New York lawmakers decry ‘inhumane’ Rikers Island after touring jail

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Criminal justice reform advocates holding a "Less is More" sign at the entrance of Rikers Island in Queens, New York, on Monday Sept. 13, 2021. - Theodore Parisienne/New York Daily News/TNS

NEW YORK — A trio of New York-based members of Congress slammed the local and state government for allowing “inhumane conditions” on Rikers Island after touring the troubled city jail.

Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ritchie Torres and Carolyn Maloney said they were horrified by the conditions facing prisoners and staff alike.

“The inhumane conditions we witnessed today are a stain on the City and State of New York,” the lawmakers said in a statement Tuesday.

Calling Rikers a “humanitarian crisis,” the three lawmakers called for immediate action to ease overcrowding such as releasing nonviolent offenders awaiting trial.

“We can act today by beginning the ‘decarceration’ process, supporting individuals’ return to their communities, and working with the courts to reduce pretrial sentencing and to expedite hearings for those currently incarcerated,” they said.

They praised Gov. Kathy Hochul for recently signing the Less Is More Act, which reforms the state’s parole system and makes it less likely that parolees will be incarcerated for minor or technical violations.

But they said much more needs to be done for the good of the prisoners, staff and the entire community.

“The City, State, and federal government must immediately take action to correct the humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island, and provide a safe and clean environment,” they said.

The most glaring crisis on Rikers is the near-total lack of medical and psychiatric care for inmates, who are facing much longer pretrial detention times due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on courts.

Last month, Department of Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said “there is nothing natural about what is happening in our jail system right now.” Since December 2020, 11 detainees have died while in custody at Rikers Island.

The congressional delegation called for the city to expedite its plan to close the facility, which currently calls for it to close by 2027.

“Rikers' horrific history must come to an end,” they said.

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