Residents, advocates and community leaders will once again hold a rally to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio shut down the Rikers Island jail complex.
The rally is hosted by JustLeadershipUSA, a nonprofit that is spearheading the #CLOSErikers movement. On March 6, people will gather in front of LaGuardia Community College at 30-10 Thomson Ave. in Long Island City, where the Lippman Commission is holding a hearing.
The Lippman Commission is a 27-member commission started by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman at the request of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
In 2016, Mark-Viverito proposed shutting down the jail and she requested that a group look at the viability of that plan. The commission, formally known as Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, is composed of criminal justice reform groups, corrections groups, former prosecutors, the business community and more.
Glenn Martin, founder of JustLeadershipUSA and member of the commission, told QNS he is hopeful that the jail will shut down. He also added that as a member of the commission, he advocates for specific policy to reform the criminal justice system. This includes bail reform, speedy trails to rectify the “lethargic pace of case processing in the city,” and pre-trail supervision.
“I’m not just hopeful Rikers will shut down, I’m actually very confident it will,” he said. “I’m also convinced, even as an advocate, that the data and the research about Rikers Island leads people to the same conclusion I started out with, which is that we have a facility that we’ve allowed to continue to grow and operate and it’s turned into a place that not just turns out a tremendous amount of human carnage but a place that is extremely expensive to operate and highly dysfunctional.”
It costs approximately $209,000 to detain a person at Rikers Island for a year, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Martin, who spent two days there when he was 16 – and was stabbed four times on his way to court, and one year at Rikers Island when he was 23, said that though de Blasio has spent millions of dollars on upgrades, violence has only increased.
“I just toured Rikers yesterday, I spent 5 hours there,” Martin said. “I see the investment the mayor is making, I see the clinical staff, I see the painted walls, I see the new television, I see the extra phones and yet at the same time I see the statistics of violence going up 18 percent.”
According to a report released by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office in 2016, fight and assault infractions increased by 25 percent last year. Inmate assaults on staff decreased by 8 percent but use of force by corrections officers increased by 14 percent.
The report also found that of the nations five largest city jail systems, the cost per inmate is the highest in New York. In New York, the cost per inmate is $112,665 per inmate. In the next largest jail system, Chicago, the city spends only $55,636 per inmate.
Martin argued that by throwing more money into the jail, de Blasio is merely “putting lipstick on a pig.”
“He’s working within an architecture that is the antithesis of how you build a safe jail based on all the evidence we know now,” he said. “So that’s why it doesn’t matter how much you reinvest and how much you rebuild. You’re just stuck with the limitations you have as a result of building a jail next to an airport where you can’t build upwards.”
Martin is advocating for smaller, more humane jails spread out throughout the five boroughs. In March 2016, rumors spread that land near the NYPD Academy in College Point could be developed into a prison if Rikers Island were to close.
Elected officials and community members were angry when they heard the proposal and said they would fight the plan at every step. The rumors never materialized into any concrete plan.
“If you’re worried about not having safe parks and recreation space and other things that make communities healthy and safe it’s because we’ve made a significant investment at Rikers and that has led to a disinvestment in many communities across the city,” Martin argued. “Having smaller, safer jails in the boroughs frees up a tremendous amount of resources that we’re currently spending on running a very inefficient island, a penal colony.”
There are a handful of jail facilities across New York City right now, including Brooklyn Detention Complex in Downtown Brooklyn.
“If you really think jails are not good for your community take the train and get off downtown Brooklyn and see if you can figure out which building is a jail,” Martin said. “Because the jail in Downtown Brooklyn has done little to nothing to affect the value of homes in that community.”
Martin added that he knows there is a constituency that are not going to support the closing of Rikers Island but said that De Blasio could not continue to call himself “progressive” without seriously considering closing the jail.
“Mayor de Blasio cannot continue to hold himself out as someone who is creating sanctuary city and as a national progressive leader and continue to maintain this mega jail churning out so much human carnage in his own backyard,” he said. “I think it’s important that the mayor recognize that Rikers is not in alignment with his values and that he’d probably be better off with this campaign at his back instead of in front of him.”