Advocates call for decarceration, closing Rikers Island
by Evan Triantafilidis
Dec 15, 2021 | 1016 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On International Human Rights Day, protestors lined the steps of Queens Criminal Court to call for criminal justice reform and to close Rikers Island.
On International Human Rights Day, protestors lined the steps of Queens Criminal Court to call for criminal justice reform and to close Rikers Island.
Criminal justice reform advocates gathered on the steps of Queens Criminal Court on International Human Rights Day last week to call on the borough’s judges and district attorney to address the humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island.

The all-day demonstration, led by the Urban Justice Center’s Freedom Agenda, started at the Bronx Hall of Justice before making its way to the steps of the Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan courthouses.

Darren Mack, co-director of Freedom Agenda and a formerly incarcerated activist, has been involved with the initiative to close Rikers Island since 2016.

“Every human being should be equal in dignity and rights,” said Mack. “Unfortunately, that is not the case for people who are funneled into New York City’s jail system which is a human rights crisis. Judges and DA’s are sending people to a potential death sentence.

“If the Department of Corrections cannot keep people safe and alive, then they should not have people in their custody,” he added.

This year, 15 people have died in city jails, with the latest death occurring on the same day as the citywide protests. Malcolm Boatwright, 28, died last Friday in a cell on Rikers Island.

Protestors held signs with the names of the other 14 people who have died in 2021.

Two months ago, the Department of Corrections (DOC) released its findings in the attempted suicide of a 18-year-old detainee, Nicholas Feliciano. The November 2019 suicide attempt resulted in permanant brain damage, ultimately leading to death when Feliciano was taken off life support in October.

The report says that Feliciano was hanging for nearly eight minutes in plain view of the DOC officers.

“They left him hanging,” said his grandmother Madeline Felicano. “How can the courts continue sending people to Rikers when they know the people running the jails have no concern for human life?”

In recent years, court monitors from CourtWatchNYC have reported in real time from inside courthouses, relaying information about how judges and District Attorneys send people to jail due to unaffordable bail.

In 2020, there were a total of 84,802 arraignments in New York City, according to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund’s Court Watch NYC. Nearly 12,500 people were ordered to jail pretrial on bail or remand, and 85 percent couldn’t pay bail at their arraignment.

Nearly 90 percent of incarcerated people in city jails are either Black or Latino, according to Court Watch NYC.

“The conditions inside Rikers must change, but more importantly the behaviors of DA’s and judges in our legal system itself must change,” said Meghna Philip, special litigation attorney at Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “The relentless use of pretrial detention, even in the face of death upon death, does not make anyone safer or deliver a modicum of justice.”
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