This is an open letter from attorneys, social workers, legal advocates, and public defender administrative staff supporting the No New Jails campaign. If you would like to sign, fill out the form below.


June 17, 2019

We are attorneys, social workers, legal advocates, and public defender administrative staff who work to defend New York City’s overpoliced Black and brown communities from criminalization, deportation, family separation, poverty, and all the other oppression that surrounds incarceration. We strongly oppose New York City’s plan to build four new jails and instead join the call to close Rikers now without reinvesting in new jails. The $11 billion that the city estimates it will spend on new jails should be invested in helping our clients’ communities thrive, not on criminalizing and caging them. Shutting down Rikers without building new jails is both feasible and necessary. We support the No New Jails campaign’s fight to make that vision a reality.

Lawyers, courts, policing, and incarceration have always been weapons of racial subjugation, and they are responsible for immense oppression in our clients’ lives. In order to end that, we must divest from the system, not reinvest in it. Spending billions to build new jails – at a moment when public criticism of policing and imprisonment is so prevalent and public funding for education, infrastructure, housing, and healthcare so poor – is a devastating step backward.

For years, New Yorkers – particularly Black and brown New Yorkers – have called for an immediate close to Rikers, have painfully detailed the torture experienced there, and have fought to end all the oppression enabled by that place. Rejecting that demand, the city has launched a plan to build four new jails and delay the closing of Rikers until after 2026, when a new Mayor and City Council can still choose to keep Rikers open alongside their massive new jails. Worse, the City is planning to expand the jail system before the full impact of state-level legislative reforms is known, and adding new jails will make further decarceration more difficult.

We know from our daily work that attempts to reform and rebuild jails will simply renew an oppressive system. Rikers was also hailed as a triumph of progressive reform when it was built a century ago, after the city’s previous jails were criticized on terms nearly identical to today’s calls to close Rikers. Likewise, the city’s effort just last year to move teenagers off Rikers to the Horizon Juvenile Center, touted by the Mayor’s Office as part of their broader “strategy” for replacing Rikers with borough-based jails, actually increased violence against incarcerated youth.

It is delusional to pretend the city’s newest jails will be different. There are zero historical examples of incarceration, policing, or surveillance that did not become more and more oppressive with time. Closing Rikers immediately without new jails is the only moral option, the only option for those who support racial justice, and the only true step towards the liberation our clients need.

Others in the legal community have claimed the No New Jails campaign lacks a realistic post-Rikers plan. The truth is that the No New Jails plan is the only one that rejects the decades-long failed pathology of continuing to build new jails, whereas the city’s plan will kill the need for continued decarceration. Jails are always filled to and beyond capacity with Black and brown bodies. We cannot accept the city’s assurance that these jails will be different. The communities of color that we serve cannot rely on rhetoric to preserve their dignity and rights. If the city builds these jails, it will fill them.

Examining who exactly is incarcerated shows that Rikers can be closed without building new jails. Around two thirds of the city’s jail population is awaiting trial on unproven charges, merely allegations. Most of these people have bail amounts that can be paid. This incarceration defies the presumption of innocence, forcing guilty pleas as the price for returning to one’s family and life. The city can eliminate cash bail, eliminate more pretrial detention, and speed the resolution of cases.

The second largest category (around 20%) is people incarcerated for losing parole, about half of them for technical violations. This incarceration (which grew 15% under Mayor de Blasio) derails people trying to pick their lives up after criminalization. New York’s parole system is in dire need of legislative change. Reducing the city’s jail capacity can help force that change, while building new jails will make change less imperative.

The remainder of the city’s incarcerated population (around 12%) are serving sentences under a year. Their convictions are minor and should not require incarceration. Confronting mass incarceration requires decriminalizing more offenses and eliminating or reducing more sentences.

Reducing the city’s jail capacity can help force those changes. History shows that closing jails can lead to drops in both violence and arrests, since police are forced to see incarceration “as a limited commodity rather than as a standard response.” Eliminating more pretrial detention, parole violations, and sentences would lower the number of people incarcerated to below the city’s non-Rikers jail capacity of around 2,400. This is a more just goal for decarceration than the capacity that the city plans to spend billions on adding.

This political moment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn the tide against decades of constantly expanding the carceral system. Bold investment in the communities hit hardest by mass criminalization would create a much safer, healthier, and more inclusive society than jails ever have. Closing Rikers without building more jails will free resources to fix and expand public housing, to build holistic mental health networks, and to create high quality schools. As we build that world, we can work toward reducing and eliminating the city’s non-Rikers jail capacity.

This is our chance to help New York City leave incarceration behind and take its first step towards a more just society. We ask our colleagues across the city to join the abolitionist fight to close Rikers without building new jails. The $11 billion that the city plans to spend building new cages should be used to restore our communities, rebuild our social safety net, fund NYCHA, and ultimately ensure that we never go back to the era of mass criminalization. If these jails are built, it will be several generations before New York City has another opportunity like this. We must not squander this moment.

