Opinion: A Letter from Faith Leaders to the City Council on Borough Jails

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Adi Talwar

Rikers Island

 

Dear Members of The New York City Council:

As New York City faith leaders, we urge you to vote to close the jails on Rikers Island because their continued existence is a human rights crisis. Furthermore, as New York City faith leaders we feel there is a moral imperative to provide humane care for those who are held in any form of detention, a standard that jails on Rikers could never meet, and which existing borough jails—in their current design—do not yet meet.

We urge City Council to support the closure of Rikers, with the modifications outlined below:

1) Increased investments in mental health resources outside of the judicial system.

2) Increased investments in alternative-to-incarceration programs.

3) Cultural transformation and accountability within the Department of Corrections.

The first two can significantly reduce the total jail capacity for which the city is planning, to an estimated 3,000 beds, down from the city’s current 4,000 projection.

As New York City faith leaders, we welcome and listen to those who have personally experienced the horrors of Rikers Island, and their voices are paramount in the #CLOSErikers campaign. We urge the city to not only design borough-based jails that can put the incarcerated closer to their communities, families and much needed social, legal and spiritual services, but to take immediate and sustained action to ensure that these facilities will be operated differently.

People should not be locked in solitary nor treated like animals. We must hold to the standard of a criminal justice system based on redemption and love, believing that all people can change and should have basic human dignity. We must be committed to address our society’s systematic shortcomings that lead to crime and antisocial behavior. We must work towards a just and safe society for all.

Closing Rikers and shrinking the criminal legal system and jail capacity, will save the city at least $1.6 billion annually. These funds must be used for much needed social and community programs, directed to the communities that have been most harmed by Rikers Island and neglected by their government.

As people of faith our sacred text made it clear that caring for those in detention is essential to our worship:

But this is a people plundered and despoiled; All of them are trapped in caves, or are hidden away in prisons; They have become a prey with none to deliver them, and a spoil, with none to say, “Give them back!” Who among you will give ear to this? Who will give heed and listen hereafter? -Isaiah 42:22-23

I was in prison and you came to visit me. -Matthew 25:36

But the righteous… give sustenance to the destitute, the orphan, and the captive, saying: ‘We feed you for God’s sake only; we seek of you neither recompense nor thanks: for we fear from our Lord a day of anguish and of woe. -Quran 76:5, 8-10

May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. -Hindu Sanskrit Prayer

We pray for the day when our communities are so healed that incarceration will end entirely. And right now, we have a historic opportunity to close a penal colony that symbolizes torture, trauma, and banishment; to improve conditions for anyone still detained. We will also be able to free thousands of the incarcerated and prevent incarceration for thousands more. We as New York City faith leaders again urge the City Council to make the moral and just decision to Close Rikers.

In Faith & Justice,

Rev. Dr. Raymond Rivera, Latino Pastoral Action Center

Rev. Wendy Calderón Payne, Urban Youth Alliance/BronxConnect

Chaplain Rev. Donna Hylton, A Little Piece of Light

Minister, Dr. Victoria A. Phillips, Visionary V

Apostle Dr. James I. Clark, Jr. Chief Apostle Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of The Apostolic Faith, Inc.

The Rev. Dr. William Lupfer, Trinity Church Wall Street

Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director, The Interfaith Center of New York

Dean The Right Reverend Dean E. Wolfe, Rector Saint Bart’s Episcopal Church

Rev. Dionne P. Boissière, MDiv., Chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations

The Rev. Joel Gibson, The Micah Table

The Rev. Dr. Peter Heltzel, The Micah Table

Rev. Dr. Michael Carrion, Evangelical Covenant Church

Rev. Dr. Patricia Sealy, Mott Haven Reformed Church.

Rev. Dr. Hector (Benny) Custodio, Immanuel & First Spanish Church

Rev. Sharon White-Harrigan LMSW, Beyond Rosies 2020 Movement

Minister Susana Rivera León, Latino Pastoral Action Center

Chaplain Tara Brown Arnell, BronxConnect

Minister Onleilove Alston, BronxConnect/Bethel The House of YHWH

Pastor Jonathan Mickens, Bethel The House of YHWH

The Right Reverend Dean E. Wolfe, D.D. Rector, St. Bartholomew’s Church

Pastor Jose Humphreys, Metro Hope Covenant Church in Harlem

The Rev. W. Mark Koenig, Presbytery of New York City

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster​, ​Deputy Director​ ​T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

The Rev. Dr. Clyde Kuemmerle, Executive Director, Ecclesia Ministries of New York

Julio Medina, M.Div. Executive Director Exodus Transitional Community

Rev. Dr. Gwendolyn Hadley-Hall Micah Clergy Roundtable Christ Temple United Baptist Church

