MAY 30, 2023

For well over a century, Rikers Island has robbed generations of Poor and Disabled people and communities of color of their freedom and human rights. Advocates were hopeful when Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed a bill in 2019 that would require Rikers Island to close by 2027. It would be up to the next New York City Mayor – Mayor Eric Adams – to facilitate the safe closure. 

Unsurprisingly, the Mayor is using the arrival of asylum seekers in New York City as a convenient foil to keep Rikers open. The New York City Department of Correction budget includes a proposal that slashes the money that pays for outside programs that help people who are incarcerated learn how to manage their anger, get job skills, find housing, wean themselves off drugs and reconnect with loved ones once they are released. By eliminating this funding, Mayor Adams’ administration is saying that people who are incarcerated are not worthy of rehabilitation. 

Viewed within a broader context, this demonstrates the Mayor’s hostility toward people he views as burdens. Look no further than the Mayor using the NYPD to round up and warehouse anyone who bothers people or makes them feel uncomfortable (read: mentally ill and homeless).

The recent murder of Jordan Neely – an unhoused black man with a history of mental illness – could have been prevented if he and his loved ones had access to the support they needed years ago. Instead, he cycled in and out of Rikers. The “system” failed him and countless others.

MHEP urges the New York City Council to defeat this harmful proposal, ensure programming in jails are provided by outside organizations and enact protections for contractors who report misconduct in city jails. MHEP calls on the City Council to triple the amount of funding available for outside organizations to deliver programming in NYC Jails. After Rikers is closed, DOC’s budget should be redirected to communities that have been historically marginalized and over incarcerated.

By expanding the use of outside programs, among other requirements, the Department of Correction can:

  • Require contractors to publish recidivism rates of the people they serve;
  • Contract with Peer, Justice-Involved and Disability-led non-profits to the greatest extent possible;
  • Institute a penalty for organizations that offload “hard-to-serve” individuals.

Mayor Adams has a mandate – and moral obligation – to safely decarcerate, divest and redistribute money to communities torn apart by centuries of systemic oppression and mass incarceration. The Mayor will need to work with disenfranchised communities to fund high-quality programs that disrupt generational poverty, create opportunity and lay the foundation for a restorative justice system that emphasizes accountability and rehabilitation over punitive segregation. The blight on New York City is not the homeless or the mentally ill. It is its obsession with detaining, containing and controlling those it deems unworthy of compassion and humanity.