Signed,

  1. Yariel Acevedo
  2. Arielle Adams (The Legal Aid Society)
  3. Javeria Ahmed (Sauti Yetu Center for African Women)
  4. Zohra Ahmed
  5. Nkasi Akpaka
  6. Tess Alexander (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  7. Roshell Amezcua (The Bronx Defenders)
  8. Dami Animashaun
  9. Gabriella Ansah
  10. Alex Anthony
  11. Anna Applebaum
  12. Tara Aquino
  13. Rumzi Araj (The Legal Aid Society)
  14. Oswald Araujo
  15. Viviana Arcia-Quijano (The Bronx Defenders)
  16. Gabriel Arkles
  17. Anna Arons (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  18. Joe Austin (The Legal Aid Society)
  19. Helen Avery Campbell
  20. Alisha Babar (The Legal Aid Society)
  21. Perla Baez (The Bronx Defenders)
  22. Crystal Baker-Burr (The Bronx Defenders)
  23. Khouloud Ballout
  24. Greg Baltz (Urban Justice Center)
  25. Rachel Banks (The Bronx Defenders)
  26. Lina Barbenes
  27. Sabrina Bazile
  28. Muriel Bell (The Bronx Defenders)
  29. Casandia Bellevue (The Legal Aid Society)
  30. Danelly Bello (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  31. Elizabeth Bender
  32. Jeremy Bennie (The Bronx Defenders)
  33. Zoe Bernstein
  34. Jessica L. Bettencourt
  35. Jahnavi Bhaskar (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  36. Karen Brill
  37. Eun-Bit Chang
  38. Conrad Blackburn (The Bronx Defenders)
  39. Tyler Blaize
  40. Genia Blaser
  41. Richard Blum
  42. Ryan Brewer (The Bronx Defenders)
  43. Lizzie Bright (The Bronx Defenders)
  44. Brittany Brown (New York County Defender Services)
  45. Tiffany Cabán
  46. Wesley Caines
  47. Lax Cali
  48. Marisa Cano-Carey (The Bronx Defenders)
  49. Candice Carnage
  50. Annie Carney (The Bronx Defenders)
  51. Caitlyn Carpenter (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  52. Matt Carroll (The Bronx Defenders)
  53. Amanda Carter (The Legal Aid Society)
  54. Samantha Catalanotto (The Bronx Defenders)
  55. Antonio Changanaqui (The Bronx Defenders)
  56. Natalie Chap (Dignity in Schools Campaign)
  57. Jacob Chin (The Bronx Defenders)
  58. Natasha Chokhani (The Bronx Defenders)
  59. Melissa Chua (New York Legal Assistance Group)
  60. Ava Cilia
  61. Erin Miles Cloud (Movement for Family Power)
  62. Rivka Cohen (The Bronx Defenders)
  63. Rosa Cohen-Cruz (The Bronx Defenders)
  64. Stephanie Conners
  65. Danielle Craig (The Legal Aid Society)
  66. Marissa Crook
  67. Alice Cullina
  68. Shannon Cumberbatch (The Bronx Defenders)
  69. Alyce Currier
  70. Matthew W. Daloisio (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  71. Jaylan Daniels (The Legal Aid Society)
  72. Margaret DaRocha (New York County Defender Services)
  73. Alina Das (NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic)
  74. Ashley De La Cruz
  75. Vincent DeCesare
  76. Rae Dehal
  77. Sarah Deri Oshiro
  78. Rodrigo Diaz
  79. Adelaide Matthew Dicken(Sylvia Rivera Law Project)
  80. Julie Doyle (The Bronx Defenders)
  81. Emily Eaton (The Legal Aid Society)
  82. Emily Echeverria (Immigrant Justice Corps)
  83. Maya Edery (Jewish Voice for Peace)
  84. Alodie Efamba (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  85. Peter Eliscu
  86. Alyssa Mary Erazo (Prisoners' Legal Services of New York)
  87. Marvin Espana (The Bronx Defenders)
  88. Norma Esquivel (The Bronx Defenders)
  89. Karelle Fonteneau
  90. Sherief Gaber (Urban Justice Center)
  91. Caitlyn Garcia (Brooklyn Law School)
  92. Carolina Garcia (The Bronx Defenders)
  93. Samuel A. Gauthier (The Legal Aid Society)
  94. Claire Gavin (The Legal Aid Society)
  95. Pooja Gehi (National Lawyers Guild)
  96. Claire Glass (The Bronx Defenders)
  97. Conor Gleason (The Bronx Defenders)
  98. Liana Goff (The Bronx Defenders)
  99. Stephen Goldmeier (The Bronx Defenders)
  100. Michelle Gonzalez (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  101. Dany Greene (The Bronx Defenders)
  102. Molly Griffard (The Legal Aid Society)
  103. Jorge Guerreiro (The Bronx Defenders)
  104. Angelo Guisado (Center for Constitutional Rights)
