New York City Plan to “Close” Rikers Jail Means Letting Torture and Brutality Continue There at Least 10 More Years

April 10, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


On April 3, a commission convened by the New York City Council speaker issued a report on the city’s huge jail complex on Rikers Island. Like various other reports in recent years, this one found that guards at Rikers use brutal force against prisoners at an “alarming rate”—inmates are punched in the head, slammed into walls, kicked while handcuffed, doused with pepper spray, and so on—and then lie about it.

Just a few days before this report was made public, Mayor Bill de Blasio (who last year said closing down Rikers was “unrealistic”) announced his agreement with a plan to shut Rikers down. The plan is to move inmates to jails built throughout the city, and it will take at least 10 years to implement, if the city actually goes ahead with it.

About 77,000 people go through Rikers a year. On average about 10,000 are locked up every day—about 93 percent men; the majority African-Americans and Latinos from low-income neighborhoods; some 40 percent diagnosed with a mental health issue. About 85 percent of the people have NOT been convicted of a crime but are behind bars at Rikers—for weeks, months, or even years—awaiting trial, usually because they cannot get bail. A New York Times investigation reported that just in an 11-month span in 2013, 129 inmates were seriously injured by guards and required hospitalization.

The Struggle to Close Down Rikers

For many years, different groups have exposed the horror at Rikers and organized protests to demand it be shut down. On October 23, 2015, as part of Rise Up October, protesters shut down Rikers for about an hour—with 17 people arrested for carrying out civil disobedience that blocked the entry gate. In September 2016, 500 people—including celebrities, politicians, and former inmates—demonstrated in Queens to demand Rikers be shut down. There have been many other protests.

Rikers Island Prison Shutdown October 23, 2015
Protest to shut down Rikers, October 23, 2015. Photo: Special to

Videos: James from the Internet

Horror stories of brutality and murder by guards have been coming out of Rikers for decades. Many now know the story of Kalief Browder, a 17-year-old, jailed at Rikers to await trial after being accused of stealing a backpack. Browder was put in solitary confinement for long periods and repeatedly brutalized by guards; and when he attempted suicide he was put in solitary again. Finally released from Rikers after three years, Browder committed suicide in June 2015, a year after being released.

TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, a six-part docu-series on Spike produced by Jay Z, was seen by three million people in its first week. Rikers, a documentary by Bill Moyers featuring interviews with inmates, is scheduled to premiere on PBS in May.

Rikers has become infamous across the U.S. and internationally. The New York Times recently described Rikers as “synonymous with brutality, incompetence, corruption and neglect,” adding that, “If there is one place that exemplifies the national disgrace of mass incarceration, of inmates languishing without trial, of the warehousing of those with mental illnesses, it’s Rikers.” The British Guardian noted in a photo caption that “Rikers has its own place in the history of racism in America”; and it noted, “Rikers has been nicknamed Gladiator School, Torture Island, the Guantánamo of New York and, in summertime, the Oven...” and is “one of the largest, most stubborn sores on America’s blighted criminal justice landscape.”

All this has put a spotlight on the horrors going on at Rikers—exposing the USA with this glaring example of mass incarceration and the racist IN-justice system in America. This is one big reason behind the plan of the powers that be to shut Rikers down. But their plan really amounts to dividing Rikers up into smaller centers of mass incarceration.

If New York City did actually follow through with this plan, what will it mean? Ten more years of Rikers means thousands more brutalized and tortured at this hellhole. This is BULLSHIT. Rikers needs to be shut down NOW. The torture must stop, RIGHT NOW.



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