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RELEASE: People Impacted by Rikers, with Elected Officials and Community Groups, Rally Outside of the Courthouse in Support of a Federal Receiver and to Demand Closure of Rikers Island

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April 27, 2023

Contact: 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 a Federal Receiver and to Demand Closure of Rikers Island

Crisis at Rikers Grows as High Levels of Abuse and Disorder Persist Under the Adams Administration

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

The rally took place before the latest hearing in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan where Judge Laura Taylor Swain heard statements regarding the latest federal monitor report about the deteriorating conditions at the Rikers. The recent report highlights how abuse and disorder at Rikers are out of control, and underscores the utter mismanagement of the Department of Correction. 

The report also details multiple chaotic, violent incidents which “alarm” the monitoring team, but which “have not received meaningful action” from the DOC. In an addendum to the monitor’s report, Federal prosecutors from the Southern District wrote: “The jails continue to be plagued by an extremely high level of violence and disorder. Incarcerated people and corrections staff continue to face an imminent risk of harm on a daily basis.”

Given the severity of the findings, it is particularly concerning that conditions at Rikers are worse now than when the consent decree, which established the current monitor, was put in place in 2015. Every year conditions worsen, yet the federal monitor has collected nearly $20 million to date from NYC taxpayers.

In the face of this crisis, Mayor Adams is calling for more people – mostly Black, brown, and low-income – to be jailed at Rikers as his principle public “safety” goal. And it is working, the jail population is going up when it should be going down. Most of the people being incarcerated are held pre-trial and can’t afford bail. At the state level, Gov. Hochul is simultaneously trying to ram through rollbacks to bail and discovery reform that will lead to thousands of more people jailed across the state, including at Rikers. If Adams and Hochul have their way, Rikers will get worse, more people will die and it will never close. The new reports underscore both the inadequacy of the federal monitor and the urgent need for a full federal takeover of the notorious Rikers jails complex until the jail is shut down.

Speakers at the action shared how they have been impacted by the horrors of Rikers. To stop the suffering and end this crisis, the federal courts should take over to improve conditions of confinement and address the longstanding issues plaguing the jail system. 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: 

City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers, said: “The current situation at Rikers Island is intolerable. Rikers Island has become synonymous with abuse and mismanagement. It is imperative that all stakeholders work together to successfully implement an overhaul of the city’s corrections system.”

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––a place that claimed the lives of 19 individuals last year. 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 tortuous 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.”

Henry Robinson, Leader of the Katal Center, said: “ I was incarcerated at Rikers, and I have been exposed to the violence and mistreatment found there. Absolutely no one deserves to go there. If you did not have a mental health problem going into Rikers, you will have one on your way out. The horrors that you see within the walls of Rikers are unimaginable. You don’t truly know what happens unless you’ve been there. The effects that Rikers Island leaves not only on those incarcerated there but on the visitors are traumatic. It is a humanitarian crisis for Rikers Island to remain open. It is of utmost importance that Mayor Eric Adams shuts down Rikers Island immediately not only because of the deaths but also because of all the inhumanities that unfold on a daily basis. Instead of working to decarcerate and shut down Rikers the Mayor’s solution to everything is to put more cops in our communities which funnel our people into city jails. What our communities need are more resources not to be overpoliced. Since the Mayor won’t address the corruption and mismanagement found within Rikers there should be a federal receiver appointed to address that need. But Mayor Adams we won’t stop fighting until you commit to shutting down Rikers Now!”

Rabbi Hilly Haber of 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. We must invest in community violence prevention and interruption programs, which have been proven to be cost-effective, mental health and substance abuse services, mental health and social and emotional learning supports in our schools, including screening for dyslexia and other special needs, and restorative justice programs. We must support and implement policies that safely decarcerate people in jails. As a city, let’s also fund job training and placement, education, treatment, and supportive housing instead of incarceration.”

Melanie Dominguez, Lead Organizer at the Katal Center, said: “It is heartbreaking that we must continue to fight for the livelihood of all New Yorkers. Everyone deserves a right to a healthy life. Those incarcerated at the Rikers Island Jail Complex are being denied that. Rikers is a death sentence and it’s always been this way. Since Mayor Adams took office Rikers is the deadliest it’s been in 25-years and the population has increased drastically. The Mayor’s harmful practices of over-policing black and Brown communities, defunding essential social services, and pushing for roll-backs of bail reform is creating a hostile environment for all New Yorkers. Our lives are on the line. More & more of us will be funneled into the jail system. A jail system riddled with corruption, lack of accountability and transparency which were all highlighted in the latest Federal Monitor report. The Mayor’s refusal to address the corruption and mismanagement of Rikers shows us that there should be a federal receiver appointed to intervene. We demand that Mayor Adams decarcerates NYC Jails, shuts down Rikers and invests our what our communities need to be safe: housing, health care, education, jobs.”

Tina Luongo, Chief Attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said: “The catastrophe of Rikers Island persists, as the risks to health and safety of everyone held there has continued. The City’s so-called Action Plan has failed to secure the change needed, and staying the current course will only harm more and more people condemned to these indefensibly unsafe and inhumane facilities. We maintain that independent leadership with authority and willingness to enact bold and swift change, such as may be obtained through receivership, is necessary.”

