Join the Movement of #NoNewJailsNYC
As SRLP said in this blog post from April 2017, closing Rikers is good, but abolition is better. At SRLP, we have members who have been home for over 20 years and are still trying to survive the violence they endured. While Rikers is an untenable horror, borough-specific jails are not inherently different or better. Either way, we are investing money and time into incarceration. NoNewJailsNYC builds on the idea that we must resist the concept of a “humane jail” or anything that makes people feel that it is acceptable to place people in cages. NoNewJailsNYC is a multiracial, intergenerational coalition of community members and activists fighting the mayor’s racist jail construction plan in NYC. You can reach out to NoNewJails on Twitter: @nonewjails_nyc or email: email@example.com
SRLP is thrilled to share this post from our long-time volunteer Nadja Eisenberg–Guyot. Nadja shared this testimony at multiple public hearings in September, and we are honored they have allowed us to share it again for everyone here.
STATEMENT AGAINST NYC’S ROADMAP TO CLOSING RIKERS ISLAND
Nadja Eisenberg-Guyot is an SRLP volunteer and member of #NoNewJailsNYC. You can follow them on Twitter @nadjaguyot, where they tweet about prison abolition, gender liberation, and ending the racist War on Drugs.
Rikers must be shut down immediately and permanently. Even after the settlement in Nunez, the class-action suit brought by incarcerated people against the DoC for violence and excessive force, even after years of independent monitoring, violence at Rikers is deeply entrenched and persistent. As the incarcerated population at Rikers has decreased, levels of violence have increased. Across City jails, the number of sexual assault allegations, mostly allegations against staff, increased 40% from 2016 to 2017, to more than 1,000 in 2017 alone. After years of attempted reform, Rikers has been, and continues to be, a dangerous, brutalizing place for incarcerated people, their loved ones, and their visitors.
Decades of reports and lawsuits from incarcerated women and their families document a “pervasive culture of rape and other sexual abuse” at Rosie’s, the women’s facility on Rikers. Many of the women incarcerated at Rosie’s are the criminalized survivors of domestic and other forms of interpersonal and structural violence, whose incarceration reflects racist, classist, and sexist policing and ideas of who counts as a victim.
Meanwhile, the DoC has been touting Rosie’s as a progressive and humane jail, ever since it opened. They brag about the nursery allowing incarcerated women and their infants to stay together. But don’t be confused: that means together in a cage.
Trans women in particular experience high rates of violence and abuse wherever they are incarcerated, and especially at Rikers. Although the Transgender Housing Unit was built to address trans women’s heightened vulnerabilities to sexual assault and other abuse, women are routinely and illegally denied admittance to the Unit, are incarcerated in men’s facilities, and experience harassment and gender-based violence wherever they are housed. Trans women of color are over-policed by the NYPD, over incarcerated, and when incarcerated, experience sexual assault at a rate ten times higher than other incarcerated populations.
All women’s experiences of criminalization and incarceration show us that building “special,” more “sensitive,” or “gender responsive” units doesn’t make jails safe. That’s because incarceration does not eliminate violence; it perpetuates it. Given what we know about the history of allegedly “progressive” jailing and the actual harms it perpetuates, we shouldn’t trust the City now when they say that they can make humane jails that will keep our community members safe while incarcerated.
Almost 80% of people incarcerated at Rikers are in pre-trial detention, meaning that they have not been convicted of any crime. Of the people incarcerated pre-trial because they cannot afford bail, 70% are accused of nonviolent crimes. And most of those people will never be found guilty by a judge or jury; instead, they will take a plea so that they can return home. An additional 7% of people incarcerated in City jails are incarcerated for technical parole violations, meaning that they, too, have not been re-convicted of any crime. People incarcerated in New York City do not pose a threat to communities, but jailing poses a threat to them.
Rikers must be shut down. I also oppose the City’s plan to construct four new detention facilities. People currently incarcerated in NYC’s jails are our neighbors, community members, families, friends, and loved ones. They are our 16 and 17 year old children. Jails do not heal communities, nor do they repair relationships damaged by harm. Instead, they break relations of accountability and mutual healing by isolating us from each other. Incarceration teaches us that members of our community are disposable, that they are better left out of sight and out of mind. But my community members are not disposable. I oppose the construction of new jails because I want my community members back in my community, but not in cages.
We should close Rikers immediately. But we do not need to open new jails to do so. I oppose the construction of all new jails in NYC because all members of my community, and every community, should be free. This is why I stand for #NoNewJails.
NYC Board of Correction. “An Assessment of the Transgender Housing Unit.” February 2018.