One of the interesting aspects of Rikers Island is its history as it’s related to substandard human treatment since the beginning of the 19th Century, when it was owned by the magistrate, Richard Riker. Riker would use his power to abuse the “Fugitive Slaves Act”, which would allow free slaves to be captured and sent back to the south of the country. In most cases the accused person would not have a a trial or be able to bring witnesses to the case. In 1884, the city of New York bought the island to build a workhouse, which was never realized. In 1920, a plan to substitute the jail located in Roosevelt Island was conceived, and in 1932, Rikers Island’s Jail opened its door. In 1939, a Bronx Court accused the place of being filthy and overcrowded. Since then the place is known for its violent treatments of incarcerated population and fights between different gangs. It is shocking to notice that the conditions have not changed much or have gotten worse since the early 19th century until now. Most of incarcerated people are black or Latinos, many of whom are waiting for trial or do not have money to pay for bail. The mayor’s intention to close the jail might be a chance to actually use the place as a beneficial asset to the city and keep its inglorious years in the past.
In regard to these inmates and their identity as residents of NYC, the counting of inmates for the purpose of a census is quite interesting as well. Geographically, Rikers island is considered a part of the Bronx. When conducting the census, a resident is counted at their place of “usual residence.” Inmates are considered to be residents of the facilities they are kept in – in this case Riker’s. This concept of usual residence” has been a concept continued from the very first census count., IN order for inmates to not be counted twice they are counted in the facility they reside in and then removes from the count that their prior residence falls under. With the capacity of about 15,000, there is potential for a major shift in population counts that determine municipal power structure at a borough level, in particular, with counting large external populations of prisoners as local residents is that it leads to misleading conclusions about the size and growth of communities. Neighborhoods in East New York like Brownsville where a high percentage of inmates originate from, may see the direct effect of this counting strategy. Looking at the situation through a critical lens, as it pertains to the ideas of systematic racism, the siting of prisons can potentially remove much representation away from these specific urban centers to the point where the economic disparities in areas where crime and poverty are already higher than normal are intensified.
Over 85% of the prisoner population of Rikers Island are awaiting trial, due to the underserved court system in New York City, which drastically slows the courts processing speed. 80% of these individuals are black and latino and all of them are detained because they cannot afford bail. The New York Times reported that in 2016 over 400 people were currently being held in Rikers Island and had been there for over 2 years --without yet being convicted of a crime. According to a study done by the Center for Spatial Research, it was identified that an overwhelmingly large percentage of Rikers inmates reside in only a couple neighborhoods in New York City, the highest density being Brownsville in Brooklyn (school district 17). The city has recently reported that it spends around $118,000 per year to house an inmate in Riker’s, while statistics also show that it spends under $18,000 a year per each public school student. A drastic disparity in funding between these two public entities seem to point to a systemic school-to-prison public housing scheme that’s built into the city’s policy at an infrastructural level.
“Rikers Island was named after a judge who was eager to uphold Slavery.” Essence.com,
Italiano, Laura. “How rikers Became the Hellhole It is Today.” New York Post, 4Apr. 2017, nypost.com/2017/04/04/how-rikers-island-became-the-hellhole-it-is-today/.
Schuppe, jon. “New York’s Notorius Rikers Island Jail Moves Slowly toward Closing.” NBCNews.com,
NBCUniversal News Group, 4 Jan. 2018 www.nbcnews.com/news/new-york-s-notorius-rikers-island-jail-moves-slowly-toward-n834336.
Gonnerman, Jennifer. “Exclusive Video: Violence Inside Rikers.” The New Yorker, 16 Sept. 2017, www.newyorker.com/news/-desk/exclusive-video-violence-inside-rikers.
Spatial Information Design Lab, “Million Dollar Blocks,”
The Marshall Project “Inside Rikers Island Interviews” NYmag June29 2015
“New York City School Spending per Student” The New York Federal Reserve
Blau, Reuven Rayman, Graham, “City Jails spend an average of over $118,000 to hold an inmate, Officials say.” NY Daily News, 2017