Some things that are broken cannot be fixed. That was the primary argument rallygoers made Tuesday morning regarding Rikers Island.
Former prisoners of Rikers Island and human rights advocates from a slew of organizations assembled in Lower Manhattan just before they were scheduled to testify in front of the Board of Correction.
With their voices choking with emotion, speakers deemed Rikers Island irreparable, describing it as a penal colony rife with abuse and death. Standing outside 125 Worth St., the group brandished makeshift banners embroidered with the names of those who never made it out of Rikers and the words: “These jails are killing people.”
“I experienced Rikers Island firsthand as a teenager,” said Darren Mack, co-director of Freedom Agenda. “Rikers Island cannot be reformed. The only solution for Rikers Island is closure.”
While the rally denounced Rikers Island for allowing 13 individuals to perish inside its walls this year, speakers also set their sights on solitary confinement. Demonstrators applauded City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams for backing a bill that would ban solitary confinement in city jails, something supporters feel cannot come soon enough.
“This is worse than the death penalty to be accused of a crime and not convicted of that crime and to spend a couple of days in or reconciling and not getting the proper medical attention, not getting the proper things that you need and die right there. Some of these people are killing themselves and correction officers are watching as if it’s a joke. They really show that they don’t have any regard for human life,” former incarcerated individual Roger Clark said.
This rally comes after the New York City Board of Correction revealed in a recently released report that the jail repeatedly failed to properly manage those incarcerated, by showing deficiencies in routine patrols and even a shortcoming in performing lifesaving measures. The report also found individuals to be locked in cells for extended periods. It is with this in mind advocates are calling for an immediate shutdown of Rikers Island, citing its inability to sustain life. Not only that, advocates also say this is made worse due to many inmates suffering mental health issues.
“Over 85% of the women on Rikers have a mental health concern. Where is the decarceration? Where’s the resources for the community?” Chaplain Dr. Victoria Phillips said. “Seventy-seven percent of the women in Rikers right now go in being a victim of sexual assault in the community. We don’t address that trauma, we re-traumatized.”