Rikers Island and the Shapeshifting Monster of Reform

“This disaster embodies the violence of a murderous system that’s re-legitimized by reforms, any time its true character turns into too seen, like a shapeshifting monster in a horror movie. It by no means stops consuming life,” says Kelly Hayes. On this episode of “Motion Memos,” Hayes digs into the disaster on Rikers Island, why individuals are dying, and why this isn’t a narrative about understaffing, however moderately, a narrative a few system that can’t be redeemed.

Music by Son Monarcas and Charles Hubbert


Observe: This a rush transcript and has been frivolously edited for readability. Copy will not be in its remaining type.

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Motion Memos,” a Truthout podcast about issues it’s best to know if you wish to change the world. I’m your host, author and organizer Kelly Hayes. You’ve most likely seen headlines in latest weeks concerning the disaster at Rikers Island, the place horrifying situations, and the deaths of 13 imprisoned folks this yr, have prompted some New York officers to demand the mass launch of individuals being held on the facility. The extra I discovered concerning the scenario at Rikers, the extra involved I grew to become about how we speak about it. As a result of it could be very straightforward to permit this to turn into a narrative concerning the extremity of the second, moderately than a lesson about how this technique can’t be reformed. The story unfolding at Rikers is a narrative about why mass decarceration is an ethical crucial. This disaster embodies the violence of a murderous system that’s re-legitimized by reforms, any time its true character turns into too seen, like a shapeshifting monster in a horror movie. It by no means stops consuming life. So we’re gonna get into that, and we’re additionally going to listen to from Mon M., an Indian designer, author, and abolitionist organizer who’s preventing the nice combat in New York Metropolis.

Now, the floor degree, mainstream narrative is that Rikers is an establishment that’s primary capabilities are breaking down due to a staffing scarcity. A couple of yr into the pandemic, a federal monitor famous that an “terribly giant variety of employees weren’t reporting to work.” Whereas COVID-19 definitely drove a few of these absences, the commissioner of New York’s Division of Corrections, Vincent Schiraldi, acknowledged at a listening to that he suspected that some officers have been utilizing their limitless sick days as “a vast trip pool.” New sick day restrictions have reportedly been put in place, however is that this a narrative about a spot the place issues could be okay if extra employees have been coming to work?

As Jarrod Shanahan wrote for Truthout,

[The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association] claims that the widespread prisoner abuse at Rikers stems from “understaffing” — a extremely doubtful assertion, given the comparatively huge measurement of the DOC’s uniformed workforce in proportion to its captive inhabitants. Furthermore, it’s incorrect to imagine the capacities of Rikers are merely overwhelmed. The current variety of prisoners on the island, an estimated 6,000, remains to be very low traditionally — the island reached its peak inhabitants of just about 22,000 in 1991, and till 2015, the common inhabitants had not dipped under 10,000 for many years. What we’re seeing now didn’t occur when the inhabitants was a lot larger.

As an alternative, at the moment’s disaster on Rikers is fueled by advert hoc work stoppages by guards, a part of an extended historical past of organized actions by DOC guards to insist on impunity and the flexibility to commit abuses with out oversight.

The union’s management claims that one of the simplest ways to deal with the present disaster could be to rent 2,000 extra guards. As Shanahan reported, town’s supposed plan to ultimately shut Rikers, and exchange it with a number of borough-based services, would in the end result in a discount in employees for the Division of Corrections — which is one thing the union is raging towards. Now, traditionally, when New York Corrections officers get militant about their calls for, unhealthy issues occur. In 1986, guards at Rikers staged a employees riot at two completely different jails, attacking imprisoned folks and inflicting severe accidents. As Shanahan wrote, “COBA [Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association] President Phil Seelig was current and reportedly on the heart of the motion, giving speeches and cheering on the assaults.” The guards rioted once more in 1990, and received most of their calls for, by blockading the bridge to Rikers Island and violently stopping folks from coming into the power for 36 hours. The guards even brawled with emergency medical technicians who tried to succeed in the island in an ambulance. After a tense standoff with police, the guards have been informed their calls for had been met, and the guards, lots of whom have been intoxicated, celebrated by pushing their approach into the jail to assault imprisoned individuals who have been rebelling inside, after days of abandonment.

So, I wished to start with that framing, as a result of the situations we’re seeing at Rikers are being manufactured by folks with direct management over this facility, and people are the identical individuals who make that facility a torturous, inhumane place that has been unceasingly cited for brutality and neglect. These folks keep the struggling of imprisoned folks at Rikers every day, and now, they’re ramping up that struggling in an effort to demand extra sources. Provided that guards management nearly all facets of imprisoned folks’s lives, we’re mainly speaking a few hostage scenario, and the reply isn’t to discount with the guards or rent new ones. The reply is to free the hostages.

