GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATIONS CELEBRATE CITY COUNCIL VOTE THAT PAVES WAY TO CLOSING RIKERS ISLAND

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[New York News\Mass Incarceration]
Elena Weissman, Director, Bronx Freedom Fund: “In solidarity with the CLOSErikers campaign, we applaud the Council for approving this historic plan to dramatically shrink our incarcerated population, improve conditions for all who are incarcerated, and reduce our reliance on the criminal legal system so that we may redirect resources to communities harmed by mass incarceration. The Bronx Freedom Fund envisions a world that addresses injustice and harm without incarceration."
Photo: Facebook

Kalief Browder--after he was unjustly arrested by NYPD officers--became one of the victims of the savage conditions at Rikers Island.

The #CLOSErikers campaign, led by people most impacted by the isolation, abuse and corruption of Rikers Island, declared an important victory yesterday.

City Council members voted Thursday to move forward with the historic Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to build four borough-based facilities — a vital step in facilitating the closure of the isolated Rikers Island jail complex and the Boat (Vernon C Bain Correctional Center) and shrinking the NYC jails system from 12 jails to four.

Today's historic vote to finally shutter Rikers Island happened because the people who survived the trauma and horrors of Rikers have been organizing a movement for justice for years,” said Vidal Guzman, Campaign Organizer at #CLOSErikers campaign. “The leadership by people who have been most harmed by Rikers Island is the reason why New York City is now on a clear path to reduce its capacity to incarcerate people by 75 percent—all while moving human beings out of torturous conditions. As we celebrate today's victory, let's not lose site of tomorrow's fight: we must continue to push for further investments in our community, explore opportunities to divest from law enforcement agencies and continue advocating for a complete transformation of justice in New York City.”

The City Council responded to campaign leaders’ calls for investments by including in the Points of Agreement investments in resources outside of the criminal legal system, including housing instability, mental health resources, and alternatives to incarceration that prioritize restorative justice. Other bills passed today will codify minimum standards, improve transparency through reporting, and initiate a process to secure the investments our communities have always deserved, under the guidance of directly impacted people.

“Today, we finally close Rikers Island,” said Vivian Nixon, Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship. “We applaud City Council for their commitment to standing on the right side of history and even more so, our formerly incarcerated advocates who have led this movement and tirelessly fought to enact change. But our work does not end here. Even though Torture Island’s days are numbered, we must remain steadfast and continue holding the system accountable for investing in communities and families that have been disproportionately disrupted because of over-policing and mass incarceration. This parallel path is the only way to guarantee the emergence of a truly equitable and just society.”

Communities who have been the most affected by incarceration at Rikers Island should not have to wait a day longer to know that all Rikers jails WILL be closing,” said Melissa Iachan, Senior Staff Attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYPLI). “NYLPI joins together with our partners in the #CloseRikers coalition to applaud the momentous step our elected officials take today, which will decrease the number of people jailed in our city by more than half, invest in the well-being of affected communities, and bring us closer to our goal of ending mass incarceration. We look forward to working with our community partners, and with the Council and administration, to ensure that any future use of the island brings direct benefits to the communities who have been the most impacted by the criminal justice system.”

In April 2016, JustLeadershipUSA launched the #CLOSErikers campaign, centering the leadership of people harmed by Rikers to demand the closure of the notorious jail complex which sits on a toxic landfill and is a site of extreme and persistent violence by jail guards. In the span of just a year, organizers took the demand to close Rikers from a lofty ideal to the stated policy of New York City.

Since the launch of the campaign, the movement for closure has continued to gain strength and momentum for our demand that Rikers is closed forever and that New York City reinvest resources that have been directed to law enforcement & the criminal legal system to #buildCOMMUNITIES. Our #buildCOMMUNITIES platform demands reinvestment of funds saved by jail closures and divestment from justice agencies to fund community resources that can address public health and safety needs and lead to a continued, sustained drop in incarceration rates — while ensuring much-improved conditions in the new facilities.

We applaud City Council Members Diana Ayala, Stephen Levin, Margaret Chin, Karen Koslowitz, & Corey Johnson for their leadership in this historic effort, along with their colleagues: Daneek Miller, Peter Koo, Andrew Cohen, Ritchie Torres, Mark Levine, Robert Cornegy, Carlina Rivera, Ben Kallos, Bill Perkins, Keith Powers, Vanessa Gibson, Costa Constantinides, Donovan Richards, Barry Grodenchik, Antonio Reynoso, Laurie Cumbo, Brad Lander, Justin Brannan, Mark Treyger, Debbie Rose, Daniel Dromm, Helen Rosenthal, Francisco Moya, Rory Lancman, Farah Louis, Ydanis Rodriguez, Paul Vallone, Mathieu Eugene, and Adrienne Adams. The historic vote enjoys broad support across the city. The following leaders chimed in with their support for the vote and their continuing commitment to criminal justice reform efforts:

“In solidarity with the CLOSErikers campaign, we applaud the Council for approving this historic plan to dramatically shrink our incarcerated population, improve conditions for all who are incarcerated, and reduce our reliance on the criminal legal system so that we may redirect resources to communities harmed by mass incarceration. The Bronx Freedom Fund envisions a world that addresses injustice and harm without incarceration, and this plan is a stepping stone to that future. It is thanks to the tireless advocacy of people harmed by Rikers Island for generations that we can end the atrocities of Rikers Island once and for all.”Elena Weissman, Director, Bronx Freedom Fund.

