Guest Post by Louisa Strothman, Humanities Action Lab Intern
On Thursday, February 11, 2016, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito addressed many problems with Rikers Island in her State of the City Address, calling for reform and an eventual shutdown of the prison. She discussed raise-the-age, which would allow sixteen and seventeen year olds to be tried as juveniles instead of immediately as adults. New York and North Carolina are the only states to still maintain this policy. She proposed plans for less pretrial detention particularly for people under the age of eighteen, and other methods to decrease the general population at Rikers Island. Mark-Viverito also recommended creating more opportunities for family members to interact with their loved ones who are incarcerated.
Mark-Viverito met backlash from other New York City officials, but it is notable that City Council is addressing the problems with Rikers Island to any extent at this point. In November 2015, the Humanities Action Lab co-sponsored a conference with the Center for New York City Affairs and JustLeadershipUSA about shutting down the jail which notably lacked members of city government. The well-attended panel included a number of speakers involved in reforming criminal justice in New York City.
After recent reports of terrible treatment of inmates including neglect and abuse of adolescents and those who are mentally ill. Poor working conditions for guards have also contributed to extreme malpractice in the jail, such as brutality and negligence for ill inmates. Considering the number of deaths and ruined lives attributed to time in Rikers Island, the idea of shutting down this prison has been talked about New Yorkers for a long time. In the past few months, City Council has begun to catch up with the public, as Speaker Mark-Viverito considers the jail’s numerous problems, and publicly contemplates reform.