Now, as a jail abolitionist and an organizer, I’ve to say, it’s heartening to see legislators demanding mass launch of incarcerated of us as an answer to the horrors which are at present unfolding. Consultant Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and two congressional colleagues toured Rikers final week after signing a letter calling for mass launch final month. The group launched a press release, after their tour, that included one other name for mass decarceration. The representatives wrote:

It’s inexcusable that the variety of in-custody deaths on Rikers Island has greater than quadrupled over the previous two years, together with 5 people who’ve died of suspected suicides this yr alone…. To handle overcrowding, we will act at the moment by starting the decarceration course of, supporting people’ return to their communities, and dealing with the Courts to cut back pretrial sentencing and to expedite hearings for these at present incarcerated…. The inhumane situations we witnessed at the moment are a stain on the Metropolis and State of New York. Rikers horrific historical past should come to an finish.

New York Metropolis Mayor Invoice DeBlasio has responded to requires decarceration from officers who’ve visited Rikers by saying “that’s not going to occur” and that town of New York is just not going to “simply open the gates” of the power.

In September, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Much less is Extra Act, which eliminates incarceration for many technical parole violations. Hochul additionally ordered the discharge of 191 individuals who have been being held in Rikers for technical parole violations. Even that drop within the bucket was offensive to the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Affiliation. Union President Benny Boscio, Jr. informed reporters, “This laws releases 200 of the over 6,000 inmates in our custody. Much less criminals in our custody solely means extra crimes can be dedicated in our streets, creating extra victims and that’s an injustice.”

However concern mongering about crime has not managed to eclipse the story of what’s occurring inside Rikers. New York State Assemblymember Emily Gallagher recently tweeted, “A reporter from Paris simply interviewed me, and requested, ‘in a Rikers, did you are feeling ashamed?’ I discovered myself all of the sudden on the verge of tears. Lastly I had readability on how I really feel. I’m ashamed. We’re collectively indifferent from the struggling of our most susceptible, deliberately.” Gallagher added in a subsequent tweet, “To be clear this sense isn’t restricted to Rikers. It’s additionally how we deal with the homeless, these with bodily or psychological variations or wants, those that are recovering from trauma, substance abuse and extra. Our tradition is so typically pro-isolation, and it exacerbates ache.”

So what did Gallagher, AOC and different officers who’ve toured Rikers witness? Gallagher wrote a piece in Jacobin documenting her expertise. In it, she wrote that, at Rikers:

I met males who had been caught for days within the consumption heart, held in overcrowded cells and momentary pens with out bathrooms, lower off from contact with their household or their lawyer. I discovered that, in some circumstances, households tried posting bail, however nobody was bringing the detainee to their courtroom appearances the place they might be launched. Many have been there for tiny infractions, similar to lacking curfew on parole or getting right into a combat at a barbecue. I met males with damaged bones who weren’t being given medical remedy.

On the ground, there was rubbish, cockroaches, human feces, and urine. Most bathrooms have been damaged, so males got plastic baggage to defecate in. Many reported solely consuming one meal a day — and sometimes needed to beg for it. Everybody was thirsty and had restricted or no entry to water. The temperature in some areas is sweltering within the humid summer season warmth, and there’s no air-con.

Folks previously imprisoned at Rikers and the households of people who find themselves both nonetheless confined on the facility, or who’ve died there, have additionally raised the alarm about heinous situations on the jail — whereas making clear that these situations are a part of a a lot bigger, ongoing catastrophe that has been taking part in out for years. At a protest exterior Metropolis Corridor final month, Melania Brown declared, “Rikers is a human slaughterhouse.” Brown’s sister, a 27-year-old transgender lady named Layleen Polanco, died in her cell at Rikers in 2019.

Officers who even have the facility to implement decarceration measures, nonetheless, are usually not thinking about that apparent plan of action, though voices from throughout the system itself have known as for these options. In a letter to the New York City Council, Ross MacDonald, the Chief Medical Officer and Sr. Assistant Vice President of Correctional Well being Providers in New York wrote, “Sadly, in 2021 we’ve witnessed a collapse in primary jail operations, such that at the moment I don’t consider the Metropolis is able to safely managing the custody of these it’s charged with incarcerating in its jails, nor sustaining the protection of those that work there.” MacDonald wrote that “jail situations meaningfully contributed” to folks dying, including that, “Dying and damage are predictable penalties of repeated failures to carry out sure important capabilities because of unavailability of employees. These embody sustained failure to course of and home new admissions to jail inside 24 hours, leading to pervasive issues of overcrowded pens the place incarcerated individuals are held for days on finish.” MacDonald defined that folks have been being saved for extended intervals in momentary areas similar to showers, at instances standing in feces, and famous that, “These situations result in fights over requirements together with meals.” MacDonald described a public well being disaster, the place imprisoned folks weren’t being transferred for care “even when 911 has been activated and EMS has arrived to move them.” He warned that, “As important jail capabilities break down, self-injury, medical emergencies, use of drive and severe accidents all rise.” MacDonald additionally complained concerning the medical employees’s lack of ability to comprise the unfold of COVID-19 and dismissed present plans to deal with the scenario as insufficient, saying, “plans with months-long timelines are usually not ample for the urgency of the scenario…. Decarceration efforts, that are a confirmed public well being response to COVID-19, haven’t been meaningfully pursued since 2020.”