“We give thanks for the historic steps represented by the actions of the New York City Council. We are grateful for the leadership of directly impacted individuals and JustLeadershipUSA and the members of the #CLOSErikers campaign. We will continue to pray and work to reform the criminal justice system in New York through the principles of restorative justice.” — The Rev. Mark Koenig, Justice Ministries Committee, Presbytery of New York City.

I can see a day when Rikers jails are permanently closed – it requires legislation to ensure that any Mayor will not backtrack and keep that closure in mind – and that is still our immediate goal. Today, if it takes smaller, replacement jails to close Rikers, then the Mayor and the City Council must pay heed. We will then eventually need to close the new ones as well.”Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

"As a criminal justice reformer who has been advocating for humane solutions to crime since 1999, I am proud to call myself a New Yorker today. Our City's audacious move, away from a system of punishment and injustice, and towards a smaller, community-based system, speaks to the power of the people coming together to demand bold and fearless action. This commitment to a smaller jail system is a testament to the strength of our advocacy and organizing community. We will continue to fight to keep City officials accountable to those who have been harmed from decades of oppressive policies and mass incarceration.”Rev. Wendy Calderón-Payne, Executive Director, BronxConnect.

It is time that we hold our elected officials accountable. When they mention Kalief Browder or Layleen Polanco’s names, it is on everyone of us to enforce that they do the work to create change. With all of the advocacy occurring throughout the criminal legal system (I will not refer to it as the criminal justice system because I have yet to see true justice); it is our shared responsibility to end inhumane and often barbaric treatment of incarcerated individuals. After having worked on Rikers, I felt compelled to come forward, advocate for change and push for the ending of such explosive violations of human rights. My parents did not serve this nation for the illusion of equality and justice for all.” — Minister, Dr. Victoria A. Phillips - Ms. V, Founder of Visionary V and member of the Jails Action Coalition.

“Collective leadership of those closest to the problem paved the way to close Rikers Island, and the continued collective leadership of directly impacted people will transform our justice system into one that is based on healing, community and love. This historical City Council vote is only the first step in transforming our broken systems. We applaud the City Council for their courage, and commitment not only to investing in our justice system, but also in investing in communities, as preventative resources will ensure our communities do not become involved in the justice system in the first place. We have much more work to do, including ending solitary confinement; developing a guide of humanistic principles, and implement them, with respect to design, culture and programming; ensuring all people, including members of the LGBTQAI+ population, have all of their needs fully met to end the cycles of crime and poverty; and, much more. This vote today shows that people can move government.” Kandra Clark, Associate Vice President, Exodus Transitional Community.

Today’s vote is a historic victory in the fight to end mass incarceration and advance racial justice in New York City. For too long, Rikers Island has festered in the East River, separating the accused from their families and networks of support and protecting the jails from accountability. Today we say, ‘no more.’ Today, we call on the City to close the jails on Rikers much faster than the current 2026 timeline and to work to immediately improve conditions on Riker’s for those who remain incarcerated and those who work in the jails. The culture on Riker’s Island impacts all of us. Everyone on Riker’s returns to our neighborhoods. Let’s help us all to be better neighbors to one another. This vote to close Rikers is an important victory in the movement for criminal justice reform, but the work to build a justice system that honors the dignity and humanity of all of our neighbors by investing in our neighborhoods and disinvesting in punishment remains.” The Rev. Winnie Varghese, Trinity Church Wall Street.

"The City Council's vote to close Rikers Island and build smaller and safer borough-based jails marks a huge step towards a more just New York City. For more than two decades, Osborne has worked with thousands of people a year inside Rikers—and in the community—to provide meaningful pathways home. When asked by the City to contribute to the design process, Osborne worked with directly affected families and communities to ensure that these new jails will be focused on the wellbeing of the people who live in them, work in them, and visit them. We congratulate the advocates who started the effort to close Rikers and everyone who has pushed this project forward. As New York continues to address the harms caused by Rikers Island and current criminal justice practices, it is essential that they continue to invest in communities most affected by incarceration, ensure that fewer people are arrested and detained, and that the oppressive culture on Rikers Island is not imported into the new jails and programs."Osborne Association President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes.

The support from the City Council for the ULURP plan is an important step toward ensuring that people who become incarcerated remain connected to their communities and families and have more access to resources they need. We also applaud the City’s commitment to reducing the jail population. At GOSO, we have worked with participants at Rikers since 2004 to provide robust programming that assists with reentry to communities and keeps more young people out of jail. Existing jails, as they historically have been structured, do not have rehabilitation in mind. Though more programs and opportunities have been offered by DOC in recent years, many people in NYC jails do not have sufficient access to school, work, and programs, not to mention sufficient light, air and other decent living conditions. GOSO is committed to continuing to advocate for a justice system that values human dignity and looks forward to working to ensure that the implementation of this plan is carried out in conjunction with increased programming that addresses mental health needs, better and more humane design and increased diversion opportunities instead of incarceration that will lead to improved neighborhoods and communities throughout our City and State.”Getting Out and Staying Out President and CEO Mark L. Goldsmith.

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

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