20 community groups, service providers and advocacy groups call on New York City’s five district attorneys to act on policy recommendations to decarcerate Rikers Island

New York, NY — Today, a coalition of 20 community and advocacy groups, including Vera Action, the independent 501 (c) (4) of the Vera Institute of Justice and Color of Change, called public to the five New York attorneys. in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island to take immediate action to decarcerate Rikers Island. These district attorneys wield tremendous power over who is incarcerated and who is not, but they have not stepped up to deal with this time of extreme crisis. In addition to public calls to action, the coalition is planning a targeted digital and audiovisual advertising campaign to highlight the urgency of this issue.

Unlike the start of the pandemic when, under public pressure, district attorneys consented to the release of 1,500 people from prison to quell the spread of COVID-19 behind bars, they have currently chosen not to act. This coalition knows that time is running out. Fourteen people have died in the city’s prisons in the past year, including Victor Mercado, 64, on Friday, and Anthony Scott, 58, on Monday. The inaction of district attorneys puts more lives at risk.

The coalition urges district attorneys to safely reduce the population on Rikers Island by adopting three common sense measures: release all inmates facing low-level, non-violent charges; draw on the city’s extensive network of community service providers and alternatives to incarceration to individually review and consider release for everyone else; and no longer ask for bail amounts beyond what New Yorkers can afford.

These recommendations take into account public safety, as well as the security crisis behind bars. If the coalition’s recommendations were implemented by the five district attorneys, the prison population would decline by at least 2,000 almost immediately.

The current conditions at Rikers Island lead to the conclusion that decarceration is the only effective immediate solution. The prison population has increased by 47% since the spring of 2020, despite the fact that COVID-19 still rages behind bars today at an infection rate five times the community average. Almost one in six people on Rikers Island has been in pre-trial detention for more than 600 days. The death rate in custody has skyrocketed, with more suicides in 2021 than in the past five years combined. Even though the Department of Corrections has 8,400 officers on the payroll, Rikers Island’s hallways are strangely empty, as nearly a third of staff are on leave or simply don’t show up for work. There is horrific documentation of the circumstances in which incarcerated people are forced to survive, back-up toilets spewing out sewage, missed court dates because there are no prison staff to escort people from the complex prison until their hearings, and failure to provide even the most basic services such as meals, medical care and mental health care. This crisis does not affect all New Yorkers in the same way: almost 90% of the people of Rikers Island are black or Latinx.

“My Day One Memo reflects my commitment to keeping New Yorkers safe. This security extends to people behind bars. We cannot remain spectators of the humanitarian crisis unfolding on Rikers Island. We can both take people out of jail and put them to safety and protect public safety in our communities. As a District Attorney, my policy of presumptive non-incarceration in most cases will lead to the kind of safe and effective release we need to deal with the crisis in our city’s prisons, ”the candidate said. Democrat to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Concerns that the Rikers Island decarceration will jeopardize public safety are erroneous and unfounded and run counter to due process and the presumption of innocence. Just last year, to curb the spread of COVID-19, New York City quickly and safely released 1,500 people from jail, saving lives behind bars and also protecting public safety. In April 2020, the prison population had fallen to a historic low of 3,800 people. Studies from this period have shown that decarceration did not lead to an increase in crime. On the contrary, the housing, treatment, counseling, jobs and financial support that the city’s service providers have provided to people leaving Rikers Island have improved the health and safety of our communities and no doubt saved lives. lives in the face of COVID-19.

Actions taken to date by district attorneys have had little impact on the overall prison population since the crisis began more than a month ago. This coalition urges district attorneys to adopt the above three common sense measures to decarcerate Rikers Island.

“We can’t wait for another death before our city’s top law enforcement officials take action. Many of our organizations have privately and publicly urged prosecutors Clark, Gonzalez, Katz, McMahon and Vance to do more to address the crisis on Rikers Island. Today, we publicly call on them to, at a minimum, adopt the following recommendations, ”the coalition wrote in the letter.

The signatories of the letter are:


College and community scholarship

Change color

Common justice

New York Corrections Association

Exodus Transition Community

Freedom agenda

Fontaine House

Go out and stay out

Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice

Legal Action Center

A little piece of light

National Action Network NYC Second Chances Committee

Osborne Association

Organizational project for police reform

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Vera Institute of Justice

Women & Justice Project

Women’s Community Justice Association

The value increases

You can find the full text of the letter here.

About Vera Action

Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to bail in New York City, the Vera Institute of Justice is a national organization that partners with affected communities and government leaders for change. We develop fair and anti-racist solutions so that money does not determine freedom; fewer people are in prisons, prisons and migrant detention centers; and everyone is treated with dignity. In early 2021, the Vera Institute of Justice launched an independent but closely aligned 501c (4) – Vera Action – to expand our ability to shape and enact laws and policies that prioritize racial justice, transform the criminal justice system and realize a vision of a safer and more equitable country for all.

About the color of the change

Color Of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force led by 7 million members, we challenge decision-makers in business and government to create a more humane and less hostile world for black people in America. Our campaigns and initiatives are winning changes that matter. By designing strategies powerful enough to fight racism and injustice – in politics and culture, at work and in the economy, in criminal justice and community life, and wherever they exist – we change the rules written and unwritten of the company. We mobilize our members to end practices and systems that unfairly hold black people back and advocate for solutions that move us all forward.

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