RIKERS ISLAND // Prelim Research

One of the interesting aspects of Riker’s Island is its history being related to substandard human treatment since the beginning of 19th century, when it was owned by the magistrate Richard Riker’s. Riker’s would use his power to abuse of the “Fugitive Slaves Act”, which would allow free slaves to be captured and sent back to the south of the country. In most of the cases, the accused person would not have for a trial or 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, Riker’s 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 treatment of incarcerated population and fights between different gangs. It is shocking to notice that the conditions have not changed much, or have even got 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.

With that being said, Riker’s decommissioning would lead to the creation of smaller jail facilities more evenly spread throughout the 5 boroughs. The newer facilities could address many of the aforementioned issues that are associated with the larger unorganized facility. This would have a great effect on the prison system of NYC, reducing the length of stay and case processing time.

In regards 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, Riker’s 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 removed 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, representation and resources. In addition the justice fellowship program writes that one of the issues 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.

“Rikers Island Was Named After A Judge Who Was Eager To Uphold Slavery.”Essence.com, www.essence.com/culture/rikers-island-slavery-ties.
Italiano, Laura. “How Rikers Island Became the Hellhole It Is Today.”New York Post, New York Post, 4 Apr. 2017, nypost.com/2017/04/04/how-rikers-island-became-the-hellhole-it-is-today/.
Schuppe, Jon. “New York's Notorious Rikers Island Jail Moves Slowly toward Closing.”NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 4 Jan. 2018, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-york-s-notorious-rikers-island-jail-moves-slowly-toward-n834336.
Gonnerman, Jennifer. “Exclusive Video: Violence Inside Rikers.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 16 Sept. 2017, www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/exclusive-video-violence-inside-rikers.
Bilyeau, Nancy, et al. “Rikers Island Activists Call for Bail Reform.” The Crime Report, 6 Feb. 2018, thecrimereport.org/2018/02/05/rikers-island-activists-call-for-bail-reform/.
Blau, Reuven. “Rikers Island Inmate Brutally Slashed While Grabbing Snack.”NY Daily News, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, 5 Feb. 2018, www.nydailynews.com/new-york/rikers-island-inmate-brutally-slashed-grabbing-snack-article-1.3799356.



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