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CONTACT: Emily NaPier, Dir. of Public Affairs, emily@justleadershipusa.org or 315.243.5135

#CLOSErikers CAMPAIGN APPLAUDS MAYOR de BLASIO FOR JOINING THE MOVEMENT

Following Relentless Advocacy from the #CLOSErikers Campaign, City Hall Joins the Effort to #CLOSErikers and Begin Building Communities

NEW YORK, NY, March 31, 2017 – Today, a year after the #CLOSErikers campaign launched a relentless advocacy effort, Mayor de Blasio announced City Hall’s support for closing Rikers Island. Throughout this campaign there have been a number of important milestones – including the creation of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform led by Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, and the commitment to remove 16- and 17- year olds from Rikers – however, none were more important than convincing City Hall that closing Rikers Island was not only the right thing to do, but possible.

Over the past year, the campaign amassed an impressive range of supporters including elected officials, faith leaders, advocates, community-based organizations, and thousands of other New Yorkers.  This is a historic moment for the campaign, yet the work is not over. The #CLOSErikers campaign will continue the critical organizing efforts that led to today’s announcement.

“Today we made a step in the right direction towards safety and justice for all New Yorkers, especially those who have been harmed by Rikers Island, said Glenn E. Martin, President and Founder of JustLeadershipUSA and founder of the #CLOSErikers campaign.  I am grateful that Mayor de Blasio has joined the progressive majority and is now supportive of the call to close this failed institution.  As someone who served time at Rikers, today’s news is especially meaningful to me.  Mayor de Blasio has finally heard the demands of the #CLOSErikers campaign, and we thank him for recognizing that the problem with Rikers is Rikers.  I celebrate this announcement alongside our 135 organizational partners, as well as the thousands of New Yorkers who have supported the #CLOSErikers campaign.”

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio for joining the #CLOSErikers movement today. For years, people who have been incarcerated on Rikers, their families, and their friends have demanded the closure of Rikers,” said Melody Lee, Co-Founder of Katal Center of Health Equity and Justice and one of the organizations leading the #CLOSErikers campaign. “Today is a historic moment not only in New York City, but nationally. New York City, the progressive beacon of this country, will not continue to incarcerate Black and brown people in the most notorious jail in the country – Rikers Island will be closed once and for all.”

“People say you can’t fight City Hall, but this important grassroots campaign proves that’s not true,” said Martin Horn, former New York City Corrections Commissioner. “We would not be celebrating the end of a sad chapter in New York City history were it not for the #CLOSErikers campaign, which worked day and night to rally the community around an idea that many initially laughed at. I am grateful that this time around we can finally begin what has long been considered a pipe dream for criminal justice reforms – the closure of Rikers Island. Now the hard work of reforming the system and obtaining community support for replacement sites begins. This is a good day for New York, and I want to thank #CLOSErikers for helping to make it happen.”

“Rikers Island is beyond reform and we applaud Mayor de Blasio for calling for its closure,” said  Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director of VOCAL-NY. “Now, we must band together to win policies and practices that will dramatically reduce our city’s jail population and end unnecessary incarceration. Only then, can we ensure that the closure of Rikers will become a reality.”

“This is for Kalief Browder and all the Kaliefs that went through the Abu Gharib of NYC,” said Darren Mack, a #CLOSErikers member. “The Mayor’s decision to support the closure of Rikers will send a message across the nation that New York City is serious about ending mass incarceration and creating a criminal justice system that is no longer rooted in punishment, but fosters greater public safety.”

“Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is thrilled with Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that we must finally close Rikers Island jail,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “This represents a major step in making our justice system more humane and more accountable. We must now make sure legislators in Albany pass the necessary reforms to ensure a timely closure for Rikers Island.”

“The news of the closing of Rikers Island in 10 years is incredible for all those who suffered within its walls,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney in Charge of the Criminal Practice at the Legal Aid Society. “This could not have been possible without the powerful calls to “shut it down”, led by Glenn Martin, JustLeadershipUSA and the #CLOSErikers coalition. While we wait anxiously for the transition to take place, the Legal Aid Society will continue to provide litigation and advocacy to ensure all those that are held there are protected from abuse and neglect.”

“For decades, Rikers Island has stood as a shameful symbol of the criminalization of low-income Black and Latinx communities in New York City,” said Adilka Pimentel, Youth Organizer of Make The Road. “Today’s announcement that the city is committed to closing and significantly reducing the population on Rikers Island is an important step in creating a more fair and just New York City. It’s important that during the process to close Rikers those most impacted by mass incarceration and criminalization are involved in visioning and developing the strategies to keep our community members out of the criminal justice system and ensuring investments reach historically under resourced communities of color. We thank the Mayor, Council Speaker, and City Council for making this commitment to close Rikers Island and significantly reduce the number of New Yorkers being incarcerated. We applaud the leadership of JustLeadershipUSA and the Katal Center in leading a grassroots campaign to move New York City to the forefront of criminal justice reform.”