  105. Sophia Gurulé (The Bronx Defenders)
  106. Ashley Guzman
  107. Kyle Guzman (The Legal Aid Society)
  108. Mike Haber (Hofstra Law School)
  109. Eli Hadley
  110. Basima Hafiz (New York County Defender Services)
  111. Megan Harney (The Legal Aid Society)
  112. Frances Hartmann
  113. Sarah Hartzell
  114. Ayami Hatanaka (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  115. Whitney Hayes (The Bronx Defenders)
  116. Andrew Heaton
  117. Rebecca Heinegg (Kunstler Law)
  118. Amy K.W. Helfant
  119. Imani Henry (OD for the People)
  120. Gregory Herrera (The Bronx Defenders)
  121. Natalie Hession (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  122. Sonchelove Hilaire
  123. Jonathan Hiles
  124. Jamie Hin Hon Wong
  125. Mariel Hooper (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  126. Aaron Horth (The Legal Aid Society)
  127. Margaret Horwitz
  128. Antonia House
  129. Shawn Hudson
  130. Shay Huffman
  131. Murtaza Husain (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  132. Mara Hyder
  133. Nia Itoh (The Legal Aid Society)
  134. Amanda Jack (The Legal Aid Society)
  135. Jara Jacobson
  136. Eman Jawad
  137. Willoughby Jenett (The Legal Aid Society)
  138. Jen Jenkins
  139. Jamaal Jones (The Bronx Defenders)
  140. Amy Joseph
  141. Christina Joseph (The Bronx Defenders)
  142. Edie Joseph (The Bronx Defenders)
  143. Chinhsin Esther Kao (The Bronx Defenders)
  144. Rena Karefa-Johnson
  145. Alexandra Katz (The Bronx Defenders)
  146. Simratpal Kaur (The Bronx Defenders)
  147. Rebecca Kavanagh
  148. Stacey Kennard (The Bronx Defenders)
  149. Urooj Khan (The Bronx Defenders)
  150. Rage Kidvai (The Legal Aid Society)
  151. Suah Kim (The Bronx Defenders)
  152. Susan Kingsland (The Legal Aid Society)
  153. Mik Kinkead (Rikers Civil Re-Entry Project, The Legal Aid Society)
  154. Sarah Knight
  155. Shana Knizhnik (The Legal Aid Society)
  156. Erik Kramer
  157. Danielle Krumholz (The Bronx Defenders)
  158. Katherine Kutash
  159. Carol Larancuent (The Bronx Defenders)
  160. Hana Le
  161. My Le (The Bronx Defenders)
  162. Ashley Lecaro (The Legal Aid Society)
  163. Esther Lee (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  164. Kelsey Lee
  165. Sabrina Lee (The Bronx Defenders)
  166. aisha lewis-mccoy (The Legal Aid Society)
  167. Karen Leve
  168. Zoe Levine (The Bronx Defenders)
  169. Michelle Lewin (Parole Preparation Project)
  170. Hannah Lieberman (The Bronx Defenders)
  171. Mattie Liskow (The Bronx Defenders)
  172. Evie Litwok (Witness to Mass Incarceration)
  173. Gus Longer
  174. Coby Loup
  175. Brent Low (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  176. Claire Lowinger-Iverson
  177. Renate Lunn (New York County Defender Services)
  178. Cass Luskin
  179. Miriam Mack (The Bronx Defenders)
  180. Sunny Maguire
  181. Aakriti Malhotra (Center for Urban Community Services)
  182. Imogene Mankin (The Bronx Defenders)
  183. P. Jenny Marashi
  184. Elli Marcus
  185. Peter L. Markowitz (Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic)
  186. Marlene Marte
  187. Peter Martin
  188. Natalia Mata
  189. Deria Matthews
  190. Suchi Mathur (The Bronx Defenders)
  191. Ed McCarthy (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  192. Katie McCarthy
  193. Maya McDonnell
  194. Anna Meixler
  195. Jane Merrill (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  196. Marian Mikhail (The Bronx Defenders)
  197. Linden Miller (Urban Justice Center)
  198. Sadie Miner (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  199. Eugenie Montaigne (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  200. Synthia Morales
  201. David Moss
  202. Reid T. Murdoch (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  203. Ryan Napoli (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  204. Anna Nassiff
  205. Nila Natarajan
  206. Alexandria Nedd (The Bronx Defenders)
  207. Marigny Nevitt
  208. Gabe Newland (Office of the Appellate Defender)
  209. Erika Nyborg-Burg
  210. Elizabeth Tuttle Newman (The Bronx Defenders)
