Press Statements


August 17, 2023

CONTACT: Jada Shannon,

At least 42 people have died under Department of Correction (DOC) custody since 2021, with more than half of these deaths occurring under Mayor Adams’ administration

Advocates present list of demands calling for Mayor Adams to make decarceration the focus of city policy to make good on his promise to follow the law and close Rikers Island

NEW YORK  — Today, in response to the number of deaths at Rikers Island reaching record highs, community advocates were joined by Councilmember Tiffany Caban, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, and Deputy Public Advocate Solomon Acevedo at City Hall Park to demand that Mayor Adams close the pipeline that feeds people into Rikers Island and makes decarceration the guiding policy of New York City. VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to Jon McFarlane with VOCAL-NY’s Civil Rights Union: 

“It is said that ‘the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’ What does it mean for New York City that so many of our people never make it out of Rikers? A call to decarcerate requires that we actually meet the needs of New Yorkers instead of disappearing them. A call to decarcerate requires true investment in housing, physical and mental health care, drug user health, education, and employment. A call to decarcerate is a call for public safety!”


“We need to ensure the system is working for all New Yorkers, not just for the privileged few. To be able to close Rikers Island we need a system that works, we need to demand that from the Mayor, we need to demand that from our elected officials, and need to demand that today. We are not going back, we are not going home, we are not shutting up. We demand that Rikers close now,” said Assemblymember Harvey Epstein.

Look at the years and years of indisputable data, research, empirical evidence that says what we are doing is not only all wrong, but that it makes us less safe. And what does make us safe is investment in public health infrastructure, money and dollars into a continuum of care that everyone in our city can access. We center decarceration and we take those funds and invest them in our communities. If we want to decrease the violence on Rikers, decarcerate. If we want to make sure people are getting medical care and mental healthcare, decarcerate,” said Councilmember Tiffany Caban.

“We need decarceration today! If we released people over 55, young people ages 18-20, women, and TGNC people, there would be 1500 less people on Rikers. There are over 3,500 people with mental illness, who are required to receive a continuum of care when they’re released and we know that’s not happening. These are people who should also not be incarcerated. We need a real plan from the Mayor to make sure Rikers Island will be on track to close by 2027,” said Solomon Acevedo, Deputy Public Advocate for Justice, Health Equity, and Safety

“I am demanding that sole caretakers of children be released immediately from Rikers. My son, Isaiah, wasn’t able to grow up with his family because I was detained on Rikers. Rikers doesn’t just harm the people detained there, it harms their families, their homes, and their communities. Mayor Adams has the power to actually bring about public safety and keeping families whole and adequately resourced is a necessary part of that. I’m committed to fighting for the safety that Isaiah and I were denied,” said D’Juan Collins of VOCAL-NY.

“We know that there are proven solutions to close the pipeline that feeds Rikers and enhance community safety. Unfortunately, Mayor Adam gave lip service to “investing upstream.” The number of Black and brown New Yorkers, many with mental illnesses, sent to Rikers keeps growing under his watch. Instead of dragging New York City backwards to the Giuliani era, the Mayor should put serious funding into the people and communities that have been devastated by decades of mass incarceration and disinvestment, use his power to reduce the jail population, and expedite the closure of Rikers Island,” said Darren Mack, Freedom Agenda

“Jails Action Coalition has unwaveringly emphasized the importance of equipping NYC DOC personnel with the necessary training in fields such as mental health and Narcan, among others. The loss of life of detainees in specialized units due to the presence of untrained staff who lack both compassion and empathy is of grave concern. As the detained community continues to suffer in barbaric conditions, who will take leadership and hold DOC accountable for their savagely cruel behavior and culture?” said Chaplain Dr. Victoria A. Phillips- Dr. V, of the Jails Action Coalition (JAC).

“The system is not broken, it is working just the way it was intended to work. And by shutting down Rikers Island, we begin to break those systems. We have people so ill that they are on their deathbed. Why are they on Rikers? We can decarcerate half of that system by getting people out of there and into the treatment they need. Stop punishing them for the poverty they grew up under. You want public safety, then end poverty and close Rikers now,” said Jerome Wright, #HALTsolitary Campaign.


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