Zoey Thill and Kimberly Sue, two former physicians at Rikers and different metropolis jails, echoed MacDonald’s considerations, but additionally refuted the notion that getting AWOL guards again on the job could be a worthy decision. In a bit for the Gotham Gazette, the 2 latest wrote:

So far, proposed options to those issues have largely centered on growing staffing and reopening strategically shuttered services. However the concept that improved staffing will magically enhance situations on the Island is just not grounded in actuality. The reality is that, even in instances of ample staffing, the care we offered within the medical clinics was marred by the violent and inhumane setting by which our clinics have been embedded.

Our examination rooms weren’t non-public. The clinic was disturbingly loud with guards and inmates yelling profanities and threats at one another or with folks in “pens” begging to be seen straight away or struggling psychiatrically. Sufferers reported attempting to get appointments for weeks however being denied care by guards who wouldn’t signal them up for or escort them to the clinic. Suppliers have been restricted in what we might prescribe as a result of even fairly innocent issues like chapstick have been thought-about ‘contraband.’ Bettering staffing won’t repair any of those issues.

Mon M., who’s an abolitionist activist and organizer in New York Metropolis, made an identical level after we talked just lately concerning the disaster at Rikers.

Mon M.: One of many issues I feel is vital to combat proper now’s the narrative that’s coming from the mayor’s workplace, the governor’s workplace, the Division of Corrections in New York which are arguing that the present catastrophe inside Rikers is attributable to understaffing.

And whereas the shortage of help from corrections officers maybe provides to the issue, it’s not the factor that’s driving the issue. Efforts to make sense of the present emergency have centered totally on the pandemic’s affect on corrections officers, with out contextualizing the general catastrophe throughout the jails on account of mass incarceration itself. Whilst judges are driving the disaster ahead by persevering with to condemn folks to jail. Vincent Schiraldi, the commissioner of the Division of Corrections and Mayor de Blasio are doing their finest to characterize the scenario as a problem in unemployment. However there are larger numbers of corrections officers employed by the Division of Corrections than folks at present incarcerated within the jails. Mainstream media is specializing in the understaffing and never on the truth that at one level throughout the pandemic, Rikers was main the nation within the variety of circumstances of COVID-19. Roshan Abraham, a journalist, has truly written about this and stated that Rikers has a dramatically larger staffing ratio than another jail throughout the nation, even on days when roughly 2000 individuals are unavailable to work.

Narratives of that understaffing obscure the true supply of the disaster, which is longstanding mismanagement, neglect, abuse, and callousness in the direction of lives of incarcerated folks. Town has to have a plan to transition its 7,000 plus corrections officers into much less harmful work and retrain them for roles that don’t contain punishing folks or overseeing their loss of life sentences. As an alternative of working to decarcerate town’s jail inhabitants drastically over the long run and shut down Rikers instantly, Schiraldi and de Blasio have promised minimal repairs and to rent extra guards whereas suspending AWOL officers. Kathy Hochul, the governor, who has the facility to unilaterally shut down Rikers, signed the Much less is Extra Act, which launched 191 individuals who have been inside on technical violations. 191, whereas vital, is a drop within the bucket of the over 6,000 folks at present incarcerated in New York Metropolis jails.

Though Much less is Extra begins the undertaking of massively decarcerating Rikers, Hochul has to make use of her energy to do extra within the face of such an expansive disaster. The transferring of individuals from Rikers to an upstate jail simply demonstrates how incapable state and metropolis legislators have been for seeing the disaster for what it truly is, and the way they’re simply taking part in politics with the lives of incarcerated folks.

KH: So let’s discuss concerning the bigger social context of this disaster. Carcerality is a defining characteristic of our well being care system, of our social companies and public schooling system. Cycles of punitive management and human disposal have been normalized throughout us. As a result of along with constructing numerous bodily partitions and borders, the prison-industrial complicated additionally creates much less seen constraints. As a social drive, securitization constructs borders that create obstacles to human empathy — borders that reinforce to us that we don’t have to fret about what occurs to folks behind sure partitions and fences, as a result of these individuals are in a zone of punishment for a cause. Whether or not that zone is a jail or a faculty, we’ve been conditioned to just accept struggling when it’s inflicted on criminalized folks.