  211. Michelle O’Brien
  212. Jeffrey Oakley (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  213. Jonathan Oberman (Cardozo Criminal Defense Clinic)
  214. Olayemi Olurin (The Legal Aid Society)
  215. Anne Oredeko (The Legal Aid Society)
  216. Rosalie Orta (The Legal Aid Society)
  217. Luis Ortiz (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  218. Kiarra Osorio (The Legal Aid Society)
  219. Gina Papera-Ewing (The Bronx Defenders)
  220. Molly Pearlman
  221. Kyle Peters (The Legal Aid Society)
  222. Jean Padilla (The Bronx Defenders)
  223. Ivan Pantoja (The Legal Aid Society)
  224. Mitchell Paolo Esteller (The Legal Aid Society)
  225. Emmanuel Pardilla (South Bronx Tenants Movement)
  226. Thanisha Pariage
  227. Katherine Park Kim (The Legal Aid Society)
  228. Luke Patterson
  229. Sheena Paul
  230. Jodi Peikoff (Peikoff Mahan Law Office)
  231. Haley Pessin (The Legal Aid Society)
  232. Jaden Powell
  233. Sei Young Pyo (Sylvia Rivera Law Project)
  234. Juan Quevedo (The Bronx Defenders)
  235. Michelle Quintero Millan (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  236. Ivette Rabeiro (The Legal Aid Society)
  237. Karena Rahall
  238. Shakeer Rahman (The Bronx Defenders)
  239. Falon Rainer (The Bronx Defenders)
  240. Averie Ramirez
  241. David Rankin (Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP)
  242. Austen Refuerzo
  243. Violeta Rivera
  244. Rosie Russo (The Bronx Defenders)
  245. Delia Ryan (The Legal Aid Society)
  246. Steven Sacco (The Legal Aid Society)
  247. Erin Sage (The Legal Aid Society)
  248. Avinash Samarth (The Bronx Defenders)
  249. Yanety Sanchez
  250. Miriam Schachter (The Bronx Defenders)
  251. Halina Schiffman-Shilo (New York Legal Assistance Group)
  252. Rachel Seidman
  253. Tracy Serdjenian
  254. Michael Shannon (Catholic Migration Services)
  255. Andrew Shapiro
  256. Brian Shupak (The Bronx Defenders)
  257. Maya Sikand (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  258. Allaina Sines (The Bronx Defenders)
  259. Alexandra Smith (The Legal Aid Society)
  260. Christopher Smith (The Bronx Defenders)
  261. Katherine Smith
  262. Rachel Smith (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  263. Troy Smith (Barrier Free Living)
  264. Madison Snelling
  265. Hannah Sotnick
  266. Fallon Speaker (The Bronx Defenders)
  267. Ian Z. Spiridigliozzi (Association of Legal Aid Attorneys)
  268. Claire Stottlemyer (The Legal Aid Society)
  269. Jessica Swensen (The Bronx Defenders)
  270. Abby Swenstein (The Legal Aid Society)
  271. Nabila Taj
  272. Cristel Taveras
  273. Lauren Teichner
  274. Michael A. Thomas (The Bronx Defenders)
  275. Greg Tolbert
  276. Erin Tomlinson (The Legal Aid Society)
  277. Azalia Torres (The Legal Aid Society)
  278. Rhiya Trivedi (Law Office of Ronald L. Kuby)
  279. Claire Urban (The Bronx Defenders)
  280. Jen Vail (The Legal Aid Society)
  281. Samantha Valentin (The Bronx Defenders)
  282. Nicole Velazquez (The Bronx Defenders)
  283. Porsha-Shaf’on Venable (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  284. Anne Venhuizen
  285. Karla Vergara (The Bronx Defenders)
  286. Alex S. Vitale (Policing and Social Justice Project)
  287. Marterra Walker (The Bronx Defenders)
  288. Kara Wallis (The Bronx Defenders)
  289. Tiffany Wang (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  290. Lisa Washington (The Bronx Defenders)
  291. Imani Waweru (The Bronx Defenders)
  292. Emily Weinrebe
  293. Hannah Weinstein (The Bronx Defenders)
  294. Leena Widdi
  295. Rebecca Widom
  296. Garanique Williams (The Bronx Defenders)
  297. Janie Williams (The Bronx Defenders)
  298. M.J. Williams
  299. Nikki Woods (New York County Defender Services)
  300. Elizabeth Wu (New York Legal Assistance Group)
  301. Jason Wu (The Legal Aid Society)
  302. Nathan Yaffe
  303. Hannah Zack
  304. Jodi Ziesemer (New York Legal Assistance Group)

(Institutional affiliations are listed only for identification and do not signal any official endorsement.)