BROOKLYN, NY—New York City Council Member Farah N. Louis announced the passage of the plan to close Rikers Island and create a pathway towards restorative justice for thousands of families during a Stated meeting on Thursday. Council Member Louis, who voted in favor of the bill, expressed her support for the movement to end mass incarceration, yet highlighted the need for oversight and assurances that the City would integrate fairness into the criminal justice system, and end the school to prison pipeline.
“As a new member—and a woman of color—who represents a district that has been disproportionately affected by the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, a decision on whether or not to close Rikers Island was one that I could not take lightly or without consideration of my community. I thought about the families devastated by over-policing; wrongful convictions; and coping with the absence of fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. I thought about the irreparable physical, psychological, and emotional harm that these families and their loved ones endured during the several weeks, months, and years apart while awaiting a court date, trial, or release,” said Council Member Farah N. Louis.
In the past few weeks, Council Member Louis met with the residents of her district, members of the clergy, criminal justice advocates, the formerly incarcerated, corrections officers, proponents and opponents of the closure of Rikers, as well as her colleagues, to hear the differing perspectives ahead of this historic vote.
“This experience was frustrating and challenging, as we demanded transparency throughout this process, sought answers to several questions and fought for a seat at the table to make an informed decision on the future of our community and city as a whole. The closure of an institution that symbolizes violence, injustice, and inhumanity was without a doubt a step in the right direction, in conjunction with criminal justice reform. Ultimately, there is a need to implement drastic changes in the prison culture, provide alternatives to incarceration, make critical investments towards restorative justice, offer greater access to mental health-supportive services, as well as reentry programs to reduce recidivism,” continued Louis.
The reduction of the jail population and closure of Rikers is critical, but it must be coupled with a more streamlined process that involves the New York City Police Department, District Attorneys, Judges, and the Department of Corrections to mitigate instances where Black and Brown people are detained for prolonged periods of time in limbo awaiting trial.
We remember Kalief Browder, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, Layleen Polanco, and countless others who were never the same or never returned to their families. We cannot inflict the atrocities of Rikers onto the next generation.
This vote puts the City of New York on the path to close the opportunity gap and end racial inequities by investing in the communities that were penalized for being impoverished, unemployed and underemployed, facing homelessness, mentally ill, or in need of treatment to overcome addiction. Through the staunch advocacy of community stakeholders, the formerly incarcerated, and their families, the City will invest $391 million dollars in our communities while implementing key reforms towards a more humane approach in the detention and incarceration of our fellow New Yorkers.
As stated by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio:
• $126 million in previously planned investments to reduce justice involvement, support communities, reform and reduce the footprint of our justice system;
• $265 million in new programming and capital projects to address the root causes of incarceration and reshape our city’s criminal justice system on top of the $40 million increase in criminal justice spending secured by the City Council in the fiscal year 2020 budget in anticipation of Rikers’ closure;
• $71 million for alternatives to detention, incarceration, and reforms to the Department of Correction;
• $54 million expansion of pretrial services including Supervised Release, the City’s primary diversion program;
• $17 million in new funds to expand continue the Alternatives to Incarceration programs;
• In addition to baselining the City’s current $5 million investment in transitional housing for people with justice involvement, the City will increase funding to $25 million to increase the number of units from 100 to 500 by fiscal year 2023.
• Expanding access to services that help individuals with medical and mental health issues such as the Program for Accelerate Clinical Effectiveness, eight new Health Engagement and Assessment teams, and six Mobile Crisis Teams;
• Restructuring in-custody programming and reentry services to ensure access to comprehensive social services and access to paid transitional employment post-release for everyone leaving City jails.
• $2.7 million in additional funding to expand Cure Violence programs in six areas including the 67th Precinct in Central Brooklyn, we will enhance the safety of our communities.
“Many in opposition of closing Rikers Island have never experienced the brutal violence that has resulted in its long-term traumatic effects on communities across the City. It is imperative that Rikers Island be closed. Tax paying dollars should not be used to help perpetuate a broken cycle, but rather towards truly transforming justice. We must start fresh! This can only be done by closing Rikers Island and offering smaller borough-based jails that will facilitate better access to families and include Community-based organizations at the forefront leading the direction towards rehabilitation and mindset change,” said Shanduke McPhatter, Founder and Executive Director, Gangstas Making Astronomical Change (GMACC).
