Press Release - People Impacted by Rikers, with Elected Officials and Community Groups, Demand Mayor Cut the Correctional Population, Shut Rikers, Invest in Communities

PRESS RELEASE

September 22nd, 2021

Contact:

Yonah Zeitz, [email protected] | 347-201-2768

Follow online: #CutShutInvestNY #CloseRikers | @katalcenter

At City Hall, People Impacted by Rikers, with Elected Officials and Community Groups, Demand Mayor Cut the Correctional Population, Shut Rikers, Invest in Communities

Humanitarian Crisis on Rikers Grows after 11th Death in Year a Notorious Facility

 

New York, NY - After the 11th death this year of an incarcerated person at Rikers, today elected officials joined  people directly impacted by Rikers, family and community groups at  protest and rally outside of City Hall, calling on Mayor de Blasio to take immediate action at Rikers by releasing people from the notorious facility.  

This year alone, 11 people have died at Rikers. 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.  On Friday, responding to demands of the #LessIsMoreNY coalition, Gov. Hochul signed the Less is More Parole Reform Act, and began implementation by releasing 191 people from Rikers Island Jail Complex who were held there on technical parole violations. In response to the crisis at Rikers, the state governor has now done more to decarcerate than Mayor de Blasio, even though Rikers is the Mayor's responsibility. And even after 191 people were released Friday on the Governor's order, on Sunday, another person held at Rikers died.

Speakers at the action illustrated how they have been impacted by Rikers Island and demanded: 

  • CUT the number of people held on Rikers
      • The Mayor must IMMEDIATELY release people using his existing authority-- decarcerate now!
      • District Attorneys and the Courts must STOP sending people to Rikers
      • The State Legislature must restore the full reforms to NY's bail law
      • Governor Hochul must fully implement Less is More now
  • SHUT down Rikers Island Jail Complex
  • INVEST in real public safety: housing, health care, education, jobs

With a record number of deaths on Rikers this year, urgent action is needed to address the current crisis and to prevent more needless deaths. The horrific problems at Rikers aren’t new -- they are all to familiar, and serve only to underscore that Rikers should not exist and must be shut down. 

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

Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: "What is happening on Rikers is a humanitarian crisis that could be ended by Mayor de Blasio, but hasn't. He has the authority to decarcerate the island, yet he refuses to do so even as 11 people have died there this year alone. Mayor de Blasio must use his authority to decarcerate, and the DA's and courts must stop sending people there to die. The signing of #LessIsMoreNY into law on Friday was a good step in the fight for decarceration, but Governor Hochul must implement the bill in full to further decarcerate Rikers. We need our elected officials to act on this humanitarian crisis now, the mayor must cut the incarcerated population and the DOC budget, shut down Rikers, and invest in real community safety, which is housing, health care, education, and jobs."

NYC Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, said: "Rikers is an emergency environment, one in which the humanity and health of everyone inside are disregarded. The steps that have been taken in recent days in effort to decarcerate and start to stabilize the situation are welcome, but do not go far enough, or fast enough to alleviate the health and safety emergency for all inside. I ask again that the Mayor and Governor see this emergency in person, so that they can understand the urgency and scope of the disaster relief that is needed for those who are incarcerated or working on Rikers Island."

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, primary bill sponsor of #LessIsMoreNY, said: "When I visited Rikers Island last week I was shocked and appalled at what I saw. There is currently a dire humanitarian crisis in the facility, with unsanitary conditions including feces in common areas, clear signs of starvation, and very little sense of safety for anyone present. When the Governor signed Less Is More last week, taking immediate steps to implement it, she did so not only because our broken parole system required serious reform, but also because of the urgency of the mass incarceration crisis. But one bill cannot solve the crisis facing our prisons and jails. It is clear that more action is needed; the City needs an immediate strategy to decarcerate Rikers Island."

Senator Julia Salazar, Chair of the Crime Victims, Crime & Correction Committee, said:  "The urgency of the public health, humanitarian, and human rights crisis in the jails on Rikers Island cannot be overstated. I am outraged by the conditions I saw last week. Members of our communities, particularly low-income New Yorkers and people of color, are being subjected to inhumane and unconstitutional treatment. The Mayor and each of New York City’s five District Attorneys have the power and responsibility to immediately implement steps to significantly reduce the population at Rikers, including the implementation of Less is More. We are urging them to release people.”

