Letter to the editor: ‘There is nothing progressive’ about not closing Rikers

Eagle  file photo by David Brand.

Eagle file photo by David Brand.

By Marco Barrios

As a constituent in Councilmember Van Bramer’s district, and a survivor of Rikers Island, I am more than disappointed to read his article and see how uninformed he is about the criminal legal system, despite efforts (from me and others) to educate him.

The Councilmember mentions that “there’s no good reason to detain anyone awaiting trial for non-serious, non-violent crimes.” Is he not aware of the reforms that passed this spring, that ensure that on January 1, 2020, New Yorkers cannot be detained for these charges before trial? The projections for reducing NYC’s jail population to less than 4,000 already account for the effects of these reforms. And for Queens residents facing serious charges (to whom he does not seem to want to grant the presumption of innocence), who are remanded by a judge, does he propose they are left on a toxic penal colony? There is nothing progressive about that.

It’s also hard to take seriously any criminal justice related analysis from someone who doesn’t know that parole supervision applies to people who have completed a sentence, and that the parole system is deeply flawed and punitive. He conflates parole with probation, and proposes inserting them into pre-trial services. What?

Most disappointing of all, Jimmy Van Bramer did not affirmatively state support for closing Rikers. Is this why he hasn’t supported Renewable Rikers legislation, which would transfer the island to the control of the Department of Environmental Protection for development of green infrastructure? This could mean closure of hyper-polluting ‘peaker’ power plants, including the one that looms over Queensbridge Houses in his district. It’s a no brainer to support it, unless of course, you want to leave the Rikers open to win an election.

Marco Barrios is a constituent of Council District 26, member of JustLeadershipUSA and a leader in the Close Rikers campaign.