Often, some coverage or set of situations will violate our understanding of what’s atypical inside these buildings, and we see condemnations and outrage. Politicians might even weigh in, as we’ve seen with Rikers. Folks might really feel the necessity to condemn the atrocity of the second, however what the general public often winds up settling for is a return to “regular” ranges of struggling which are simpler to disregard — or the promise of future reforms that both by no means materialize, or in the end compound the issue. In order that’s one thing we actually want to speak about, with regard to Rikers, and each jail and jail the place individuals are struggling proper now because of unspeakable situations, which might be occurring someplace close to you, wherever you might be. As a result of we’ve to know that reinforcing the system solely makes moments like these extra inevitable. No sum of money or staffing will make death-making establishments conscious of disaster in ways in which prioritizes life.

Out within the uncaged world, when a disaster hits, we count on the federal government to mobilize a response — a response that mitigates the injury and saves lives. That’s not what occurs in jails or prisons when a disaster hits, identical to it’s not what occurs with policing, as a result of these are techniques of disposal. Therapeutic, care and rescue are usually not capabilities of those techniques. These are techniques that disappear folks from society, and grind them by situations that result in untimely loss of life. How rapidly these situations result in untimely loss of life might differ, in accordance with the severity of the scenario, however even and not using a staffing scarcity, or a pandemic, or a hurricane — all conditions the place imprisoned folks have traditionally been left to die — jail situations within the U.S. are so horrendous that they strip years off of individuals’s lives. So we’re speaking a few mechanism that robs folks of life. That’s the way it capabilities. It robs them of their liberty in actual time, and it additionally shaves years off of individuals’s futures. After all that system goes to turn into extra brutal and punishing in any disaster, as a result of in terms of assembly the wants of the folks, the federal government is usually doing the naked minimal that it must in an effort to keep away from unrest, or to placate the voters. With prisons and jails, these considerations don’t exist in the identical approach, as a result of the system has been very profitable in conditioning most individuals to not care about what occurs to folks in jails and prisons, so the implications of merely permitting folks, who’ve already been deemed disposable by society, to simply die off, typically aren’t politically vital. We’ve got all been given social permission to neglect about imprisoned folks, as a result of, because the knowledge goes, they need to not have accomplished no matter obtained them incarcerated — even when that factor was merely being Black or Indigenous, and within the path of a police officer.

We’re allowed to neglect about them, as a result of they exist throughout the realm of our fears. These are individuals who we’re informed are being contained for our security, so most individuals wind up accepting that containment on the state’s phrases, with out asking too many questions. And so the monster that’s the prison-industrial complicated turns into extra lethal and it grows.

We’ve got to keep in mind that with police and prisons, the system’s place will at all times be that they want extra sources to get it proper. In New York Metropolis, we’ve seen numerous controversy over plans to shut Rikers, with some group organizers backing town’s present plan, that will in the end create 4 borough-based jails — services that will supposedly be trendy and extra humane than Rikers, though they might be staffed by the identical division. Opponents of the plan level to the truth that Rikers itself was created as a reform effort, and that this technique will solely proceed to copy struggling and trigger untimely loss of life, no matter how a lot cash is poured over it, as a result of it isn’t designed to do the rest. A kind of abolitionist organizers, who has argued for the closure of Rikers with out the development of latest jails — a place that can also be backed by AOC — was Mon M. After we talked concerning the nightmarish situations at Rikers, Mon emphasised the significance of understanding that what we’re witnessing is a component of a bigger cycle of violence.

MM: On October fifteenth, the thirteenth particular person to die in [the] Division of Corrections’ custody handed away. It was state sanctioned homicide, and his title was Victor Mercado. What’s occurring inside Rikers is that there’s a disaster of neglect, of no well being care, there’s a disaster round state legislators and metropolis legislators utilizing the lives of incarcerated folks as a bargaining chip, as a political pawn, and taking no actual motion to get folks out in order that they will obtain actual care. Up till now, 13 folks have handed away in Division of Corrections’ custody, and the vast majority of them have been held pretrial on extremely excessive bails, which implies that they’ve died as a result of they weren’t in a position to pay their bail. The present situations being reported inside sound uninhabitable and unlivable. Folks have reported that there are bodily fluids and trash all around the flooring, individuals are packed tightly into cells, properly over capability, folks don’t have locations to alleviate themselves.

Anyone reported that one may very well be spending days and even weeks in consumption, the place there’s no entry to a mattress or showers, there’s simply benches in a crowded and maskless house. Persons are not receiving bedsheets, towels or different primary requirements. After hours of ready for a consumer to be produced for a go to, attorneys typically simply hand over and depart with none contact. In order that’s at present the scenario. Among the legislators who visited Rikers in early September described circumstances that I feel could be horrifying to anyone, however one of many issues that they haven’t accomplished, is contextualize the present disaster inside Rikers as a part of an ongoing disaster of mass incarceration in New York Metropolis that’s primarily impacting poor, disabled, and Black folks within the metropolis.

