View PDF version of the letter here: https://bit.ly/3ieGeQt
The Rikers Island jails should have been closed long ago. ‘Torture Island,’ as many survivors call it, has been used to rob generations of poor, Black, and Brown New Yorkers of their freedom, and to attempt to also rob them of their humanity. Rikers has no place in a city that values equity and human rights - it is a 400-acre complex of ten jails and nearly 15,000 jail beds, isolated from the rest of the city on an island composed largely of landfill, where people are caged in torturous conditions while they await their day in court, often because they can’t pay bail, or serve a short sentence.
The enormous moral costs of Rikers (and other City jails like The Boat, a floating jail in the Bronx) are matched by outrageous financial ones. New York City’s jail system spends over $556,000 per incarcerated person per year, yet still exposes people to physical conditions that harm their health (like extreme heat and cold, inoperable plumbing, mold, and methane gas from decomposing waste) and to levels of violence that prompted the Federal government to sue New York City. Even before the most recent humanitarian crisis that has led to an explosion of deaths, people in the City’s jails were routinely denied adequate food, access to legal and medical services, and supportive programming.
Closing Rikers is not an easy task, and previous efforts to do so have failed. Meanwhile, more lives have been lost or forever damaged. We can no longer talk about closing Rikers – we have to do it. We have a pathway to do so by 2027 or sooner, and the next Mayor must both address the immediate crisis and follow through on plans to erase this stain on our City once and for all.
With survivors of Rikers and impacted families leading the way, the Campaign to Close Rikers seeks to:
DECARCERATE. We must reduce the number of people incarcerated in New York City as much as possible, as fast as possible. We can do that by ending the criminalization of poverty, addiction, disability and mental health needs; protecting the presumption of innocence for everyone; and investing in resources that create true safety. By implementing the plan to close Rikers adopted in 2019, NYC will reduce the number of people in jail to its lowest level in 100 years.
DEFEND the rights of incarcerated people. While anyone is still incarcerated, conditions matter. None of New York City’s fourteen existing jails meet basic standards for human habitation, in how they are built or how they are operated. We must transform both the physical conditions of confinement for anyone who remains detained, and bring about a complete overhaul of the Department of Correction.
DIVEST & REDISTRIBUTE. Closing the Rikers Island jails as well as the Boat, and shrinking citywide jail capacity by 75% in alignment with the plan to close Rikers adopted in 2019, creates a pathway to divert at least $1.8 billion annually from the Department of Correction. Elected leaders must move swiftly to redirect DOC’s inflated budget to resources that meet people’s needs - like housing, healthcare, education, and employment - and by doing so, create true safety.