“Today Mayor de Blasio joined a call that has been made over and over again by people of color in New York City and everyone who stands for justice and fairness,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “He said that he supports closing the jails at Rikers Island. He said he is convinced it’s possible.  He stood next to NY City Council President Melissa Mark-Viverito – who has championed this cause for years – when he made this historic announcement.  The Mayor is heeding the community here and the #CLOSErikers Campaign that has garnered over 135 partners including LatinoJustice PRLDEF.  I applaud the Mayor for this step because it will finally address the human rights abuses that have existed at Rikers jails for far too long.”

“Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) celebrates Mayor de Blasio’s agreement to close Rikers and congratulates the historic #CLOSErikers campaign that made this possible,” said Alisa Wellek, Executive Director of the Immigrant Defense Project. “The closure of Rikers, coupled with broader criminal justice reform, will help bring New York City closer to making sanctuary real for immigrants and all of us.”

“The Mayor’s announcement of a plan to reduce the detained population and ultimately close the jails on Rikers Island is a welcome development,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services. “I applaud Glenn Martin of JustLeadershipUSA and gabriel sayegh of the Katal Center for their powerful leadership of the #CLOSErikers campaign, of which Brooklyn Defender Services is proud to be a member. We look forward to working with our campaign partners, the Mayor, and the City Council to ensure the closure of Rikers Island as soon as possible. Thousands of our clients are detained on the Island every year, most of them presumed innocent but in jail because the courts set money bail beyond what they can afford. Their experiences give meaning to the refrain that ‘the problem with Rikers is Rikers.’ These jails have long exemplified the shameful and counterproductive way in which our society treats people who are convicted or merely accused of crimes, and an end to this chapter cannot come soon enough.”

“This victory is the result of tireless organizing by activists and family members of New Yorkers incarcerated on Rikers Island,” said Justine Olderman, Managing Director at the Bronx Defenders. “We commend the Mayor for responding to their concerns and recognizing that Rikers Island cannot be reformed and must be closed.  But closing Rikers is not enough. We must double down on our efforts to reduce the number of people in our city’s jails, starting with the revolving door of arrests created by broken windows policing. We must also ensure that the culture of violence and degradation that was tolerated for too long at Rikers not be replicated ever again.”

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio’s decision to close Rikers Island and salute JustLeadershipUSA’s commitment to fighting for the safety and protection of incarcerated people,” said Scott Roberts, Senior Criminal Justice Director at Color of Change. “Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform of criminal justice reform, and reducing the number of people in the city’s most notorious jail complex is a critical step toward fulfilling his promises. Rikers Island became a symbol of everything that is wrong with far too many American jails, and we are hopeful that more leaders will get serious about shutting down these institutions that extract resources from our communities and further cycles of victimization and over-incarceration.”

“Today is a huge day for the movement to close Rikers and for all New Yorkers,” said Bill Lipton, NY State Director of the Working Families Party. “This would not have been possible without the leadership of JustLeadershipUSA, Katal, and the dozens of organizations and tens of thousands of New Yorkers who built this movement. The Working Families Party is proud to stand with them as well as Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark Viverito in a broad and united front aimed at transforming our criminal justice system from one where people emerge more damaged than they entered to one that is truly committed to justice and public safety for all.”

“BronxConnect would like to express gratitude to the leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito upon the announcement of set plans to close Rikers Island,” said Rev. Wendy Calderón-Payne, Executive Director of BronxConnect. “Community members have fought hard to help Mayor de Blasio see that this was the only just option for our progressive city. However, we are distressed that the projections are for 10 years.  We will continue to fight until Rikers claims no more bodies and souls of our children. Even as New York City has seen the dramatic decrease of violence, crime and shootings, we believe that with the right passage of just laws and the implementation of programs that build up our communities, the goal of 5,000 citywide inmates can be reached in just a few years. We must think big and work together for a safer just city, so that the Rikers Island hell hole becomes a faint recollection of a former inhumane city that no longer exists.”

“It’s a great feeling to know that the Mayor of New York City is answering the call of the residents,” said K-Born Rivers Founder of I Am My Community INC in the Bronx. “Being on Rikers Island and having to live through the pain and corruption, I took it personally when I was asked to be a part of the #CLOSErikers Campaign. It’s far from over, because now it’s time to push full speed ahead and work on getting speedy trial reform in New York. It’s time for the Mayor to fund grassroots organizations and local programs, so that we can help keep people from going to Rikers or getting arrested at all.”