As an alternative of speaking concerning the deaths which have occurred below Division of Corrections custody this yr as a part of an ongoing catastrophe and an ongoing failure on behalf of town to handle people who find themselves poor and criminalized. As an alternative of speaking about it because the extension of the neglect that occurred inside jails throughout COVID-19, and even earlier than that, because the sort of neglect that took the lives of individuals like Layleen Polanco and Kalief Browder, and even earlier than that. Within the seventies, when folks have been rebelling towards the situations in New York Metropolis jails, and even earlier than that, as an alternative of contextualizing the present disaster as a part of this longstanding catastrophe unfolding contained in the penal colony generally known as Rikers Island, legislators are decreasing the scenario right down to a query of staffing and simply not sufficient corrections officers. The scenario is altering mainly day-to-day, so even I won’t even know what new insidious plan they’ve cooked as much as keep away from truly addressing the issue.

One of the intense issues that occurred, which was actually stunning to me, was that 14 legislators truly signed a letter demanding that district attorneys in New York Metropolis finish the bail practices in gentle of the disaster. That is sort of wonderful as a result of one of many issues that was within the letter was that … it’s simply wonderful to see legislators truly brazenly say free all of them. And so I really feel like this can be a second the place sure individuals are waking as much as what the reply ought to be, which is to close down Rikers with out new jails and let folks out. However yeah, the folks like Vincent Schiraldi, the mayor’s Workplace of Legal Justice, the governor’s workplace, the Division of Corrections, the Board of Corrections, the judges, the DAs, are sort of colluding to maintain incarceration in a second that calls for like completely completely different, radically completely different options.

But in addition one of many issues I really feel like is so telling about this second is that many abolitionists for a few years, actually for the final 50 years and past, have talked about how this type of scenario the place there’s loss of life after loss of life after loss of life in New York Metropolis jails is inevitable. So for lots of people, they noticed this coming and for legislators to behave like that is only a surprising, incomprehensible, inexplicable catastrophe. It’s so merciless it’s laughable nearly, as a result of anyone else might have informed you that this was going to occur.

KH: And Mon is, after all, appropriate that many individuals have made clear, for a few years, that Rikers was a website of atrocity the place issues have been sure to worsen. One of many voices at present elevating the alarm about situations at Rikers is definitely a federal monitor. That monitor was appointed in 2015 as a part of a settlement in a case known as Nunez v. Metropolis of New York, a category motion lawsuit filed within the spring of 2012, by which 11 individuals who have been imprisoned at Rikers sued after experiencing continual, “unprovoked” beatings by the hands of guards. The U.S. Lawyer joined the go well with in 2014 after a two yr investigation into the remedy of minors on Rikers revealed there have been greater than a thousand incidents of officer-on-minor beatings in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The report described a “deep-seated tradition of violence” amongst guards, that included assaults on imprisoned youth who refused to maintain quiet about violent incidents. The settlement included a prolonged listing of reforms, together with quick and thorough studies of use of drive incidents, and the appointment of the federal monitor, who would monitor the implementation of these new insurance policies. However activists who had been organizing towards the state violence dedicated at Rikers weren’t shopping for it. Brian Sonenstein, an activist and author for Jail Protest, informed The Gothamist, within the wake of the settlement, “Whereas a few of these reforms will surely be marked enhancements on the horrifying status-quo on Rikers Island, town seems dedicated to utilizing a wrench the place it really wants a wrecking ball. Rikers can’t be saved.”

Sonenstein was appropriate, and by 2020, the federal monitor was reporting that the Division of Corrections had “not but demonstrated progress in decreasing the frequency of pointless and extreme drive.” The Gothamist reported that, “In 2020, the usage of drive charge per particular person remained larger than all years prior for the reason that monitor was in place, regardless of historic lows within the jail inhabitants — from about 5,600 in January to under 4,000 in June.” The federal monitor’s report additionally indicated that use of drive charges towards younger adults had additionally elevated nearly 200 % amongst 19 to 21-year-olds since 2016. Extra just lately, the federal monitor’s studies have grown much more dire. At a listening to earlier this month, the monitor described an incident by which guards have been six ft away from an incarcerated one that was actively hanging themselves, and did not intercede and even acknowledge what was occurring.

