On Tuesday, April 24th, activists from the #CLOSErikers Campaign, partner and grassroots organizations rallied at New York City Hall to demand accountability and action from Mayor de Blasio on his commitment to reduce the jail population and shutter the horrific jail complex on Rikers Island. Communities demanded the Mayor #CLOSErikers NOW and end to the criminalization of Black people and communities of color, immigrants, and poor people that feeds New York City’s jail crisis. #CLOSErikers campaign leaders rallied in partnership with the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, Brooklyn Defender Services, Community Access, Communities United for Police Reform, The Legal Aid Society, VOCAL-New York, and the Women’s Prison Association.

Demands from campaign leaders and grassroots organizations included: ending broken windows policing, dismantling NYPD gang databases, expanding alternatives to incarceration, and investing in communities.

The harm at Rikers remains. Recent reports show that:

  • 75% of the Rikers population is awaiting trial
  • 42% of the people in city jails have mental health needs; more than 10% have serious mental health diagnosis
  • While the City is 26% Black and 29% Latino – Rikers jails are 53% Black and 35% Latino. 
  • Nunez monitor cites continued inhumane conditions and culture of violence with COs causing tremendous harm and responsible for perpetuating the culture of violence 
  • The State Commission of Correction identified Rikers as one of the five worst jails in the state
  • Violence plagues the island, and is especially bad for uniquely vulnerable populations, such as transgender individuals
  • Incidents of sexual abuse increased by 40% from 2016-17, and 97% of those allegations are still pending.

Mayor de Blasio must end mass criminalization and begin decarceration of Rikers by:

  • Ending Broken Windows Policing
  • Ending and destroying the NYPD’s gang database
  • Increasing pre-arrest diversions
  • Decriminalizing low level “quality of life” offenses to reduce arrests and prosecutions 
  • Ending arrests for fare evasion, low-level drug charges, sex work, and gravity knife

possession, and ending the NYPD’s quota-system for arrests and summonses.

  • Eliminating profit-driven money bail practices
  • Ensuring the Constitutional right to a speedy trial
  • Expanding existing alternative to incarceration programs
  • Diverting people with mental health or drug dependency issues into treatment
  • Eliminating discriminatory policies and practices to remedy the overrepresentation of Black and brown people, LGBTQI and gender non-conforming people in the criminal justice system
  • Investing in practices resources focused on safety and rehabilitation without incarceration which furthers harm
  • Overhauling discovery, speedy trial and bail laws. 
  • Resources saved by closing Rikers must be reinvested in communities with their input to expand access to housing, employment, education, and mental health and drug dependency treatment.

 

URGENT DEMAND SNAPSHOTS

Ending the Gang Database 

The City of Portland has ended gang databases; for New York City it is simply a matter of political will. Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD must end the database of alleged gang members and people affiliated with gangs, the secret list is unaccountable and police of use it as a prime tool for racial profiling. Once a person is arrested, there exists an added bias in court. Prosecutors can use it during plea bargaining, in bail negotiations, in trials and even to subject people to longer sentences.

Ending Broken Windows Policing

Pre-court diversion should be an option for people who experience a police encounter. But we also know there are deeper, systematic issues relating to over-policing of communities that need to be addressed so that fewer police interactions occur in the first place. We need community-based interventions to be fully funded and do not agree with relying on police to serve as the liaison between communities and community-based interventions. Grassroots communities and New Yorkers fighting gentrification and the criminalization of poverty have led the charge putting this issue on the map in New York City. Our communities have creative solutions that don’t rely on punishment.

Expanding Alternatives to Incarceration

Diversion and ATI programming must be expanded significantly to ensure that incarceration and pre-trial detention are never our default option for addressing New York City’s issues surrounding public health or public safety. Alternatives to incarceration enable people to maintain employment and housing, remain with their families, and continue contributing to their communities while saving taxpayer dollars and providing more sentencing options to the courts that reduce or eliminate the long-lasting impact and trauma of interacting with the criminal justice system.

