Rikers Island is more than a place on the New York City map. It’s also an idea about how the city deals with crime and dispenses punishment. And over the past year – not for the first time in recent history – Rikers has become synonymous with scandal, abuse, injustice and violence.
The debate over how to fix the city’s jails is certainly part of the broader national discussion about policing, incarceration and race. But Rikers presents a unique policy challenge with its aging infrastructure, its increasingly controversial role as a pretrial holding cell, and its physical isolation.
For many, the promise of reform is not enough. So a small but influential set of voices has begun calling not to mend Rikers, but to end it. They argue the problems plaguing the city’s correctional system aren’t the result of bad policies on the island, but rather the inescapable reality of Rikers itself – its location, its role, its history and the culture that exists there.
With a goal of adding substantive analysis and information to the growing debate, City & State and City Limits present this series of articles exploring Rikers Island, its problems, the proposals to fix them and the bold case for more sweeping change.