All of this proof tells a story, not of an establishment with a staffing disaster, however of a monstrosity that may solely serve to copy violence. As Brian Sonenstein put it, “Rikers can’t be saved.” However the violence of Rikers is just not merely the violence of a facility. It’s the violence of an equipment that’s character won’t be rewritten by hiring extra guards, or monitoring their conduct, or by redistributing their violence to a brand new set of areas. However elected officers, for probably the most half, can’t admit that establishments like jails can’t be saved, anymore than they will admit that hiring extra police received’t scale back crime. They don’t plan on instituting insurance policies that will truly enhance the situations that generate hurt and crime, as a result of that will be antithetical to neoliberalism, in order issues worsen, having the police round, to ensure our cooperation with capitalism, and having jails, the place cities can dispose of people that don’t cooperate or slot in, is fairly vital to the individuals who govern us. So the options forwarded by officers will nearly at all times contain fortifying these buildings, or simply getting them to work higher.

That is acquainted logic in terms of the legal injustice system. When policing fails to deal with intra-communal violence, we’re at all times informed that police simply want extra funding and management over folks’s lives. In Chicago, we hear on a regular basis that we merely want people who find themselves accused of crimes to have fewer rights. Our police superintendent and mayor blame bail reform for violent crime, though no knowledge helps any correlation between bail reform and violent crime. However even within the absence of information, police declare that if the folks they arrested have been merely held, pending trial, though they haven’t been convicted of something, we might be safer. Once more, no proof helps this. Police merely need an arrest to hold the identical weight as a conviction, in that in the event that they cost you, you’re mainly serving a sentence — which is how issues play out for lots of people, together with in services like Rikers. In Chicago, our high cop and mayor additionally need folks charged even when the police know they don’t have ample proof to make a case, as the mayor recently highlighted by condemning States’ Lawyer Kim Foxx for refusing to file costs in a shootout the place police and prosecutors agreed that there was no proof of who did what.

Officers who even have the facility to decarcerate typically have a jail all of them and let god kind it out strategy to regulation and order as a result of their bigger political agendas don’t enable them to deal with the basis points, which are touchdown folks in jails, so concern mongering about crime and siphoning folks into the system is all they’ve obtained.

When jails and prisons produce a lot struggling and untimely loss of life that individuals who have been conditioned to disregard carceral violence truly take discover, we’re informed that that is an anomalous scenario that may be remedied with extra sources and oversight. However it’s not anomalous. It’s inevitable and statement is just not alteration. We merely can’t deal with these harms by bolstering the system. We will deal with them by setting folks free en masse and tackling the basis causes of violence and dysfunction in our communities. In New York, there are activists and organizers preventing for that imaginative and prescient, and proposing plans for getting folks out of Rikers with out constructing new jails or additional reinforcing the system. A kind of proposals is known as Cage Free NYC.

MM: So Cage Free NYC is definitely one of many fashions and one of many plans for decarceration put ahead by a bunch of organizers, together with me. It’s not the one one, so there have been plans that have been put ahead by the Folks’s Plan New York Metropolis, the DSA additionally put out a plan for ending the carceral state, however Cage Free NYC was one created by abolitionist organizers who’ve been organizing within the metropolis for a few years. And Cage Free NYC primarily highlights a decarceral path that will shut down Rikers with out constructing new jails. The factor that Cage Free NYC prioritizes is decreasing the numbers of individuals inside New York Metropolis jails to a degree that Rikers could be shut down and it may be accomplished instantly, with out constructing new jails.

The vast majority of folks inside Rikers proper now are held pretrial, which implies they haven’t been convicted of something, So one of many different issues that Cage Free NYC highlights and prioritizes is the top of pretrial detention and the elimination of bail in order that individuals are being let loose. Specifically, Cage Free NYC highlights a holistic path to decarceration, which incorporates decreasing police interactions with the general public, leading to fewer arrests, decreasing funding for prosecutors within the Division of Corrections, leading to fewer sentences, and increasing funding in reentry companies similar to free schooling, free vocational coaching, with out police involvement or digital incarceration. It additionally highlights steps to curb the facility of the courts and to cut back the degrees of policing inside New York Metropolis, which might then considerably scale back the jail populations. If town have been to decarcerate to such an extent and scale back the quantity of individuals transferring out and in of not simply jails, however courts, town wouldn’t have a necessity for additional beds after Rikers is shut down.

One of many issues that we stated in Cage Free NYC is jail enlargement is a selection, however not the one one. Town is selecting jail enlargement, however closing Rikers is feasible with out new jails. The present disaster, if something, demonstrates how incapable the Division of Corrections is of conserving folks secure, we already know that jails are loss of life making establishments and within the palms of the New York Metropolis Division of Corrections, they turn into even worse, utterly unviable and utterly unconscionable. However as an alternative of taking these widespread sense steps, which aren’t essentially…. These are laborious steps, however as an alternative of taking these widespread sense steps, town is offsetting the issue onto staffing. However you’re not going to repair an issue by including to the issue. When the basis of the issue is Rikers itself and the Division of Corrections itself, then reforming the Division of Corrections, reforming incarceration in New York Metropolis, constructing new jails, hiring extra workers in prosecutors’ places of work, hiring extra corrections officers is just not going to be the best way to undermine the issue.

