For Immediate Release:

Contact: gabriel sayegh, 646.335.2264

November 15, 2016

#CLOSErikers Applauds DOC Decision to Halt Rikers Expansion

Growing Movement Sees Announcement as Step Toward Closing Horrific Jail Complex

NEW YORK: On Monday, New York City Correction Commissioner Joe Ponte stated in a City Council Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee hearing that due to pressure from the growing movement to #CLOSErikers, conversations around the construction of a new jail facility on Rikers Island have been put on hold.

When it was first reported in October that Mayor de Blasio would resume construction of a new, 1,489-bed jail on Rikers Island, the #CLOSErikers campaign was a vocal opponent of the decision.

Following Monday’s City Council hearing, leaders from the #CLOSErikers campaign issued the following statements: 

Statement from Glenn Martin, Founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA:

“We applaud the Department of Corrections commissioner for listening to the #CLOSErikers campaign and our many allies in demanding that Rikers Island be closed. Seventy-seven thousand people cycled through Rikers in 2014. Ninety percent were people of color; eight out of ten were pre-trial detainees, often there just because they cannot afford bail; forty percent were diagnosed with a mental illness. This irresponsible detainment leads to severe mass incarceration, the abandonment of our citizens’ rights to a speedy trial, and a culture of abuse and violence. New York City must do better. That starts with taking the appropriate steps to shutter Rikers Island, and reimagining our criminal justice system.”

Statement from gabriel sayegh, Co-Founder of the Katal Center for Heath, Equity and Justice:

“We’re disappointed in Councilman Vallone’s remarks. As the son of a former City Council Speaker and current Councilman, we expected him to have a better understanding of this city and be aware of the horrific conditions at Rikers. We urge all members of the City Council to read Kalief Browder’s story, Jerome Murdough’s story, and Ronald Spear’s’ story and truly consider whether Rikers is an institution that we can continue to support as New Yorkers. It’s time to close Rikers.”

Statement from Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY:

“Rikers Island is dangerous, corrupt, and beyond repair. We’ve marched in the streets with thousands of our fellow New Yorkers to call for its closure and are glad to see Commissioner Ponte walking back plans to expand the facility. Communities overburdened by criminalization want innovative ideas to reduce overall incarceration rates, not more investment in facilities in which to languish.”

Statement from José Lopez, Organizing Director, Make the Road-NY:

“Almost 90 percent of detainees at Rikers Island are Black and Latino. Many of them are unprotected against the harsh and violent conditions of America’s most notorious jail, simply because they cannot afford bail or are awaiting trial. This announcement from Commissioner Ponte is a victory for our communities that have been brutally targeted by the criminal justice system. It means that when we build a movement for justice together, we have the power to push our city in the direction of progress.”

Statement from Tina Luongo, Attorney in Charge, Criminal Defense Practice, The Legal Aid Society of New York:

“There is enormous creative thinking and constructive dialogue happening throughout the criminal justice system on how this City must reform the way, we as a community, police, arrest, prosecute and jail fellow human beings. The Speaker’s vision to create an expert commission to analyze best practices and the powerful coalition of hundreds of community organizations in the #CLOSErikers coalition should not be prejudged. Decades of purely reactive, “throw away the key” thinking about jail policy created the broken system we have now. Compassionate, innovative thinking is what we need to make it right.”
Statement from Councilmember Brad Lander:
“At this dark time, the movement to Close Rikers is a bright light for justice and compassion, so I’m pleased that Commissioner Ponte is giving it a chance by putting the new 1,500-bed facility there on pause. Rikers Island is incompatible with our vision of a just and compassionate NYC. Now is a time for NYC to take the lead in strategies that further reduce detention and incarceration for low-level offenses, heal communities, and offer people real opportunities to thrive.”

Statement from Councilmember Antonio Reynoso:

“This is a real victory for the #CLOSErikers movement. It shows that our actions, along with continued media attention to the unacceptable conditions at Rikers, are making a difference, and that this administration is taking the idea of closing Rikers seriously. We need to keep pushing them to take more substantive steps toward this goal.”

Statement from Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee:

“Rikers Island is plagued by systemic failures, and despite reforms and significant investment, the culture of violence continues to spike. The whole system must be turned upside down, including fast-tracking an improved housing plan.” 

Statement from Rev. Wendy Calderón-Payne, Executive Director, BronxConnect:
“We receive, with reserved jubilance, the news from DOC Commissioner Ponte that the City has ceased all new construction on Rikers Island. We hold this Administration responsible for its treatment of our most vulnerable. Our city must continue to hear our cries, think big and halt the unnecessary expenditure of millions on a putrid cesspool of injustice. We now must continue the fight to shut Rikers down. Together we can build our communities from within.”


About the #CLOSErikers campaign: The #CLOSErikers campaign was formed in 2016 to break the political gridlock and achieve real solutions that are guided by directly impacted communities. Led by JustLeadershipUSA, in partnership with other organizations, the #CLOSErikers campaign includes community groups, researchers, business leaders, faith and human rights leaders, criminal justice experts, health and housing service providers, advocacy and legal groups and more. Through the campaign, nearly 100 diverse organizations across New York City have joined together to demand Mayor Bill de Blasio close Rikers. By closing Rikers, New York City can focus on healing and rebuilding the communities where Rikers has brought suffering. The campaign to #CLOSErikers is calling for New Yorkers to boldly reimagine the city’s failed criminal justice system and become a national leader in ending mass incarceration.