Senator Alessandra Biaggi, said: "Rikers Island is a hellscape and absolutely no one is safe there. During my own visit to Rikers earlier this month, I witnessed conditions that were horrifying beyond words— garbage and feces covering the floor, water bugs and lice biting at the skin of the incarcerated, individuals locked in narrow shower stalls amidst their own feces, and so much more. No human should be forced to endure such inhumane conditions. Just this year alone, 11 incarcerated individuals have died on Rikers, and more will die unless immediate action is taken. My question to Mayor Bill de Blasio is this: how many more people will have to die until action is taken? New York City must prioritize decarceration now. It’s the only option."

Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, said: "As the humanitarian disaster at Rikers Island claimed another life this week, we must continue the push to decarcerate now. New York took an important step in reforming our cruel, broken parole system when Governor Hochul signed the 'Less is More' bill on Friday. But every level of government must continue to act with urgency to get people off of Rikers Island and shut down the facility once and for all."

Assemblymember Khaleel M. Anderson, said: “Rikers Island is a deeply alarming and urgent humanitarian crisis. The deplorable living conditions and threats of violence experienced by incarcerated people at Rikers Island is the complete opposite of the restorative justice practices that will reduce cycles of harm and reunite incarcerated people with their families and communities in positive and productive ways. I stand alongside my colleagues in our united demand to end these innumerable deadly ongoing abuses and injustices. For years these injustices have been known and amplified, from the tragic death of Kalief Browder to the passing of many other incarcerated people, names known and unknown to the public but revered and mourned in the lives of families and friends. Alongside the passage of the powerful Less Is More legislation, we must finally seek true reform to the jail complex.”

Assemblymember Kenny Burgos, said: "Rikers Island is a humanitarian crisis and a human rights catastrophe. The level of mass incarceration at this facility has had a greater impact on Black and Brown folks in our communities. Governor Hochul signing the Less Is More Act and allowing 191 individuals with technical parole violations to be released is a great step towards addressing these injustices and racial disparities. However, there is still more work to be done. I continue to urge the Governor to implement this entire law as soon as possible, and for the Mayor and City Council to put us on an immediate path towards decarceration."

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, said: "We must close Rikers Island now. The conditions at these jails are deplorable and horrendous. The failure to act has and will continue to result in the lost of life. As a state legislator I stand with New Yorkers who are impacted by the failure to act! Close Rikers and save lives."

Councilmember Keith Powers, said: "Rikers Island is in a desperate emergency. Last week, I witnessed the deplorable, inhumane conditions in the facility, and have continuously called on the Department of Corrections, Governor Hochul, and Mayor de Blasio to greatly increase safety, staffing, and support at Rikers. Every day without action puts more lives in danger."

Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said: “It is simply unconscionable and unworkable that significant and immediate steps to decarcerate Rikers Island and other local jails are not a fundamental part of the Mayor’s Emergency Rikers Release Plan. Fixing this multi-layered crisis will take time – time that people whose lives are in jeopardy from dangerous and uncontrolled conditions do not have. Through Mayor de Blasio’s own plan - The Early Release (6A) Program - City Hall could immediately release more than 250 people serving less than a year for low-level crimes, requiring them to serve the remainder of their short sentences on work-release. We call on Mayor de Blasio to utilize this program at once.”

Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said: “It is impossible to overstate how dangerous - and ultimately deadly - the conditions facing New Yorkers on Rikers Island are. Quite simply: DOC is holding people in illegal conditions, denying New Yorkers their rights, and as a result people have died. The only path forward is immediately reducing the jail population using every tool at the city and state’s disposal – particularly the Mayor’s power to release people serving city sentences under 6-A, District Attorneys’ power to stop seeking bail, and judges’ power to stop setting it.”

Dr. Jocelynne Rainey, CEO and President of Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO), said: "We at GOSO will not stand for another death at Rikers. Eleven people in our City have died, and a man died this weekend who had a history of medical issues, used a wheelchair and was jailed for a parole violation. Hundreds are suffering because they are denied basic human needs, like access to health care, a clean place to live and food on a regular basis. There is no other solution but to decarcerate; our City must close this facility that has been dysfunctional for far too long and invest in education, housing, job development and health care rather than continuing to support a justice system which is sending New Yorkers into a crisis situation.”