One of many issues I need to spotlight is that metropolis officers have argued that the calls for to close down Rikers instantly with out new jails are unrealistic and so they’ve even stopped mentioning the opportunity of canceling the jails plan. So in numerous reporting about Rikers, the borough-based jails, notably concerning the present disaster in Rikers, the borough-based jails aren’t being talked about, however they go hand in hand. Proper now, the one possibility being put ahead for shutting down Rikers is one which shuts it down by 2027 with new jails. However Rikers Island was constructed as a reform to get better from the injustices, so-called “get better,” of Blackwell’s Island Psychological Asylum. And if jail profiteers proceed of their methods, extra reforms can be used to take care of crises like those inside New York Metropolis jails now, solely to require undoing years or many years later. As an alternative of exceptionalizing Rikers and exceptionalizing this second, we have to see it as a part of a continuum of neglect and abuse that include the carceral state, not simply in New York Metropolis, however in New York state and in addition throughout the nation and world.

KH: The underside line is that disposal techniques don’t present care. They inflict struggling and trigger untimely loss of life. When the manufacturing of untimely loss of life accelerates, and a society doesn’t react, the needle can simply maintain transferring, till you’re dwelling in a spot the place the formalized disposal of human life turns into swift enterprise. These of you who’re frightened of a right-wing takeover and the continued rise of fascism ought to suppose lengthy and laborious about what which means. These carceral horror tales are usually not a blip. They’re the form of issues to come back in an period of ongoing disaster, and we have to acknowledge that piecemeal reactions, that merely demand the amelioration of no matter singular horror broke by, and obtained a response out of most of the people, typically wind up reinforcing the system. As a result of the system will at all times say it wants more cash and sources in an effort to deal with folks extra humanely, and it’ll devour the billions of {dollars} which are fed to it, as reform, and it’ll proceed to do what it has at all times accomplished: inflict struggling and inflict even better struggling in instances of disaster. That’s why we’ve to problem ourselves, to not merely flip down the amount of atrocity, however to say, “Why is that this occurring? What mechanism retains producing these outcomes? What wouldn’t it take to get completely different outcomes?”

There aren’t any buildings of care that may be adequately fortified in these locations, as a result of websites of human disposal are the antithesis of care. They’re the place we put individuals who have been stripped of fashionable empathy, and with out that, the system can do issues to them that will horrify folks in another context. However as soon as an individual is incarcerated, they’re bodily located throughout the realm of our fears, so any regard for his or her well-being is pitted towards our fears, and our sense of inevitability. As a result of the system will at all times body itself as important and inevitable, though it’s neither.

So how can we help folks incarcerated in Rikers? Mon had a number of ideas about that that I want to share with you all.

MM: So one huge factor folks can do is to help the calls for coming from the within. For instance, at present ladies incarcerated at Rosie’s on Rikers Island have signed a petition towards transferring them to state services. A few days in the past, the state introduced that it could be transferring folks from Rosie’s to Bedford Hills. The transfers to upstate prisons are so nonsensical as a result of the upstate prisons are equally horrible if not in some methods worse due to how lengthy individuals are incarcerated there. And now folks incarcerated at Rikers are advocating for themselves to not be transferred and to be freed. So one of many greatest issues folks can do is definitely help the calls for which are coming from inside New York Metropolis jails, the calls for coming from people who find themselves incarcerated, notably from people who find themselves demanding an finish to pre-trial detention, demanding higher situations inside, demanding higher meals, higher healthcare, and demanding higher companies to be offered to them after they get out.

It’s actually vital that folks help incarcerated folks proper now, who’re incarcerated in New York Metropolis jails, and in addition construct relationships with them as a result of we have to be seeing them as a part of our group. And since if folks don’t have relationships with incarcerated folks and don’t help their advocacy for themselves, then it permits town and state and the Division of Corrections to silo them and silence them and make it look like no one is preventing for them. In order that’s an enormous approach that folks can help and become involved. I feel it’s an enormous name to motion. One other approach is to help calls for to cease the borough-based jails plan, to maneuver capital building funds away from the borough-based jails to different initiatives, to delay the development, to prioritize healthcare inside jails, to prioritize free companies for individuals who have been previously incarcerated over the constructing of latest jails as a part of an agenda for New York Metropolis.

And lastly, the opposite huge narrative factor is folks can find out about what pretrial detention is and finish it. Ending pretrial detention is a big a part of how we’re going to abolish mass incarceration in New York. I don’t suppose that the shutting down of Rikers ought to be contingent on the combat to finish pretrial detention, however do suppose that folks have to find out about what pretrial detention is and finish it, and what bail is, in an effort to begin advocating for options that aren’t incremental, and for reforms that may truly shrink the jail industrial complicated, shrink New York Metropolis and state’s carceral sprawl, as an alternative of increasing it.

