Council Members Diaz Sr., Holden and King Protest Closing Rikers on the Steps of City Hall

The three council members (from left to right), Robert Holden (D-Queens), Andy King (D-Bronx) and Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr. (D-Bronx), with supporters of not closing Rikers behing them. [Credit: Robert Press]

By Robert Press

On Wednesday, Bronx City Council members Ruben Diaz, Sr. and Andy King were joined by Queens Councilman Robert Holden to announce they were going to vote no on closing Rikers Island jail. They issued a joint-statement explaining their opposition to the plan.

“As the vote on borough-based jails are currently on the floor of the New York City Council Chamber, we are just three of the few elected officials who are opposed to closing Rikers Island. How does the closing of Rikers fix our criminal justice system? Scapegoating the brick and mortar as the root of our problems does not solve the multitude of problems in the criminal justice system. This system has many flaws. There is a severe issue with this system when Blacks and Hispanics make up about 85% of the New York City jail population. Our courts are overwhelmed with cases for misdemeanors and warrant arrests. Although some criminal justice reform laws have been passed such as the early discovery and the bail reform laws, the closing of Rikers Island will have no real impact on the system. How does its closing solve the real issues? Rikers Island is supposed to be a jail, not a prison, and neither should be a place that anyone looks forward to entering. Advocates and elected officials have unnecessarily called for the closing of Rikers Island, and their oppositions to the brick and mortar seem to miss the bigger picture.”

Corrections Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen (at the podium) questions the closing of Rikers in fovor of four borough-based jails. [Credit: Robert Press]

“After meetings on these borough-based jails, we realize that the goal is to desensitize going to jail. If you want to rehabilitate a person, you don’t need to send them to jail. If you want to educate someone, you don’t need to send them to jail. We need to offer people opportunities so they can make the decisions to be productive people. Instead of keeping more people incarcerated in smaller jails, we should ensure that the correct people are kept on Rikers, instead of those who don’t belong there. We need to improve the conditions in Rikers instead of trying to cover up the real problems. Therefore borough-based jails still set the stigma of going to jail, while at the same time disregarding overwhelming opposition by the communities affected. Elected officials are tasked with representing their constituents, and the City once again chooses which political issues need the approval of their citizens, and which do not. The city should instead focus on building EIF (Educational Improvement Facilities) where someone who needs help can receive services immediately while their fate is determined in court. Many of those in jail are there because of economic situations in their lives. If we can get to these folks before they commit criminal acts, they could instead be living on the right side of the law. Our goal should be to bring Rikers Island into the 21st Century by renovating it, but elected officials have decided to dump $10 billion—some estimates put the price tag at nearly $30 billion—to build new jails.”

“So how does closing a facility that was designed to simply lock people up correct the criminal justice system and prevent the same problems from reoccurring in community jails? We strongly ask those in support of borough-based jails to really look at the future tone we are setting for incarceration.”

It was also said that thirteen percent of the Rikers population comes from Staten Island, yet no new jail is to be built on Staten Island. Councilman Holden added that it is possible that the area of Rikers Island would be used to expand LaGuardia Airport runways, thus making the airport an International Airport.

On Thursday, the City Council by a vote of 36-13 approved Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to close the eight jail complex on Rikers Island by 2026 in favor of four smaller borough-based jails spread out across the city, except in Staten Island.

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