Minister Susana Rivera León, Latino Pastoral Action Center

Rev. Dr. Kathlyn Barrett-Layne, Staten Island Council of Churches

Rev. Terri Troia, Project Hospitality

Rev. Charles Galbreath, Clarendon Road Church

Rev. Patricia Malcolm, C.U.S.H. (Clergy United to Save and Heal) Pastor Fitzroy Jackson, Seventh Day Adventist Church

Rev. Clive Neal, Bedford Central Presbyterian Church

Pastor Abraham Jules, Community Worship Center SDA Church

Rev. Dr. Kirkpatrick Cohall, Lenox Road Baptist Church

Pastor Gilford Monrose, Mt. Zion Church of God (7th Day)

Pastor Wil Seaton, 73rd Precinct Clergy Council

Rev. Adolphus Lacey, Bethany Baptist Church

Archbishop Russell James, Arrow of Yahweh Ministries

Rev. Timothy English, Bronx Christian Fellowship

Rev. Dr. Calvin Rice, New Jerusalem Worship Center

Rev. Bruce Williams, Bates Memorial Baptist

Rev. Gregory McCants, Manna of Life Ministries

Rev. Dr. Demetrius Carolina, First Central Baptist Church in Staten Island

Imam Konate, Council of African Imams

Gurdev Singh Kang, The Sikh Cultural Society

Shri Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, President Shri Trimurti Bhavan Inc.

Srimattie Harini Bangera, Board Member Hindu Temple Society of North America

Vijay Bisram, Executive Member America Sevashram Sangha

Pastor James Richmond, Seventh Day Adventist Church

Ramesh Deochand, Public Relations Officer Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation

Rev. Calvin Chandler, Mt. Sinai Baptist Church

Bishop Fernando Rodriguez, President at LACA State of New York

Bishop Eric Garnes, Tabernacle of Praise Cathedral

Bishop Mervin Harding, Grace Deliverance Tabernacle Church of God, Inc.

Bishop Carlton Brown, Bethel Gospel Assembly

Bishop Sylveta Hamilton-Gonzales, Chief Executive Officer and Bishop of QKingdom Ministries, Inc.

Bishop Steve Belgrove, His Majesty Ministries

Bishop Earl McKay, The Bronx Church-Church of God of Prophecy

The Rev. Orlando Findlayter, New Hope Christian Fellowship

Rev. Fred Davie, Executive-Vice President Union Theological Seminary

Rev. Dr. Nigel Pearce, Grace Congregational Church

Sunita Viswanath, Co-Founder & Board Member, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus

Rev. Dr. Hector B. Custodio, Immanuel-First Spanish UMC

Rev. Karyn Carlo PhD American Baptist Churches

The Reverend Cynthia Stravers, Associate Rector Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest

Rev. María Isabel Santiviago, Associate Priest Holyrood/Santa Cruz Church

The Rev. Elizabeth G. Maxwell, Rector, Church of the Ascension

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann​, SAJ-Judaism that Stands for All

Rev. Posey Krakowsky, Church of the Ascension, NYC

Gregory Mendoza, Friendship Baptist Church

The Rev. Dr. Mary Foulke, Rector St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Harlem

Fr Hugh L. Burns, OP Administrator St Teresa/St Anthony Church

Rev. Darlene Brown, 2n​d​ Prince of Peace Baptist Church

Philip J. Malebranche, Deacon, First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica

Dr. Ruth Shaffer, Ph.D., M. Div. Safe Haven UCC

Chaplain Kim Eliano, Second Baptist Church

Rev. Dr. Nigel Pearce, Grace Church of Harlem

Gurdev Singh Kang, Sikh Leader & Commissioner for New York City Commission of Human Rights

Bro. Anthony Zuba, OFM Cap., Pastoral Associate Church of the Good Shepherd

Father James Shehean, Jr., Catholic Archdiocese of NY/Higher Education

Rev. Dr. Deborah D Jenkins, Faith @ Work Christian Church

Rev Yolanda D Brown, ​IMANI’S QUEST MINISTRIES

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition

Aida L Montero, The Riverside Church

Pastor James Richmond, SDA Church Organization

Zac Martin, Pastor of Outreach at Recovery House of Worship Brooklyn and Executive Director of Trellis

Rev. Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, Executive Minister for Justice, Operations & Movement Building Middle Collegiate Church

Leonard Nalencz, Assistant Professor College of Mount Saint Vincent

Rev. JoAnn Barrett, Co-Chair Suffolk County Inter-faith Anti-Bias Taskforce

Ray Rogers, Director Corporate Campaign, Inc.

Rev. Dr. McKenzie Pier, Founder, Movement.org

Rev. Rose Richards,​ ​Our Savior of Chinatown

Rabbi Bob Kaplan

Rev. Adriene Thorne, Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn

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