“Our criminal justice system, as we know, has committed injustices to black and brown communities across this city. The closure of Rikers Island is a signal to this city and this country that the criminal justice system that black and brown families were subjected to will no longer suffice. A new criminal justice system for New Yorkers means safe facilities for both inmates and officers, more programs for reformation and more space for recreational activities. The existing decades-old borough jails do not have program space to offer for those who are incarcerated and that shouldn’t be ignored. I commend Council Member Farah Louis for voting to finally close Rikers Island and kickstart the end of mass incarceration in New York,” said Rev. Al Cockfield, Executive Pastor, God’s Battalion of Prayer.
“Over the last decade, New York has led the way for tangible criminal justice reform. Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio and representatives like Councilwoman Louis has shown that we are still a beacon in the fight against injustices in the archaic and flawed criminal justice system. The closing of Rikers Island will show the entire country that it’s everyone’s duty to speak up and speak out to end the era of mass incarceration,” said Pastor Gilford Monrose, 67th Precinct Clergy Council “GodSquad.”
“It is a fact that Rikers Island must be closed. The City must hold true to their decision to change the culture and the systemic issues that have contributed to mass incarceration. Instead of providing lip-service, New York City should fund organizations committed to targeted programming that will change the cyclical outcomes of violence and despair in Black and Brown communities. We want to be optimistic and insist that the organizations that provide these services are actual partners in the restorative justice process and supported in creating real differences,” said Camara Jackson, Founder, Elite Learners Inc.
“We are all human. Everyone deserves grace and mercy. People deserve grace and mercy. Individuals should not be treated like animals. I believe that the closing of Rikers Island is a giant step in the right direction,” said Reverend Terry Lee, Pastor, By-ways & Hedges.
Closing Rikers Island is the starting point of ending a broken, racist, and inhumane stop in the criminal justice system. Three-quarters of people held in jails in New York City are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of a crime. Yesterday’s vote was the first step in beginning a new chapter in restorative justice. We must now work on ending the school to prison pipeline, and begin to make critical investments to reduce justice involvement, support communities, reform and reduce the footprint of our justice system,” said Brian Cunningham, Co-founder, Young Movement, Inc.
“I agree with City Council Member Farah Louis on her vote to close Rikers Island. Far too long inmates have suffered under inhumane conditions at Rikers Island and am glad to know that a remedy to these conditions are now going to be implemented,” said Hassan Bakiriddin, President of Unified Political Association.
“I commend City Council Member Farah Louis on her brave vote to close Rikers Island. As the state of New York continues to reform the criminal justice system, the closure of Rikers must be part of the reform. For years Rikers Island has been plagued with abuse of inmates as well as correction officers. It’s time to close it and start a new chapter here in NYC. Council Member Louis has shown courage by voting in the affirmative on the closure. We support her and we are proud of the work she is doing on behalf of her community and the city of New York,” said Bishop Orlando Findlayter, Senior Pastor, New Hope Christian Fellowship.
“Closing Rikers Island is the right choice due to the inhumane conditions. One of the hardest things to do in life is to make changes. Though change is difficult, it is necessary for our system,” said Nicholson Sony Pierre, Alternative Reaction to Anger Emotional Wellness.
“It pains my heart to see people suffer under an unjust criminal justice system. Council Member Farah Louis and the members of the City Council have made a key step in putting an end to the brutal cycle of mass incarceration that continues to harm our community. The closing of Rikers will finally allow our communities to heal and allocate much-needed resources to building affordable and preventive services instead of jails,” said the Rev. Dr. Samuel Nicolas, Senior Pastor, Evangelical Crusade Christian Church and President of the Haitian Evangelical Clergy Association.
“The City Council’s vote on closing Riker’s Island marks a historical turning point in the trajectory of criminal justice reform in New York City. We applaud the courage of the City Council in taking a bold step forward to focus more on expanding community resources, services and programming, and less on incarceration. With a 37-year history of providing comprehensive care and social services for communities of color, HCC is well-equipped to partner with the City Council to offer nontraditional supportive services to help inmates and the formerly incarcerated get their lives back on track and help reduce recidivism rates,” said Dr. Andre K. Peck, Executive Director, Haitian-American Community Coalition.
New York City Council Member Farah N. Louis represents the 45th Council District which is comprised of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Marine Park, Flatlands, & Kensington in Brooklyn, NY. She is a member of the committees on Civil Service and Labor; Economic Development; Education; Finance; Housing and Buildings; Committee on Youth Services; and Justice System. Council Member Louis is also a proud member of the Women’s Caucus as well as the Black, Latino/a, and Asian Caucus.