Opinion: Eric Adams’ pro-prison record is dangerous for NYC

Democratic mayor-elect Eric Adams has a troubling record with the prison-industrial complex. As conditions worsen for people at Rikers Island, Adams’ history of standing against the rights of incarcerated people makes meaningful reforms unlikely.

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Manasa Gudavalli

Eric Adams, the Democratic mayor-elect in New York City, has a history of supporting inhumane tactics against incarcerated people. This background has cast doubt on the prospect of current mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers Island. (Images via Wikimedia Commons, Staff Illustration by Manasa Gudavalli)

By Asha Ramachandran, Opinion Editor

With the polls closed for the New York City mayoral election, Mayor-elect and former New York City Police Department captain Eric Adams will take office on Jan. 1. Meanwhile, on Rikers Island, incarcerated people are experiencing deadly overcrowding, infestations and overall unlivable conditions. Even though outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio approved a plan to close the jail in the next few years, the future of Rikers and the overall trajectory of criminal justice reform is being called into question given Adams’ record and troubling ties to the prison industrial complex.

The Adams campaign is linked with the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, a lobbying firm that has advocated for a city corrections officer union. This relationship raises concerns about the closure of Rikers. Adams’ connections to COBA are complicated further by his long history of advocating against progressive policy and for city corrections officers. Adams told NY1, “Everyone is talking about what is happening to the inmates. But guess what? The corrections officers didn’t do anything to end up in Rikers. They’re there to protect us.” Adams blatantly ignores the pattern of abuse and neglect by corrections officers and dismisses the clear human rights violations against people incarcerated in Rikers.

Adams’ political record demonizes incarcerated people and supports cruel, inhumane policies against them. In 2018, as Brooklyn borough president, Adams called on the city to maintain the use of solitary confinement against “violent offenders” ages 21 and under. Although the administration of city jails was completely outside of his jurisdiction, Adams still made a statement on the issue alongside the COBA union president. Solitary confinement has been described as “psychological torture” by U.N. experts, but Adams has maintained his views on the matter during his mayoral campaign. 

It is not a just or appropriate consequence for violence in any case, and Adams’ support for such an extreme measure speaks to his complete disregard for the human rights of incarcerated people. The punishment is also disproportionately used against Black and Hispanic people inside city jails compared to white people, reflecting the larger problem of racial injustice inside the prison industrial complex. This form of legal torture can lead to severe consequences on an individual’s mental health and overall well-being, particularly for teenagers and young adults — yet Adams still openly advocated for it to be used on people under 21 years old. 

Adams’ so-called criminal justice reform proposals also include additional funding for prosecutors’ offices, a policy that COBA supports. Adams’ political stances are almost entirely in line with the union, which has condemned the plan to close Rikers. 

Closing Rikers in a few years is not enough when incarcerated people are suffering right now. Adams wants to move the city backward by bringing back solitary confinement. Although Adams has nominally voiced his support for closing Rikers and broader criminal justice reform, his long record of standing against incarcerated people indicates bleak prospects for meaningful change. New York City deserves a mayor with a real commitment to protecting the rights of incarcerated New Yorkers. Eric Adams doesn’t meet the bare minimum.

Contact Asha Ramachandran at [email protected]