Sharlene Melendez, Member of the Katal Center, said:  “In NYC we have a mayor who refuses to do right by our families. Individuals incarcerated at Rikers Island are being treated inhumanely. They are being treated like animals. People make mistakes but that doesn’t mean that they should be left to die. This is what Mayor Adams is doing by refusing to address the crisis at Rikers and shutting down Rikers once and for all. He doesn’t know the hurt that we go through when our loved ones are incarcerated at Rikers. My loved one has been at Rikers for the past 9 months and I haven’t stop worrying about his well-being since he got in. It is painful to see them go through sleep deprivation, loss of weight, lack of access to the bare necessities you need to survive, and get severely mistreated by corrupt Correctional officers. Everyone inside Rikers has a mother, a brother and friend who is worried sick about their safety. Mayor Adams, your time is up, you need to decarcerate our city jail, shut down Rikers and invest in our communities. People need access to rehabilitation not incarceration. Our youth need access to programs. Step up!

Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, said: “Too many of the people we serve at Housing Works have endured the inhumane conditions at Rikers Island at the cost of their own physical and mental health. Rikers has become an expensive and lazy alternative to providing real mental health services to people who need it. We need to invest our dollars in ways that uplift people, not in ways that degrade them.”

Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said: “For far too long, Rikers has been a stain on our city and a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the criminal legal system. Whatever the outcome of today’s hearing, Rikers must be shut down permanently. The only way to achieve true community safety is to invest in affordable housing, quality healthcare, and robust educational and economic opportunities for all New Yorkers, and particularly for the Black, brown and Latinx communities that have disproportionately suffered from violent policies, structural oppression, and a culture of punishment.”

Ziyadah Amatul-Matin, member of the Katal Center, said: “I am so sick and tired of seeing our black and brown community suffer. The pain that our communities have endured is unimaginable. Our communities are the most under-resourced and overpoliced, it is no surprise that the majority of the people incarcerated at Rikers are Black and Brown. I have family members who have been incarcerated at Rikers and State Prisons. They have been languishing in jail because we have been unable to afford to pay bail. While they have been incarcerated they have been mistreated in inhumane manners. With no access to healthy food, or water and abused by correctional officers who have no integrity. The impact of their incarceration on us has me at a loss for words. It is a constant feeling of anguish and worrying about their well-being. There needs to be an expression of fairness and justice. Mayor Eric Adams, enough is enough, you need to shut down Rikers immediately, if you don’t more people will continue to suffer.

Victor Pate Co-director of the #HALTsolitary Campaign said: “There’s a deadly humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island. People should be released immediately, state lawmakers must reject any weakening of bail and discovery civil rights protections, mental and medical health treatment must be provided for everyone, and Rikers Island must be closed.”

Serena-Martin-Liguori, Executive Director of New Hour, said:  “We will continue to call for the immediate closure of Rikers and for receivership to ensure the safety of the women and men detained there and the staff. Rikers continues to be a stain on the good people of New York due to lack of oversight, culture of violence often targeted at detainees and the sheer chaos of abuse.” 

Ken Edwards, Leadership & Organizing Manager at CEO, said: “Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) echoes the need to close Rikers Island. Incarceration is not the answer. It’s time to shut it down and invest in programs that have been evaluated and proven to help individuals become successful members of our communities.”

Matt Nosanchuk, a New York Jewish Agenda co-founder and the co-chair of the 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. City leaders have paid lip service to closing Rikers, but while the reports of excessive force, violence, unaddressed mental health needs, and hazardous conditions continue are ongoing and need to be addressed immediately, at the same time that we need to see real progress to closing Rikers once and for all.”

Audrey Johnson, Lead Advocate & Organizer & Housing Manager at A Little Piece of Light (ALPOL), said: “ALPOL stands in solidarity with #CutShutInvestNY. The public safety narrative is null and void when there’s a crisis at Rikers Island Jail Complex. Death, after death, after death. Citizens, who are awaiting trial are being subjected to non compliant, capital hungry state and federal systems who deliberately ignore the overall wellbeing of those in their care. We demand action! Close Rikers TODAY with a better tomorrow in mind.”

TS Candii, Founder & Executive Director at Black Trans Nation, said: “On Thursday, 4/27, the fate of justice for incarcerated people in New York will be decided in federal court. Mayor Adam’s team has attempted to downplay the need for real change, but we must insist that the federal government take over control of Rikers and shut it down. Closing Rikers and increasing public safety is of the utmost importance. As members of Black Trans Nation, we demand CUT the jail population, SHUT down the Rikers Island Jail Complex, and INVEST in real public safety: housing, health care, education, and jobs.”

Michael McQuillan, Member of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, said: “We have long known factually and statistically that a human rights emergency exists on Rikers Island. The Lippman Commission five years ago endorsed closing Rikers. The Council voted three years ago to close it, but Mayor Adams opposes that action as the city pays a $53 million dollar settlement to thousands of detainees who were wrongly placed in and abused during  solitary confinement while awaiting trial dates. How many now falsely plead guilty to get out of hell?

Five Mualimm-Ak, Director of Incarcerated Nation Incorporation, said: “Closing Rikers Island is more than an effort to save lives, it’s about dismantling NYCs first jail built on centuries of pain and suffering that costs us NYers over $500,000 per person – per year.”

Mani Tafari, founder of Justice456, said: “In 1860 the  26th infantry regiment,  black soldiers stationed on Rikers Island were fighting the forces of slavery in the country. Today we recognize that closing Rikers Island is essential to dismantling the re-enslavement project that has used Stop and Frisk and Broken Windows to inflict severe harm on the black and brown community of New York City. Justice456 believes that Rikers Island has become the living embodiment of an 8th Amendment violation (cruel and unusual punishment) and therefore joins the call to close this institution of mass incarceration.”

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