AVP Demands Sweeping Changes to NYC Jail Systems, Closure of Rikers, and for Permanent End to Solitary Confinement 

Contact: Audacia Ray, New York City Anti-Violence Project, aray@avp.org

Esais Johnson, a young gay Black man with autism, died at Rikers Island last week after he languished a month in the jail. The Department of Corrections failed to deliver him to three separate court hearings, preventing him from paying his $1 bail. Johnson is the tenth person in Department of Corrections custody that has died in the jail system since December 2020, a huge spike over the previous two years, according to the Daily News

AVP’s Executive Director, Beverly Tillery stated, “Rikers is a death trap. We have been sounding the alarm about the dangers at Rikers for several years now but despite pledges to close the facility, City officials continue to drag their feet, leaving thousands of New Yorkers in peril. Esais Johnson and Layleen Polanco should have been released on bail, but instead were left to languish at Rikers for weeks with no end in sight. LGBTQ people, especially those who are transgender, gender nonconforming, non-binary, and people of color, face severe criminalization and violence from police, and then when incarcerated, experience homophobic or transphobic violence from other incarcerated people and/or guards. We appreciate the legislators who demanded to tour Rikers this week and exposed the extent of the horrific conditions. Now, we need swift and definitive action to protect those we have put in grave danger.”

The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) stands with LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of state violence and the loved ones of those who have died due to confinement in city jails, including deaths caused by self-harm and/or suicide. As New York City’s leading LGBTQ anti-violence organization, AVP demands that the City expedite the plan to close Rikers. Unsafe, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions at Rikers are at crisis levels, as the jail population has doubled since July 2020. The Chief Medical Officer at the complex recently stated that he does “not believe the City is capable of safely managing the custody of those it is charged with incarcerating in its jails,” as reported by NY1

In this chaos, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people and people affected by HIV are especially vulnerable. In addition to elevated rates of violence from other incarcerated people and guards, our community’s basic human needs are not being met.  Elected officials touring the facility have reported seeing a transgender woman placed in “male” facilities, without appropriate medical care, including hormone treatment, and incarcerated people living with HIV deprived of life-saving medication.  

AVP joins the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NYC AIC) and the Jails Action Coalition to call for a permanent end to solitary confinement. Conditions are even more dangerous in the City’s restrictive housing units and solitary confinement cells, whose solid cell doors make ventilation extremely difficult and make it harder for staff to see if someone is in medical duress.  AVP has been calling for the end of solitary since the death of Layleen Polanco in 2019, an Afro-Latinx trans woman who died after not receiving needed medical intervention in the City’s punitive segregation system which is commonly known as solitary confinement. In addition, AVP asserts that “protective custody” is in fact isolative punishment and not a way to keep LGBTQ people safe in jails and prisons. While there is currently legislation in the City Council aimed at ending this practice, the Council has not made the necessary amendments or progressed this bill. As the legislation stalls, many New Yorkers remain subjected to isolative torture in city jails. The practice of isolation as punishment needs to be ended immediately.