A litany of religious leaders spoke out against inhumane Rikers Island conditions on Thursday while Mayor Eric Adams traveled to the correctional facility to meet with inmates and help bridge the gap between correction officers and detainees.
The interfaith vigil set forth to serve a grim reminder outside City Hall on July 7 of the ongoing crisis on Rikers Island. The group clung to black sheets, each one displaying the name of a prisoner who lost their life on the infamous island this year; at least seven inmates have died there so far in 2022.
With the names of the lost serving as a melancholy backdrop, Reverend Chloe Breyer, the executive director of Interfaith Center of New York, made a plea to Mayor Adams for help.
“Our mayor is headed out to Rikers Island with the express purpose of meeting with people who are detained there. Both those who are pretrial and those who have received sentences. We implore him to listen to those who he meets with. In particular, we asked him to make sure that in our city, a jail sentence is not a death sentence,” Breyer said.
According to Breyer, she has been visiting those behind bars on Rikers since 1997 and recalls that even then concerns were being raised regarding healthcare access for those imprisoned. While the sorrowful event sought to mourn the dead, it also looked to the future. Co- Director of the Freedom Agenda Darren Mack called on the mayor to help put an end to Rikers Island once and for all, stating that the facility cannot be reformed.
“There is no fixing Rikers Island. Rikers Island can’t be fixed. There’s no reforming Rikers Island. There’s no reforming Rikers Island. Rikers Island cannot be reformed. The only solution is decarceration and closing Rikers Island. That’s the only solution,” Mack said.
Visiting Rikers Island, Mayor Adams made it his mission to meet with detainees and aims to help a new program that hopes to bring DOC workers and incarcerated people closer together, and in turn save lives.
“This morning, Commissioner Molina and I spent time on Rikers Island meeting with young people in custody. We joined a new program launched under this administration that brings together detainees and correction officers in conversation to connect and build meaningful relationships,” Mayor Adams said in a statement to amNewYork Metro. According to his schedule, the Rikers Island meeting had been closed to the press.
“Programs like these have helped reduce violence in and out of our jails, set people on a better path, and dam some of the many rivers that feed the sea of violence and pain,” Adams added. “I shared with the officers and people in our care that I will always have their back and I will never forget about them, just like adults didn’t stop having my back when I was a troubled youth. For too long, the problems at Rikers have been ignored and swept under the rug — that ends with our administration. I will do whatever it takes to support and protect the people in custody and officers who work every day on the island.”
The mayor states that he remains committed to the health and safety of all involved.