Five episodes of our New Thinking podcast on the human costs of Rikers Island, and what a future without Rikers might look like.
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With the launch of the Lippman Commission 2.0, New York City has taken a decisive step towards closing the notorious jails on Rikers Island. But how did we get here, and what’s at stake in the ongoing effort to close the jail complex? Here are five episodes of our New Thinking podcast that tell the story of Rikers through the voices of advocates, scholars, and—most importantly—people who have seen the harms of Rikers Island firsthand.
I think the throughline is the utter lack of vision. For as long as we have jails, what is the city's vision of what it is they should be?
In 2017, New York City pledged to close the jails on Rikers Island, a shift that would reorient the city's approach to public safety and incarceration. Amid a growing jail population and a historic spike in deaths on Rikers, New Thinking convened a roundtable with Brandon Holmes of Freedom Agenda; Elizabeth Glazer, Former Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice; Alice Fontier of Neighborhood Defender Services; and Richard Aborn of the Citizen’s Crime Commission of NYC. Together, they discussed: what are the prospects for finally getting Rikers closed?
Quote by Elizabeth Glazer, January 2022.
Those that died in Rikers Island, they're here with us today. They're standing among us and they want justice.
Fifteen people died in the custody of New York City’s jail system in 2021. On New Thinking, hear an audio snapshot from an emergency rally demanding immediate measures to release people from Rikers Island’s jails.
Quote by Melania Brown, September 2021.
For me I think it's important that people understand that people of color have always known what's been going on in Rikers Island since day one. It's just now become a public issue.
Highlights from a public screening and panel discussion of Bill Moyers's film Rikers: An American Jail, moderated by New Thinking host Matt Watkins. The discussion—centering on Rikers’ long history of dehumanization and those who have suffered through it—opens up a broader question: Can closing Rikers Island be a catalyst for a more comprehensive transformation of the system?
Quote by Barry Campbell, July 2018.
If you need insulin to treat your diabetes, and you know that, and you communicate that to people, but the system works in a way to deprive you of insulin and you die, that death is attributable to the jail.
As chief medical officer for New York City jails, Homer Venters realized early in his tenure that for many people dying on Rikers Island, the primary cause of death was jail itself. Venters joins New Thinking to talk about his team’s mission to investigate something few people had dared to track before: “jail-attributable deaths.”
Quote by Homer Venters, September 2019.
What we've been able to demonstrate is that releases can be done safely and help the people who are getting released.
Jails and prisons were epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic. To get people out from behind bars, the city turned to a trio of nonprofits to repurpose a successful program on the fly: Supervised Release, which offers social services to people awaiting trial in the community. Hear from three people who worked on the Rikers Early Release program and learn what it can tell us about how we can close Rikers today. As our later evaluation of the program concluded: "Where the political will exists, jail populations can be reduced swiftly and humanely."
Quote by Adam Mansky, May 2020.