Student Government Urges Mayor to Close Rikers Island, Open No New Jails

Student government released a statement in solidarity with No New Jails NYC, a prison abolitionist group.

A truck bearing the Correction Department of New York logo is parked near iconic Chinatown buildings. The Student Government Association has released a statement demanding de Blasio (as an NYU alumnus) close Rikers. (Staff Photo by Marva Shi)

NYU’s student government released a statement on Thursday urging the city to close Rikers Island — a jail infamous for its neglect and use of brutal force against inmates — immediately and open no new jails.

The statement supports the activist group No New Jails NYC, formed in September 2018 by members of a group that advocated for the closing of Rikers as part of a prison abolitionist movement. Currently, Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to close Rikers by 2026 and open four new jails in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx to house the approximately 7,000 Rikers inmates. NYU’s Student Government Assembly has called on de Blasio — an NYU alumnus — to scrap this plan and close Rikers immediately, without creating any new jails.

“Jails do not make us safe,” the statement reads. “They serve only to further harm Black and Brown families, individuals and communities and to perpetuate a racist and violent criminal legal system.”

Rikers Island was originally meant to offer more humane conditions than Blackwell Island, a facility notorious for its gruesome medical experiments (among other horrors) that closed in 1936. Both SGA and No New Jails claim that, just as Rikers became a site of mistreatment of inmates and violence — there were over 9,000 assaults in 2015 — any new jails will result in similar conditions.

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Instead of jailing people, No New Jails proposes that the city use the $8.7 billion that would go toward building new jails to provide a variety of wellness services.

“[The plan asks that money] the city would invest in jail expansion be used instead to ensure housing for all, to end homelessness and improve conditions in city shelters,” the statement reads. “[T]o transform mental health support, to end broken windows policing, to implement harm reduction approaches to drug use, to improve public education and transportation and to bolster access to job training programs.”

The statement says that NYU’s role in gentrification and investment in companies tied to the prison system necessitates SGA’s support of those harmed by the prison-industrial complex.

SGA’s statement encourages concerned students who wish to support No New Jails to submit a statement online or over email, or to call their city council member. 

“We endorse this plan, and urge all members of the student body to continue to both educate themselves on the NNJ NYC campaign and to distribute their plan as widely as possible,” the statement reads.

Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected]

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