Marcellus Morris, CEO of Reign 4 Life, said: "Being at Rikers is to live in a constant state of cruel and unusual punishment. Abuse and neglect by the staff was routine. Rikers is violence. Rikers brought the worst out of everyone involved, leading to an endless cycle of travesty, injustice, dehumanizing and deadly treatment. The Mayor must get people off Riker Island before more violence and death occur."

Romeo Gonzalez, Member of the Youth Anti Prison Project, said: "The crisis on Rikers island is more than a moment for young adults- it's their lives. There are so many young people sent to the island and it isn't right.  Imagine instead of high school, you're living and learning from a cage. The Mayor needs to close Rikers and decarcerate now."

Luke Steele, Member of the Katal, said: “I was most recently incarcerated at Rikers in July of 2021 for a technical parole violation, I was immediately incarcerated there after getting in an altercation with an individual out of self-defense. I was released roughly a week after due to evidence that proved my innocence but I can testify to the horrible conditions in which Rikers Island functions. Being there during the pandemic was a nightmare, there is no form of social distancing, adequate healthcare, and mental health. In addition, I feared for my livelihood because of how dangerous it is. The violence happening there because of the neglect of our government has made the condition there unbearable. The Mayor must make sure that everyone at Rikers has adequate health care and that the facility is well maintained. The mayor must reduce the number of people incarcerated at Rikers and Close Rikers Island immediately!”

Della Smith, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Our loved ones are not receiving justice, fairness, and humane treatment while incarcerated in these facilities. Let us not forget that at any moment a loved one of ours could potentially end up behind bars where they will be subjected to the horrifying conditions we are seeing right now. This year alone, 11 people have passed away at Rikers, this is someone’s child that has been taken away from them because the system has failed them. I urge the Mayor to take immediate action to reduce the population at Rikers and close the island promptly!”

Henry Robinson, Member of the Katal Center, said: “When I was taken to Rikers Island, I went in there with a broken foot, my original doctor had prescribed me the proper medication to alleviate my pain. However, when I went to Rikers they would not listen to my doctor’s recommendation and instead offer absolutely no help. They provided me with no medical attention. The conditions there were so hostile that soon after my arrival I ended up getting jumped by 15 people. The correctional officers maced all of us and I didn’t receive medical attention until 17 hours later where I was just given Tylenol. I had to call 311 to seek help and to have the nurse do their job which they didn’t even do. This is the reality at Rikers. Everyone at Rikers Island is traumatized, they are not receiving proper mental health, medical attention, and living space. 11 people have died there in this year alone, how many more deaths do we need until Mayor De Blasio finally moves to decarcerate and close Rikers Island immediately. The Mayor must act now!”

Jasmine Bracy, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Witnessing this crisis on Rikers Island fills me with so much anger. My father was sent to Rikers Island, and that place traumatized him so deeply, it was as if he was still incarcerated, even though he was home. Without the strength of our family, especially the strength of my mother, I do not know where my family would be. No matter how much they try to fix Rikers, with a new paint job or new staff, it will never take away the living nightmare that so many people have been subjected to. This crisis is not about politics, it is about humanity. We need to shut Rikers Island down, that is the only way we could possibly begin the healing process for those affected by Rikers.” 

Gabrielle Parks, Member of the Katal Center, said: “The Rikers Island crisis brings back horrible childhood memories. As a kid, my father was locked up on Rikers Island, it was so terrible to live in constant fear. We did not know if he was okay or if he was going to make it home. So I feel for the families who have loved ones on Rikers. We need to close Rikers Island. Retraining is not going to solve this crisis. We are wasting time and people are losing their lives. The people on Rikers are being treated worse than animals. We need a criminal justice system filled with people who work from their hearts, and who actually want to rehabilitate our loved ones.”

Kevin Perez, Organizer and Member of the NYC Brown Berets, said: “Our City should be ashamed that we contributed to the creation of a place like Rikers Island. Mayor de Blasio, needs to shut down Rikers Island before someone else dies under his watch. His administration needs to stop making up band-aid solutions that are only going to serve to make matters worse. Every day that we delay the closure of Rikers could be a day closer to someone’s death in there. COVID had already taken the life of Isa Abdul Karim on Sunday. Are we to wait until more people die before we decide to do something? We need to stop wasting time and close Rikers Island and reinvest resources into our communities.”

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