Investing in Communities

In order to drastically reduce New York City’s jail population, we must address the root causes of why people interact with the justice system in the first place. New York City must reinvest the resources that have been spent on a failed jail system to repair the harm that has been done to the most impacted communities. We believe that people who have experienced Rikers and who have directly experienced harm in our communities – must lead us in this movement-building effort.The processof identifying the specific needs of our city– such as eliminating police in schools, fixing the affordable housing crisis, or restoring and expanding social services– must create space for real community engagement through local forums and town halls.

Campaign Leaders and Partners said the following: 

“Mayor de Blasio, as well as the governor, need to stop pointing fingers and start making good on the promises they have each made to New Yorkers. For the Mayor, specifically, this means ending Broken Windows policing and petty arrests, as outlined in the Lippman Commission report.” – VOCAL-NY community leader Darryl Herring.

“The NYPD’s gang database is a tool of mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown New Yorkers. Closing Rikers Island and abolishing the NYPD gang database go hand in hand with each other.  There is no requirement of criminality to enter the NYPD gang database and once people are labeled as gang associates they face higher bail, enhanced sentences and severe conditions of confinement. We hope the Mayor and City Council hears our cries and convenes an oversight hearing on this matter immediately.” –Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society.

“Nearly 80% of people on Rikers Island are being jailed pretrial, most for the inability to afford bail. “We can end that injustice and make progress toward shuttering Rikers by abolishing money bail. So long as we have bail, the Mayor’s office needs to be working to change the practices of the individuals who decide on a daily basis who is criminalized, prosecuted, and having bail set. With our partners we demand that the Mayor and City take immediate concrete steps towards decarceration and closing Rikers now.” –Peter Goldberg, Executive Director, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

“A proud member organization of JustLeadershipUSA, the Women’s Prison Association (WPA) is in full support of efforts to reduce NYC’s jail population by increasing funding for and use of alternatives to incarceration.  These programs cost far less than incarceration and are proven to increase public safety and strengthen communities without traumatizing our loved ones or criminalizing poverty.  WPA envisions a community where our reliance on incarceration as the default response to crime has been replaced by constructive, community-driven responses and we believe that closing Rikers now is the first step toward realizing this vision in NYC.”

“Rikers Island is a blight on New York City and we need to close it down. We already have a path for closing and reimagining criminal justice in New York, we just need leadership to speed this up. Every day that Rikers is open, more people are put into a jail that breaks people and families down.” –Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Community Access and the CCIT-NYC coalition fully support the closing of Rikers now. We need to ensure that when Rikers closes, we address the needs of the 40% of people on Rikers who live with mental health concerns.” “We are grateful for the Mayor’s announcement to create the NYC Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force because we need a better system to address crisis calls. We also need housing for those released. Supportive housing for those being released is essential. In addition, we need more respite centers – places where people feeling unwell can go to get back on their feet. We need Rikers to close and we need to address the concerns of those being released who live with mental health concerns.” –Carla Rabinowitz, Advocacy Coordinator at Community Access

“As we mark two years of the #CLOSErikers campaign, it’s important to recognize how far we have come, and how far we have to go. Together, we have built a statewide movement for pre-trial justice reform and decarceration, but thousands of people continue to suffer extreme brutality and other inhumane treatment on Rikers Island every day. There is more the City can and must do. For example, today, one-in-six people on Rikers and in other City jails is facing felony drug charges. Ending these arrests is one key way for the City to accelerate the closure of Rikers Island. In addition, the City should end all charge-based restrictions on access to supervised release.” – Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director, Brooklyn Defender Services

“Mayor de Blasio must stop failing to address the persisting racial disparities in policing in this city that target communities of color and unnecessarily involve them in the criminal justice system. His inaction to end these disparities in stops, arrests, and policing overall are perpetuating the pipeline that feeds Rikers, and will only impede its closure. The Lippmann report recommended ending arrests as a response to many issues, but yet this administration has failed to address them and the front end of the system – in discriminatory over-policing – that drives incarceration.” –Carolyn Martinez-Class, Organizing & Policy Coordinator, Communities United for Police Reform 

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Led by directly impacted communities an in partnership with more than 150 organizations, the #CLOSErikers campaign fights to close the Rikers jail complex and #buildCOMMUNITIES.