In a court of public opinion, Rikers Island is guilty of inhumanity and should be condemned to its demise, criminal justice advocates and elected officials charged Thursday morning.
During the latest protest against horrific conditions at the correctional facility, protesters gathered in the cold rain outside City Hall on Jan. 20 to rail against the state of the infamous jail, pointing out that a vast number of those who currently reside there have yet to be convicted of a crime.
“First of all, let’s get it straight, it is a jail. That means you are innocent until proven guilty,” said Akeem Browder, brother of Kalief Browder, who was arrested at age 16 in 2010 and spent three years in solitary confinement without being convicted of a crime; he later committed suicide. “Most of the people that we are representing right now are at three years on Rikers for nonviolent crimes. Three years still on Rikers, but the judges, the District Attorneys, and the court correction officers are playing a part in all of it. They don’t want to bring people to court. They use COVID as an excuse. Yet that does not excuse the rights that these people have to a speedy trial.”
These claims come after a group of incarcerated individuals have in a hunger strike, with several elected officials making a surprise visit to the jail this week and decried the lack of COVID-19 protections, harmful sanitary conditions, the lack of mental health access, and more.
Council Member Carlina Rivera, who was later appointed Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Criminal Justice, pledged her efforts on fostering humane policies rather than continuing a system that perpetuates violence.
Additionally, Rivera shared that she would do everything within her power to expose what she called systemic inequities that exist within an archaic criminal justice system and will push for speedy trials, right to counsel, ending solitary confinement, and address the lack of comprehensive services and inhumane conditions in jails.
“There are a lot of things that this Council, I know, can accomplish and achieve together because we have people that truly care about the inhumane conditions present within our criminal legal system,” Rivera said at the rally. “We need the advocates leading the way and we certainly need to hold this mayor accountable. We are supposed to be an independent body that provides oversight and that certainly provides investigation. So, we cannot have things being swept under the rug or ignored or not discussed. So, we will use the powers that we have.”