Contact: Sam McCann, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (SMccann@ndsny.org)
(NEW YORK, NY) – 17 legislators issued an open letter to Governor Hochul and Mayor de Blasio today demanding an end to involuntarily transfer women, transgender and non-binary people currently incarcerated at Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC) on Rikers Island to state prisons run by the state’s Department of Correction and Community Supervision.
Rather than transfering the women and transgender people – who have not been convicted of any crime – to prison upstate, the officials urged the governor and mayor to instead reduce the jail population by releasing people held pretrial.
The elected officials who signed the letter are: Assemblymember Amanda Septimo; Senator Alessandra Biaggi; Senator Jabari Brisport; Senator Robert Jackson; Senator Jessica Ramos; Senator Julia Salazar; Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson; Assemblymember Kenny Burgos; Assemblymember Harvey Epstein; Assemblymember Emily Gallagher; Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas; Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani; Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes; Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou; Assemblymember Dan Quart; Assemblymember Karines Reyes; Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. Signatories also included Democratic Nominee for City Council Tiffany Caban.
Many of the officials who signed the letter have visited Rikers in recent weeks. The letter includes specific observations from Assemlbymember Septimo’s recent visit to RMSC, who spoke to dozens of those set to be transferred. They voiced their concern for their safety in prison; whether they would be able to receive medical care in prison given the facility does not accommodate telehealth visits; the lack of clarity they have been offered regarding this hastily organized plan; and the injustice of transferring people held pre-trial to prison. One woman asked Assemblymember Septimo: “Why us? We haven’t been convicted. Why are we going to be treated like prisoners?” Another said: “This is showing that detention is a coercive weapon to squeeze out pleas. The Constitution is not optional, it applies to us.”
The letter reads in part:
“Rather than addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis at Rikers through the only meaningful solution –by releasing people held pretrial — your plan further marginalizes the incarcerated persons affected. It further isolates them from their families, attorneys and service-providers. RMSC is the facility for which advocates have received the fewest reports of acute crisis in recent months, and yet the rights of the people incarcerated there are being sacrificed in order to reassign a small number of officers to other facilities in a plan that will not ameliorate the ongoing emergency in any significant way.
“Immediate action is required to address the horrors that incarcerated people currently face on Rikers Island, but that action cannot be one that compounds the isolation and trauma of those incarcerated. The incarcerated people directly impacted by this decision have been offered no choice in this plan nor were they, their families, advocates, DOC staff or service providers allowed to provide any feedback before it was hastily announced to the press. Those slated to be transferred are overwhelmingly people held pre-trial, and it is therefore vital and constitutionally-mandated that those currently incarcerated at RMSC have ongoing and unhindered access to defense counsel, social workers and other advocates working in their defense. Moving them miles from the city and its courts, into facilities designed for persons already convicted serving long-term sentences ensures that those transferred will have less ability to participate in their own defense and reduced access to justice…
“We request that you listen to the voices of the affected persons themselves, 128 of whom have already signed a public letter and petition stating that they are “unequivocally opposed to this edict” and asking “How does making female detainees more isolated and less able to meet with counsel, court advocates, and visitors address the emergency?” This ill-conceived plan must be immediately halted before the harm these incarcerated people have already suffered is only further exacerbated.”
Read the full letter here.
Sam McCann, Communications Specialist, NDS
Phone: (212) 316-7399