“The NASW-NYC is proud to be an organizational partner on the campaign to #CLOSErikers,” said Juli Kempner, Executive Director of NASW-NYC. “We fully support this important first step taken by our progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio today toward finally closing Rikers Island, which has been a mark of shame on our city. As the largest professional social work association in the city, we look forward to the work ahead in building communities and making this first step a reality.  We thank Glenn E. Martin and JustLeadershipUSA; gabriel sayegh and Katal; members, organizational partners; and supporters of the campaign for the collaboration in this important work.”

“Rikers Island is emblematic of the dysfunction, waste, and inhumanity of our nation’s criminal justice infrastructure, and Mayor De Blasio’s commitment to closing Riker’s Island shows the foresight and conviction we must demand from all our elected officials,” said Thomas Safian, Executive Director of Refoundry. “It’s the first small step in the long journey toward creating a comprehensive criminal justice system that benefits all communities. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to leaders like Glenn Martin, Gabriel Sayegh and the entire CLOSErikers campaign for bringing these pressing issues to the forefront. Let’s keep moving forward in common cause for justice, equality and opportunity that are the hallmarks our City and our nation.”

“The way we treat our most marginalized speaks volumes about our city, and for decades Rikers Island has communicated the message that violence and abuse are simply realities that we must accept,” said Ezra Ritchin, Project Director at the Bronx Freedom Fund. “Today, we are seeing a shift in that narrative. The Bronx Freedom Fund applauds the Mayor and welcomes the closure of Rikers. Much of this progress can be traced to the tremendous advocacy of the #CLOSErikers movement, lifting the voices of those who have directly experienced the cruel and unusual reality of Rikers Island. Our clients should be home while they await trial, rather than languishing behind bars in one of the country’s most notoriously violent jails. To expedite closure, we must reduce the population detained on the island. The Freedom Fund will continue to secure the release of those who cannot afford to buy their freedom, emptying Rikers until we can close Rikers.

“We are glad to hear that Mayor de Blasio has committed to closing Rikers Island,” said Jonathan Westin, Executive Director of New York Communities for Change. “Rikers is the physical embodiment of NYC’s overall lack of investment in jobs, education, affordable housing, supportive services and opportunities for low-income New Yorkers and communities of color. The violence and suffering perpetuated at Rikers has persisted for far too long. We will keep fighting, along with our allies in the Close Rikers movement, to end mass incarceration in New York.

“We applaud the Mayor for making the commitment to close Rikers, an institution that has done unimaginable harm to thousands of young people,” said Laurie Parise, Executive Director of Youth Represent. “We hope this move accelerates the process of moving 16 and 17 year olds off the Island, and inspires lawmakers in Albany to Raise the Age of adult prosecution to 18. We congratulate JustLeadershipUSA and the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice and we are proud to be part of the movement to Close Rikers!”

“Through community power, we have been able to make huge strides to move towards closing Rikers; Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support is only the first step,” Devyn Manibo, Community Engagement Coordinator, Theatre of the Oppressed, NYC. “Now, more than ever, we need creative participatory democracy to activate our communities and make this a reality. As #CLOSErikers organizational partners, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC is proud to support JustLeadershipUSA and the Katal Center for Health Equity and Justice in all of their efforts to mobilize New Yorkers for comprehensive change in our criminal justice system. We will not stop until we get there.”

“On this day Mayor de Blasio has made an impact on more than just the criminal justice system. He has impacted families across New York city and the nation,” said Samantha Johnson, a #CLOSErikers member. “I am overwhelmed with the fact that we have the opportunity to reimagine our criminal justice systems, and invest in our communities that have been directly impacted by Rikers Island. This is a moment in history for me, and my community, and I know we must continue to grind and make sure the closure of Rikers Island is done right. Mayor Bill de Blasio we will still hold you accountable to make sure that black and brown communities directly impacted by torture island are given the space, and resources to heal and thrive.”

“Future generations will only know Rikers Island as a scary bedtime story,” said Mallah-Divine Mallah, a #CLOSErikers member. “They will only hear about the Captain who had a tattoo of a hanging black baby. No more will Terror Island be a proving ground for manhood. Now we can get to the business of building communities.”

“We applaud Mayor De Blasio for his announcement to close Rikers Island,” said Rev. Rubén Austria, Executive Director of Community Connections for Youth. “Our prayer remains that the $1.3 billion that NYC spends to cage people each year – $209,000 per person – would be invested in PEOPLE instead of prisons.”

“When thinking of my children’s future and wrongful arrest, Rikers sits in the back of my mind as one of the worst nightmares,” said William Evans of Neighborhood Benches. “Today’s news sort of dismantled that thought. We made headway for a brighter future for our children. I worked on Rikers Island years after having spent time detained there, and I saw nothing had changed. I am glad to hear that the Mayor has realized that reform is not enough. Neighborhood Benches engages youth and NYCHA residents around social justice issues to elevate the voices of individuals who have been impacted by injustice. I am excited that their voices have been heard and that I can tell them that Rikers is being closed.”

