Street Talk: Closing Rikers and its Impact


Richards wants innovative solutions.

This week’s “Street Talk” question asks: “What do you think about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that the City plans to close Rikers Island? Also what recommendation do you have for de Blasio concerning criminal justice reform?”

Loretta Richards, president of the Winthrop Street Block Association, is a supporter of the Mayor de Blasio and heard him speak at her Christian Cultural Center service this past Sunday.

She believes the de Blasio proposal offers an opportunity for the City to take stock of its approach and also presents new possibilities for the youth, including training in productive skills.

“I was very impressed with what he had to say about closing Rikers Island, but for me, building a little tiny jail in each neighborhood doesn’t get it,” Richards said. “I think what we need to do is find out from these young Black men who are going into jail ‘what is it that you want to do? Do you want to be a shoemaker, a carpenter, a farmer’? Be called something in this life. Do something in this life. Being educated and learning things and don’t know what you are being called.”

She continued: “I think there is a lot of space upstate. Build a commune and put them to work. Show them the value of what they can do and cannot do. That would be my recommendation for this whole thing going on here. I don’t think giving them an education and letting them find a job is it. They can prepare for their own jobs if they are in the right environment.”

John Kinard, a mental health therapist at Interfaith Medical Center, was interviewed separately; yet his own comments echoed those of Richards. “Those who are truly serious about contemplating the plight of criminology know that a job program is the best thing to fight crime,” Kinard said. “Until they have economic justice for minorities and young Black men who are known to have unemployment rates maybe up to 50%, we’re going to have a problem with crime.”

He said work was the only way to “alleviate much of the problems we are dealing with like incarceration and finding ways to penalize people.”

Gentle Benjamin videographer and creator of GBTV Culture Share, said he’s highly suspicious about the timing of the closing and motive behind it.

“These days you can’t put nothing pass these politicians. There’s so much mistrust and lying, it has become normal. I don’t know – that’s just my opinion,” he said.

Benjamin smells something funny with timing

Still, Benjamin did offer some suggestions. “If it is truly to help the prison population, I think location of the detention centers for low-level offenders should be near schools or colleges,” he said. “It should be mandatory that the offender attend school.” An example Benjamin gave was “someone serving 10 years goes to school and earns a degree, is then released after four years.”

Howard wants minor offenders to help clean up City

Michael Howard, a journalist and coordinator of Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium thinks the closing is long overdue. “Rikers is a totally unmanageable institution which must be closed because of its history of negligence, resistance to improvement, deficient supervision and behavior of personnel,” Howard said.

He also had some suggestions for reforming the criminal justice system. “For instance first, second, and third-time offenders accused of shoplifting, turnstile jumping, purse snatching, graffiti, pissing, property damage, and related unarmed crimes are ordered to clean parks, zoos, rat infestation, NYCHA elevators, in lieu of monetary bail.”

He also suggested that the Juvenile Justice System now in Red Hook, Brooklyn, be expanded throughout the City.
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