“Reform” NYC Rikers Island Jail?
No—Shut Down This Torture Hellhole!

October 19, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been saying that “reform” of the brutal Rikers Island jail is a top priority for his administration. There’s been news of some steps being taken, like officially banning isolation for inmates under 18 years old (but not for prisoners generally). Responding to a city comptroller report on NYC jails released October 16, a de Blasio spokesperson said “meaningful reform takes time.” The message being pounded into people’s heads is: Things are being reformed at Rikers—be patient.

But the reality is that the horrors at Rikers are continuing every single day, not far from the high-rises of Manhattan. And this is intolerable!

With an average of about 14,000 prisoners each day—including hundreds of adolescents—some 85 percent of them not even convicted of a crime and overwhelmingly Black or Latino, Rikers is a huge debtors’ prison where people are shut up for weeks, months, or even years because they can’t make bail. And it’s a torture hellhole, where prisoners, including many with serious mental health problems, are thrown into isolation for slight violations or for nothing at all... and where rampant brutality by guards has resulted in what one class-action lawsuit called a “staggering” number of serious injuries among those imprisoned.

And now, the city jail administrators are considering rule changes proposed by de Blasio that, if implemented, would make Rikers an even more dehumanizing hellhole.

In the name of “keep[ing] weapons, drugs, and other contraband off this island,” the proposed rule changes would put more restrictions on physical contact between visitors and Rikers prisoners. The changes would also allow prison officials to conduct intrusive background checks on potential visitors and deny visits based on vague criteria about the “danger” they might pose to the prison. Another change would prohibit people in Rikers from receiving packages of clothes and other personal items from family and friends unless they are purchased new from and delivered by an approved vendor—making it more expensive to send packages to the prisoners. As a statement from groups and individuals opposing the rule changes says, “They will overwhelmingly impact Black and Latino families and communities, and poor people who can’t afford bail.”

Yet another proposed rule change would allow prison authorities to keep prisoners in solitary confinement for much longer than under the current rules. Right now, if a prisoner is held in isolation for 30 consecutive days, the prisoner is supposed be released into the general population for seven days before they could be thrown back into solitary. That 30 days of permitted isolation is already twice the 15-day period of solitary confinement that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has determined constitutes torture. De Blasio’s proposed rule changes would allow the authorities to remove the seven-day requirement for prisoners held in solitary for 30 days—in effect allowing for indefinite isolation.

At the October 16 Board of Corrections public hearing in Manhattan on the proposed rule changes for Rikers and other NYC prisons, speaker after speaker spoke about the great harm that these changes would bring down on prisoners, many of whom are already suffering from mental illness and/or are very vulnerable because they are adolescents. Many spoke movingly about how the prisoners held at Rikers are all human beings—and should be treated as such, not as “bodies” or animals.

A young Black woman, who courageously spoke about the harrowing, nightmarish ordeal she suffered for three years in solitary at Rikers, called NYC’s island prison “a modern-day concentration camp.” Her words hit the mark.

When there is a concentration camp right in your midst—where people are being held under horrendous conditions of inhumane brutality and torture—you don’t ask those running the camp to be a little less brutal. You can’t wait patiently for those concentration camp overseers to carry out promised “meaningful reforms.”

What’s needed is a loud and clear demand, and political action to carry through that demand: Shut Down Rikers Island!



Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

REVOLUTION AND RELIGION The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian
BA Speaks: Revolution Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live
BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation Its History and Our Future Interview with Raymond Lotta
The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need