“I thank the mayor for doing the right thing,” said Theresa Sweeney, JustLeadserhipUSA Leading with Conviction 2016 fellow and #CLOSErikers member. “But I think we can do better. Ten years is too long for the people on Torture Island. As someone who worked on Rikers, I witnessed the violence on a daily basis. We still have a lot of work to do on the state level to decrease the jail population in New York City.”

“We are relieved that the end of Rikers Island is finally in sight. An institution as dysfunctional and corrupt as Rikers has no place in a humane justice system.” said Brandon J. Holmes, Organizer for the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The Speaker put closing Rikers front-and-center on everyone’s agenda and we’re pleased that the Lippman Commission’s plan has also won the support of the mayor. We will continue to press for essential criminal justice reforms, like speedy trial and bail reform, alongside the #CLOSErikers campaign, to make the presumption of innocence a reality and we will never forget what the system did to Kalief Browder.”

“In the midst of so much in our current political system that is broken, it is worth celebrating Mayor de Blasio’s support for finally ending the broken system that is Rikers. It is worth celebrating the countless New Yorkers who marched and prayed for an end to this brutal prison that has become synonymous with the horrific warehousing of poor people and people of color. It is worth celebrating that our city’s actions have now become a bit better aligned with our progressive values. Places like Rikers have no place in a city that claims to be progressive. And the battle is not over. As a faith leader, I preach and believe that the need for comprehensive prison reform goes deeper and reaches wider than what will be accomplished on this small island in New York City. That is why we will continue to work with our partners city-wide to live into the second half of the #CloseRIKERS campaign slogan: Close Rikers, yes. And also, build communities. – Rev. Adriene Thorne Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn

“We applaud Mayor DeBlasio’s commitment to closing Riker’s Island and and to the tireless efforts of JLUSA and Katal in leading the CloseRikers campaign. The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund works to end the unjust practice of jailing presumptively innocent men, women and children for their inability to afford bail, a necessary first step in the fight to end money bail. Rikers currently warehouses men, women and children for their inability to afford even modest amounts of bail. Closing Rikers and abolishing cash bail is necessary if New York is take its place as a leader in criminal justice reform. ” – Peter Goldberg | Executive Director, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

“In this season of Lent, we who follow the way of Jesus remember he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to… proclaim release to the captivesto let the oppressed go free…”  Middle Church and I are celebrate the tenacious work of  the #CLOSErikers campaign; liberating those captive to oppressive systems is an act of faith! Our victory testifies to the heroic potential in every human being to insist on justice, and to the love revolution that invites resistance.  We know that when one of our human family is dehumanized in such atrocious conditions, we are all diminished. Now let’s use our #LovePower to push our leaders to #RaisetheAge, so that our children are not incarcerated as though they adults.” – Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church

“The NYC Presbytery Committee for Witness to Society & the World  commends the positive efforts of JustLeadershipUSA and the Katal Center for their effective campaign to CloseRikers.This well organized and energetic grass-roots effort, informed by the voices of those most directly affected, together with the powerful and revealing documentary entitled “Rikers” produced by Bill Moyers, was instrumental in identifying the terrible conditions on Rikers Island. This movement was able to help change the mind of Mayor Bill deBlasio to support the recommendations of the Lippman Commission report, calling for modernization and humanization of  the criminal justice system in NYC, resulting in the closing of Rikers Island jail. We will continue to support the next phases of this important campaign.” – Dave Ehlke, NYC Presbytery CWSW

“The notorious penal colony known as Rikers Island has long been a symbol of injustice, pain, and systemic racism,” said gabriel sayegh, Co-Founder of Katal Center of Health Equity and Justice and one of the organizations leading the #CLOSErikers campaign. “For too long, city leaders lacked the courage to support a plan that would lead to closing the arcane facility. Our relentless campaign changed the situation. Today, it is more of a liability to support keeping Rikers open. That is a testament to the efforts of the #CLOSErkers campaign, the important work of our many partners, and the grassroots movement the team built.”

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About #CLOSErikers

The #CLOSErikers campaign was formed in 2016 to break the political gridlock and achieve real solutions that are guided by directly impacted communities. Led by JustLeadershipUSA, in partnership with other organizations, the #CLOSErikers campaign includes community groups, researchers, faith and human rights leaders, criminal justice experts, health and housing service providers, advocacy and legal groups and more. Through the campaign, over 135 diverse organizations across New York City have joined together to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio close Rikers. By closing Rikers, New York City can focus on healing and rebuilding the communities where Rikers has brought suffering. The campaign to #CLOSErikers is calling for New Yorkers to boldly reimagine the city’s failed criminal justice system and become a national leader in ending mass incarceration. www.closerikers.org