Rikers Island Jail May Be Closing. Jay Z Supports The Plan.
For 85 years, New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex has been one of the most notorious prisons on the planet. Lodged on an island in the East River, between Queens and The Bronx, the facility is often home to as many as 10,000 inmates and another 9,000 officers. It has long been the primary detention center for the five boroughs, and carries a reputation that mirrors the peril and violence of old New York, even in 2017. Whether the threats come from fellow inmates, officers, or an industrial prison system, Rikers Island is one of the worst places to be.
Kool G Rap & DJ Polo made a 1990 single, imagining a bid there. In more realistic terms, Hip-Hop figures such as Tupac Shakur, DMX, Lil Wayne, G. Dep, and Shyne have all served time there. Additionally, “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz, The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, and John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman were also inmates.
On Friday (March 31), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced gradual plans to close Rikers at City Hall. In the wake of protests, and a number of publicized incidents of violence and mistreatment used on inmates, the facility that opened in 1932 has numbered days. However, those days could span a decade, based on the city’s support, and a need for less prison sentences. If the population drops below 5,000, the inmates can be relocated in other available facilities, in addition to new construction within the five boroughs.
“What we’re doing here is a whole philosophy shift,” City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, per The New York Times. “After decades of having a system that what it wants to do is strip away the dignity of individuals, we’re trying to put some humanity back.”
In 2014, Rikers was involved in a federal investigation surrounding the poor treatment of its inmates. In particular, the corresponding report revealed that juvenile inmates were especially mistreated, citing “rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by Department of Corrections staff.” As a result, surveillance cameras were added as part of a 2015 settlement.
On Friday, Jay Z showed his support in a tweet. The Roc Nation founder produced a six night Spike TV documentary series on the life and death of Kalief Browder, a Bronx, New Yorker who was convicted of stealing a backpack at the age of 16. Maintaining his innocence, Browder would spend more than 1,000 days in prison (and more than 800 in a Rikers Island solitary confinement cell), as his trials pushed due to continuations. Throughout much of this time, Browder battled depression and attempted suicide multiple times. In May of 2013, Browder was released from Rikers. In June of 2015, Browder was found dead from suicide after battling depression said to be related to his time in solitary confinement on Rikers.
The Times‘ report also considers a number of external factors as well, including de Blasio’s upcoming reelection campaign, and a desire to re-develop the island real estate (which the 97-page proposal report also states, would include renaming the isle).