Help #CLOSERikers & Design a More Effective & Humane Jail System

Help #CLOSERikers & Design a More Effective & Humane Jail System

For decades, Rikers Island has been marked by violence, corruption, and the needless destruction of human lives. Over 75,000 New Yorkers cycle through Rikers Island every year. 80% of the people detained on Rikers are New Yorkers that have not yet been found guilty of a crime. They are simply too poor to make bail while they await trial. Nine-of-ten of those detained at Rikers Island are people of color.

The destruction of lives full of potential was most tragically symbolized by the life and death of Kalief Browder (so painfully captured by Jennifer Gonnerman, both before and after he died). Kalief was arrested at age 16 on charges of stealing a backpack. He always maintained his innocence. He was held at Rikers for three years, much of that time in solitary confinement, with brutal beatings. He was released without conviction, but he remained a prisoner of what had happened there. He took his own life at age 22.

For Kalief -- and for the thousands of others who’ve suffered unjustly -- we have a moral obligation to bring an end to this dark chapter of abuse, violence, corruption, and systemic racism in our criminal justice system. Thankfully, the #CLOSERikers Campaign continues to gain traction all across the city - with more advocates, elected officials, and New Yorkers like you calling for justice and reform every day.

But closing Rikers is no simple task. Comprehensive criminal justice reform starts with ending the policy of locking people up for nonviolent, low-level offenses to reduce the number of people needlessly detained in the first place. It requires investments in our court systems to ensure a fair and speedy trial (something we are very far from now). It requires “raising the age” so 16 & 17-year-olds aren’t treated like adults for purposes of sending them to jail (but not for letting them vote). It requires treating people with mental illness (a very high percentage of those on Rikers) with mental health services, rather than incarceration.

And, yes, it requires that we rethink our jail facilities. When we isolate people in a place removed from our collective vision, when we don’t have to look at them or think about them, when we can turn our backs -- we are creating dangerous conditions, and we are responsible for the consequences. So we need to think seriously about what it would look like to de-concentrate our corrections facilities.

If your son or daughter got into a fight, or committed a foolish crime, and had to be detained overnight before trial, what would you want for them? I know for sure it would not be Rikers Island. So let’s think about what it would be.

Today (Saturday, February 11th), in our neighborhood, we have a chance to do just that.

NYC’s Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration -- better known as the “Rikers Commission,” and chaired by former NYC Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman -- was formed at the request of New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (and I was proud to play a role in helping to encourage and create it), with the goal of helping to create a #MoreJustNYC.

Now, in partnership with Van Alen Institute, they’re looking for your input.   

The Van Alen Institute's Justice in Design Workshops aim to develop innovative, realistic, and progressive programming and design guidelines for new jail facilities. These workshops are bringing together community members and leaders in design, criminal justice, architecture, and environmental health to brainstorm ideas that will explore:

  • A healthier jail system that is more rehabilitative and respectful to those who both inhabit and work in the jail and the communities that interact with them

  • Social services and programming to help inmates successfully re-enter the community

  • Neighborhood services and amenities that can complement the community  

Through these workshops, we can start to imagine the facilities that we would want for our kids -- and try to make those the reality for everyone’s kids.

The next Justice in Design Workshop is Saturday, Feb. 11th from 10 AM - 1 PM in our community at the Brooklyn YWCA (Roulette Intermedium theater) at Atlantic Avenue & 3rd Avenue. Space is limited, but you can RSVP here.

If you can’t come to the workshop, you can also offer your thoughts to the Rikers Commission on their web-page, and join the effort to honor Kalief Browder’s memory, work to #CLOSERikers, and truly head in the direction of a #MoreJustNYC.

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