! And to make matters worse, people detained at Rikers are being murdered. Since the Mayor took office, at least 31 people have died in city jails. 31 people! My son, while incarcerated has suffered severe injuries at the hands of correctional officers. Today, the federal courts have an opportunity to appoint an independent receiver to take control of Rikers to improve conditions and save lives. This is much needed now. We also need the Mayor to immediately shut down Rikers. There is absolutely no time to waste!”

Cassondra Warney, Senior Program Manager at the Corporation for Supportive Housing, said: “We are grateful to City Council for providing $6.4M to Justice Involved Supportive Housing (JISH) in the 2025 City Budget to allow parity with similar NYC supportive housing programs. This reentry supportive housing investment is an important component of the City’s 2019 Points of Agreement to close Rikers. The CSH team looks forward to working with the Administration, advocates and our incredible JISH providers in ensuring this funding is used to support the existing 120 JISH units and bring online the additional 380 units that the City promised five years ago. CSH stands with advocates in asking for deeper community investment in resources like mental health treatment and alternatives to incarceration to get back on track in #ClosingRikers.”

Christi Ahmed, member of the Katal Center, said: “We are so sick and tired of being pushed to the side. We are sick and tired of watching our loved ones detained at Rikers suffer and in extreme but not rare cases, watch them die at Rikers. Families across the city are grieving and in so much pain. Since Mayor Adams took office, at least 31 people have died at Rikers, and we also cannot forget the many others who have died since the opening of Rikers. Far too many lives have been lost. I have had loved ones detained at Rikers who have been beaten and treated less than a human. People detained at Rikers are living in filthy jail cells. Rikers Island is quite literally built on a landfill. Mayor Adams, you need to take immediate action. You must cut the number of people detained in city jails, shut down Rikers, and invest in our communities– invest in the future of our children!”

Sharon McLennon Wier, Ph.D., MSEd., CRC, LMHC, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, said: “The Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) promotes universal access for people with disabilities living in New York City. Disabled people with mental health disabilities, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, medical disabilities, and behavioral health disabilities are at times incarcerated at Rikers Island. These individuals must receive their disability-related accommodations, treatments, and services needed to fully participate in their legal process. Disability-related accommodations are essential civil rights that should not be denied!”

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.”

Lah Franklin, Member of the Katal Center, said: “It is unconscionable to think that a place like Rikers Island can exist in the State of New York. 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 and have been able to move forward with my life. However, I feel so deeply for those who are currently at Rikers, whose lives are at risk. It is heartbreaking to know that since Mayor Adams took office, at least 31 people have died in New York City Jails. The death toll is alarming and overwhelming. My condolences go out to all the families that are grieving the death of a loved one from this horrific jail complex. This alone should push the federal courts to intervene and appoint an independent receiver to save lives. And Mayor Eric Adams, you need to commit to shutting down Rikers Immediately.”

Jai’Andre Young, the Program Assistant for the MOCJ Emergency Transitional Housing at Housing Works, said: “Enough is Enough! Mayor Adams’ willful ignorance has led to more lives lost in Riker’s Island. We are a voice for those who are voiceless, and we are demanding a cease to inhumane treatment and conditions once and for all. Changing an institution starts from within, which means restorative justice can only begin when this institution is shut down.”

Luke Steele, Member of the Katal Center, said: “We cannot lose sight of the life-threatening conditions that people detained at Rikers are experiencing. I have been detained at Rikers and I can tell you that the conditions found there are straight out of a nightmare. While I was being detained there I felt unsafe every single day. You live in a constant state of fear because you don’t know what you can happen to you. No one deserves to be there. Rikers must be shut down. Our communities need care and our city must stop relying on the criminal legal system to put a bandage on social problems. So many people are being pushed out of their neighborhoods and are being left without shelter. Many of us are barely making ends meet while rent increases. Mayor Adams must take action to cut the city jail population and shut down Rikers.”

Jordyn Rosenthal, Director of Advocacy at Community Access and Steering Committee member of Correct Crisis Intervention Today (CCIT) – NYC, said: “Rikers Island is the largest mental health provider in New York City, and the conditions inside are so atrocious that everyone—people who are detained, staff, and visitors—suffers from the conditions behind the walls. We must remain committed to closing Rikers, transfer power to a federal receiver, and invest in a mental health continuum of care that diverts people from jails and supports them when they return to their community.”

Gloria Garcias, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I worry so much about the crisis unfolding at Rikers. Every time I turn on the news, I hear about yet another horrible thing that is happening at this jail complex. There are so many people who have died at this jail complex and, sadly will never be reconnected with their families. I feel so deeply for them. It is unimaginable that since Mayor Adams took office, at least 31 people have died in city jails. I have had family that has been detained at Rikers and I am so grateful that they made it back home to us. However, this should be the case for everyone. Things must change, and the Mayor must shut down Rikers Now!”

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 number of people incarcerated 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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