Elected officials, formerly incarcerated activists and family members of those currently incarcerated joined together at City Hall Park to launch the countdown towards the hopeful closure of Rikers Island. Organizations such as the the Freedom Agenda, Fortune Society, Women's Community Justice Association, VOCAL-NY, Osborne Association, Bronx Connect, El Puente, among others, joined City Council members Jennifer Gutierrez, Alexa Aviles, Shahana Hanif, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, City Comptroller Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to hold Mayor Eric Adams’ administration accountable for closing Rikers Island.
In 2019, the City Council passed legislation that would mandate the closure of Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails that can hold 3,300 people each. However, Mayor Eric Adams, while vowing to comply with the law, has pushed back and called for a better plan, sparking frustration among advocates and elected officials. Adams also has said that the current approach “was a flawed plan from the beginning.”
The population in city jails is now over 6,000, which exceeds the capacity of the proposed borough-based jails. Additionally, 85% of the population are in pre-trial confinement.
“What he is doing is increasing the population of Rikers Island the way Guiliani did, increasing stop and frisk the way Guiliani did, increasing the budget of the police department the way Guiliani did,” Reynoso said at the City Hall Park event.
“He talks about it being impractical to close Rikers Island, but we saw legislation passed to stop, “stop and frisk,” and we saw crime go down, we saw the population in Rikers Island go down, and we saw this city be the safest big city in the history of this country. So we’re not talking about something that could be. We’re talking about something that was. It actually existed.”
Currently, 41% of incarcerated people in state and federal prisons have a history of mental illness. Elected officials and activists have long advocated for mental health services and rehabilitation services to decarcerate the population.
“We know what keeps our community safe and that includes working to administer evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and investing deeply in community mental health programming and substance use programs,” said Hanif.
The current population demographics of Rikers Island is 56% Black, 33%, Hispanic, 7.5% White, and 3.5% Mixed Race/Other. Electeds are also calling for the closure of Rikers as they believe it will help end the systematic incarceration of Black and Latino populations.
“Rikers Island is not safe for anyone who is on that island. And I’m always going to mention the Black and brown bodies who cannot leave there, that are detained…” said Williams.
“This is not the way to go. We’ve already decided it in the City Council, we will not go back. It is time to close Rikers Island.”
Advocates said they plan to continue to keep the Adams administration accountable through the countdown to close Rikers Island campaign.
“Now we have a mayor who says he is from those communities and said he would give us the investment we deserve, but from what I see he cares most about his brothers and sisters in blue,” said Loray Hodge, a Freedom Agenda member. “His policies only serve to mass incarcerate and further hurt our community. Rikers must be closed once and for all.”