KH: We don’t expertise the fullness of our humanity below this technique. Our tolerance of mass struggling and loss of life deprives us of that. It leads us to just accept the unacceptable. Jails, prisons, detention facilities and refugee camps are websites of human disposal in a bigger system of disposal, surveillance and management. These techniques cage folks, however additionally they confine human potential. As a result of what our authorities has completed, by cultivating widespread indifference about human struggling in carceral areas, is the blueprint for our destruction below capitalism, whether or not it’s waged by the right-wing or a neoliberal regime. Proper now, the right-wing seems to be successful, by persevering with to ahead its agenda on the state degree and thru the courts, though the Democrats management the presidency and each homes of Congress. However below both celebration, our acceptance of the mass manufacturing of untimely loss of life makes us morally malleable in ways in which have and can show disastrous. The elasticity of our tolerance for struggling and loss of life can be our undoing if we don’t destroy the borders that prohibit our empathy. All of us have human and political potential that can’t be realized till these borders are undone.

Peeling again layers of desensitization could be painful, however it will possibly additionally unlock one thing inside us that we didn’t even know was caged. After we enable our sense of human connectedness to dissipate, on a categorical degree, whether or not it’s people who find themselves imprisoned, or people who find themselves entangled with immigration or the household regulation system, one thing goes darkish inside us. In my work, I’ve discovered that when these obstacles come down, there’s a spark of risk that doesn’t exist wherever else, or occur another approach. After we acknowledge that the prison-industrial complicated shouldn’t exist, and picture what it could take to get rid of any perceived want for such a monstrosity, we’re setting our imaginations free upon the world in methods which are incompatible with the violence of capitalism.

It jogs my memory of an exercise I’ve used within the opening of direct motion workshops with, the place I’d ask folks what it could be wish to be really free. Folks would title issues like free schooling, free healthcare, assured housing, and never being topic to state violence — issues which are, below this technique, actually radical calls for, however that simply make sense to folks, when they consider what it could imply to be free. Most of these folks weren’t jail industrial complicated abolitionists, however after they tried to think about a world the place all of us had a shot at dwelling freely and in peace, they envisioned lots of the issues that abolitionists are preventing for, as a result of in a world the place we prioritized assembly these human wants, we might not be attempting to determine get rid of or comprise thousands and thousands of surplus folks, whose wants and struggles don’t match the calls for of a lower throat system. Taking that step, of really imagining the prioritization of life as being elementary to what it means to be free, and preventing from there, is liberating. Questioning your boundaries round who that prioritization extends to, or who landed the place they’re, as a result of their survival and well-being have been by no means a precedence — that may result in a liberation of thought that may completely blow your thoughts, if it hasn’t already. It’s that jailbreak of the creativeness that enables us to demand what we want, moderately than beg for establishment ranges of struggling.

I do know that not everybody listening to this podcast is an abolitionist, however I don’t suppose all of us have to be on that web page to ponder the prioritization of life as being elementary to our freedom. As a result of freedom has to imply greater than not being disposed of in a cage. And I don’t suppose you must be an abolitionist to bother your boundaries round that. I consider that when anybody will get actual with themselves concerning the borders that prohibit the movement of their empathy, and takes a wrecking ball to that shit, there’s a flash of potential on the planet that wasn’t there earlier than. That’s how we discover one another within the wrestle to remain human, and that’s how we wind up emptying cages collectively.

I need to thank Mon M. for speaking with me about abolition and the rights of imprisoned folks, for this episode. If you want to get extra concerned in supporting imprisoned folks in Rikers and elsewhere in New York, we can have some hyperlinks within the present notes which you can take a look at on our web site. I additionally need to thank our listeners for becoming a member of us at the moment, and bear in mind, our greatest protection towards cynicism is to do good, and to recollect, that the nice we do issues. Till subsequent time, I’ll see you within the streets.

Present Notes

If you want to have interaction with this challenge:

  • To study extra about how one can help folks being held in Rikers, you possibly can take a look at In Defense Of. In Protection Of is a storytelling and motion platform curated and powered by public defenders and their shoppers.
  • Mariame Kaba created this list of commitments “for individuals who need to be a part of supporting and dealing alongside incarcerated folks this yr and want some concrete concepts/steps. It’s an incomplete listing. However it’s a good begin. Please be at liberty to share this with others.”
  • Survived & Punished (S&P) is a coalition of protection campaigns and grassroots teams dedicated to eradicating the criminalization of survivors of home and sexual violence and the tradition of violence that contributes to it. S & P’s New York contingent is concentrated on liberating criminalized survivors from prisons and detention facilities by organizing and coverage advocacy within the state.
  • Covid Bail Out NYC is a volunteer-powered effort to bail folks out of NYC jails. You possibly can help their efforts here.

Additional studying: