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As Federal Court Holds Hearing on Crises at Rikers, Community Groups and Elected Officials Hold Protest to Demand Immediate Action

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**PRESS RELEASE**

June 13, 2023

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

Follow online: #ShutRikers #CloseRikers #CutShutInvestNY | @katalcenter

As Federal Court Holds Hearing on Crises at Rikers, Community Groups and Elected Officials Hold Protest to Demand Immediate Action

Until Rikers is Shut Down, Federal Courts Must Immediately Appoint a Federal Receiver to Take Over Notorious Jail Complex

Federal Monitor Reports Highlight Deadly Cover-Up at Rikers by DOC, Scolds Adams Administration for its “Lack of Transparency.” 

New York, NY – Today in Foley Square people directly impacted by Rikers, along with community groups and elected officials, gathered in support of a federal takeover of the notorious Rikers Island Jail Complex, and to demand the City shuts down the notorious facility once and for all. 

The rally took place before an emergency conference about Rikers, called by U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain. The emergency conference was prompted by several recent federal monitor special reports detailing the deteriorating conditions at the Rikers Island Jail Complex and efforts by the Adams administration to restrict the monitor’s access to information. The federal monitor also exposed efforts by the Department of Correction (DOC) to cover up severe incidents of violence in city jails. Since Mayor Adams took office, at least 22 people have died in NYC jails, but the monitor notes that the real number is unknown because the DOC won’t disclose information as required under the federal consent decree. 

 The recent federal monitor reports highlight how the violence and disorder at Rikers is worse now than when the consent decree was put in place in 2015. The federal monitor outlined how the people incarcerated at Rikers are at an “imminent risk of harm” due to the DOC’s mismanagement, outright lack of care, and the administration’s unwillingness to address the longstanding issues plaguing the city’s jail system. The state of affairs at Rikers is deeply troubling, writes the monitor,  due to the “regression in the Department’s management of the Nunez Court Orders and its lack of transparency.” 

In response to the reports, the mayor has publicly chastised the federal monitor, deepening a rift between the City and the federal court. Making matters worse, Mayor Adams is calling for more people – mostly Black, brown, and low-income – to be jailed at Rikers as his principle public “safety” goal. If Adams has his way, the notorious jail complex will never close.

Last week, Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York, wrote a letter to the DOC demanding transparency around deaths of incarcerated people at Rikers. And calls have grown for the federal courts to appoint a receiver to take control at Rikers. Two city-wide officials, the NYC Public Advocate and the NYC Comptroller, have called for receivership, as well as 10 City Council members and a half dozen state elected officials who have called for a federal receiver. A receiver is an officer of the court who would have full authority to manage day to day operations, “independent of the politics, bureaucracy, and other dysfunctional structures that perpetuate the harm.”

Speakers at today’s rally demanded Rikers be shut down. Many speakers demanded that until the complex is closed once and for all, the federal courts should appoint a receiver to take over to immediately improve conditions at the jail complex for incarcerated people and those who work there.

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

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, said: “The lack of transparency from the Correction Department obstructs basic oversight and perpetuates the humanitarian crisis in our City’s jails. Sweeping the deaths on Rikers under the rug is a dishonor to the humanity of the lives lost. The findings in the most recent federal monitor reports demonstrate the need to appoint a Federal Receiver and accelerate efforts to close Rikers to ensure safety and justice.”

State Senator Julia Salazar, said: “The conditions at Rikers Island continue to be harrowing and deadly, as reported by impacted people and most recently, the appointed federal monitor. Beyond a failure of leadership, there exists no justifiable explanation for why the City continues to hold people at Rikers Island. Until the doors of Rikers are shut once and for all, the courts must appoint a receiver.”

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, said: “The humanitarian crisis at Rikers Island continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate and it has become clear that the city either cannot or will not take the necessary steps to bring it under control. The federal government must now 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. In addition we must continue to work toward the full shut down of this reprehensible jail system and reinvestment in the communities in order to achieve true public safety. The time for delay has long passed; now is the time for action.”

City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers, said: “Recent efforts to prevent transparent oversight and accountability at Rikers Island underscores the need to shut down the complex. I have said before that the situation at Rikers is intolerable and this sadly remains the case. It is imperative that we overhaul the city’s corrections system.”

Council Member Crystal Hudson, said: “The recent string of federal monitor reports have highlighted how Rikers Island is unsafe for incarcerated people and those who work there. It is dangerous, mismanaged, and simply an overall disaster. This Administration has shown it is incapable and unwilling to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis plaguing our City’s jails. 22 New Yorkers have died in City jails since Mayor Adams took office. 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 the bare minimum standards of human rights laws. Instead, the Adams administration has removed video access from the jails oversight body and the DOC is longer publicly reporting jail deaths. 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 Lincoln Restler, said: “As the conditions at Rikers continue to worsen, it’s clear that the federal government must step in and take control. We need to close Rikers Island, but in the interim we need a receiver who can cut through the intractable issues and start addressing the humanitarian disaster that is a stain on our City.”

Council Member Carmen De La Rosa, said: “When you walk through Riker’s halls, you see the faces of Black and Brown families impacted by years of systemic oppression. The harm only worsens with alarming death rates, lack of transparency, and delays for the complex’s closure. If the city cannot take care of our justice-involved individuals or DOC officers, then it is time to bring in help.”

Council Member Shekar Krishnan, said: “What is happening daily on Rikers Island is a humanitarian crisis. The jail should have been closed a long time ago. It is unacceptable. There is only one way to get out of the crisis at Rikers: decarcerate now and close the jail once and for all. I am proud to stand with advocates and impacted communities, who are tirelessly advocating for the closure and decarceration of the Rikers Island complex. The closure of Rikers Island is urgent and the work to do that must start now.”

Henry Robinson, member leader at the Katal Center, said: “Time after time the Mayor has shown New Yorkers that he is unwilling to listen to our communities. As a Black man, who has been incarcerated at Rikers, it saddens me that we have a Mayor that has turned his back on his people. How is it that the Mayor is seeing dozens of people dying in NYC jails and does not speak about it in any way that offers a pathway forward to the families who are grieving? People incarcerated at Rikers are in a constant state of terror.  Rather than put forward an action plan to close Rikers, the mayor and his Department of Correction have sought to stop informing the public about the deaths happening behind bars in NYC. He simply does not care about keeping our people safe. The only way people will feel safe is if he invests in communities that need housing and jobs, not by putting more money into the pockets of the NYPD & Department of Corrections. Mayor Adams needs to shut down Rikers to address the crisis but until Rikers is closed we need a federal receiver to improve conditions.”

Mary Lynne Werlwas, director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society, said: “The most recent Monitor’s report confirms that excessive force in the City jails remains rampant despite nearly eight years of court ordered reform under four separate commissioners. This Administration has not only wrought horrific levels of violence in the jails, but is increasingly authoritarian in seeking to shield its abuses from judicial and public oversight. As we told the court last month, the remedial process must be placed in the hands of a trustworthy, independent entity that can do what the Department of Correction is unwilling or unable to do: achieve the court-ordered reforms before more people are injured and die.”

Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said: “One thing we know to be true: Rikers Island is inhumane and deadly. It must be closed. Until that happens, the Court must take control away from the City. This administration has locked Rikers down, militarized the response, is seeking to remove all external programs, and stop reporting on death. This is a recipe for disaster not success.”

Rev. Peter Cook, Executive Director of NYS Council of Churches and Ms. Rashida Tyler, Deputy Executive Director NYS Council of Churches: “The closure of Rikers has been delayed for far too long.  This has led to not only an acceleration of the deterioration of the physical environment, but also the health and safety of incarcerated people there. Last year,  there were record fatalities  at the facility and there have already been 3 deaths there this year alone. The decision to decarcerate was made quite  some time ago, it’s time for the Adams  Administration to do the right thing, the moral thing and  follow through to close Rikers immediately.”

Luke Steele, Member of the Katal Center, said: “It is infuriating to know that since Mayor Adams took office 22 people have died in NYC jails as far as the public knows. I worry all the time about being sent back to Rikers because of any misunderstanding with my parole officer. I have been to Rikers in the past and can tell you first-hand that it is unsafe for anyone to be detained there. The conditions at Rikers have only gotten worse. It is so scary to hear about everything that is currently happening there. The Federal Monitors report stated that everyone in NYC jails is at imminent risk of harm. That is unacceptable. Our Mayor up to this point has been nonchalant about the crisis unfolding at Rikers. People are losing their lives and he doesn’t even care. New Yorkers and their families are struggling, we need the mayor to shut down Rikers and invest in mental health and housing. Until he shuts down Rikers we need the federal courts to appoint a federal receiver to improve the conditions there so no more lives are lost due to negligence and corruption. 

Danielle Spina, Managing Director, Justice Initiatives at Housing Works, said: “Administration after administration continue to state transparency, crime reduction and violence interruption as priorities for the city and yet allow the cyclic pattern of violence, racism and inhumane conditions continue at Rikers Island in silence. The time is now for the Adams administration to take action. Allow the federal courts to appoint a receiver and dismantle the system. The time is now to interrupt the violence and for systemic change. The time is now to close Rikers.”

Eileen Maher, VOCAL-NY Leader, said: “Rikers Island is a floating disaster. It was a death trap when I was there and it still is. It is a waste of money, but even worse, it is a waste of life. Anyone who is truly committed to public safety must be committed to closing Rikers.”

Tanvier Peart, Director of Policy at Common Justice, said: “The inhumane conditions at Rikers Island have long perpetuated cycles of trauma and caused senseless death. At Common Justice, we prioritize healing and accountability without incarceration, fostering a sense of dignity and hope for those who have committed acts of harm. In order to create real public safety, we must close Rikers Island and redirect resources toward community-based solutions to violence. Elected officials cannot continue to stand idly by while New Yorkers who are incarcerated are left to die. Since January of 2022, we have lost 23 souls to city jails. We refuse to lose any more of our community members. With heavy hearts, Common Justice calls upon city leaders to do the right thing—shut Rikers Island down.”

Lauren Velez, Associate Director of the Corporation of Supportive Housing, said: “The recent federal monitor report confirms what we have known to be the case for far too long: the dire situation at Rikers is becoming even more dangerous. The lack of transparency of the Adams administration, coupled with efforts to reduce access to services and supports to people on Rikers is creating an unacceptable breach of human rights that has already led to too much loss of life. Yet, this is not a problem that we don’t have an answer to: we know that access to safe, affordable housing and services will not only reduce the population on Rikers and lead to less recidivism, it will increase public safety and help create a safer, more vibrant NYC for all. We need Mayor Adams to take accountability for the city’s role in this crisis, and to partner with service providers, advocates, and elected officials who are actively pursuing these cost effective interventions for a system rooted in humanity and opportunities for growth and change. We can and must do better, and CSH implores the current administration to face these challenges and engage in talk of real solutions, instead of pouring money into a broken system at the behest of those who stand to gain from this ongoing, shameful crisis.”

James Inniss, Public Safety Campaigner of the New York Communities for Change, said: “We need New Yorkers to see Rikers Island as a Public Safety issue for the city.  Warehousing people in a hellhole that’s literally built on a landfill, and doing it pre-trail (because they can not afford bail) is not only inhumane but it’s also destabilizing to the communities these mothers, fathers, sons and daughters were snatched out of and only continues the cycle of trauma we need to stop if public safety is really a priority.  We need to focus on helping people who commit crimes of poverty through programs and investments into our communities, not disappearing our neighbors for convenience”

Ts Candii, CEO of Black Trans Nation, said: “The tragedy that has unfolded at Rikers Island is a direct result of the Mayor and his cronies’ refusal to protect the lives of Black and Trans persons. We must act swiftly and with purpose to put an immediate stop to this callous disregard for the safety of our community. As Black Trans Nation, we stand alongside the families in mourning and show solidarity to those within the criminal justice system. We will never stop fighting for justice, equity, and liberation for our people.” 

Ethan Milich, Coordinator at CUNY Rising Alliance, said: “Mayor Eric Adam is not only cutting CUNY and other essential services that make our city great, but he is also allowing millions of dollars to be funneled into police and carceral systems that mostly bring violence and trauma to our communities. This is most visible with institutions like Rikers Island. Rikers, an institution that cages thousands of people, has been deteriorating for several years, and allows dozens to perish each year, must be shut down, and the city must instead invest in programs and services that educate, house, feed, and support our cities most vulnerable people.”

Pysc Wilson, Youth Development Coordinator at Youth Represent, said: “Thousands of people have experienced brutality on Rikers since it was brought fourth as one of the most inhumane modernized forms of incarceration. People are still dying. Shut it down now!!!”

Michael McQuillan, member of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, said: “We bear witness to a moral injustice! We cry out for action! Commissioner Molina’s word that he will withhold life and death details from detainees’ fate on Rikers Island adds misery to an ongoing crisis. The Council’s population review teams and supportive housing proposals are vital but long-term proposals. How many who suffer now plead falsely to guilt to release themselves from Hell?”

Aaliyah Guillory-Nickens, Campaign Organizer at Youth Represent, said: “For generations Rikers Island has robbed black, brown and poor people of their humanity, more than 10 people have died on the island since 2023 started. It’s time elected officials do their jobs as public servants and follow through on their word to close down this deadly facility.”

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. We are outraged that there is now a city plan to hide these crimes from the press, and a plan to cut direly needed services to survivors coming out of Rikers. These morally depraved actions endanger us all.”

Melanie Dominguez, Lead Organizer at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “The Mayor’s refusal to address the crisis at Rikers is putting the lives of New Yorkers, especially Black and Brown New Yorkers, at grave risk. As the mayor seeks to make deep budget cuts to libraries and other essential social safety net functions in our city, he wants to spend billions on sending more people to Rikers. The latest Federal Monitor reports confirm what we already knew, that this administration is failing to stop the rampant violence in New York City jails. The federal monitor makes clear that everyone incarcerated at Rikers is in ‘imminent risk of harm’. We have already lost 22 individuals at the hands of this Mayor and the Department of Corrections. That is far too many people that are now gone forever and have unjustly been taken away from their families. Yet rather than work to close Rikers, the Mayor is doing everything in his power to absolve his administration from any accountability. Enough is enough. To improve the conditions for everyone who is on Rikers Island, the people detained there and the people who work there,  the federal courts must immediately appoint a receiver to take over. And Mayor Adams and the City Council must move immediately to cut the number of people in jails in our city, shut down Rikers, and invest in real public safety – housing, health care, education, and jobs.”

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