In what may be the most stunningly reckless, ignorant and dangerous proposal we’ve ever heard from a group of elected officials, four members of Congress from New York last week called for closing down the jail complexes on Rikers Island and releasing all the prisoners immediately.

You read that right. They’re not looking to transfer the detainees. They want to let them out on the streets. The accused murderers. The gangbangers with rap sheets a mile long. The guys like Jason Liriano, who was charged last week with killing popular Ozone Park singer Ritawantee “Rita” Persaud in a Christmas Eve hit and run last year.

Liriano is charged with criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the second degree and driving in excess of the maximum speed limit.

This isn’t his first rodeo. Since 2017, cops say, Liriano has been charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance (twice), robbery, reckless endangerment, criminal possession of stolen property, criminal possession of a weapon (a loaded gun) and second-degree attempted murder.

These are the kind of people whom these four misguided members of Congress, two of whom represent Queens, want to let out on your block. They’ll pretend the inmates are a bunch of youngsters who got caught with small amounts of some recreational drug, or maybe were shoplifting to feed their families, but they’re lying to you. Given today’s insane bail laws, a good number of the 5,000-plus detainees on Rikers Island are, like Liriano, charged with some serious stuff.

Never forget that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nydia Velazquez, Jerry Nadler and Jamaal Bowman seriously sent official letters on congressional letterhead to Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Hochul, saying, “We strongly believe that those who are detained at Rikers should be immediately released and the facility shut down.” They weren’t trolling.

The situation at Rikers is, as the writers say, a humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed immediately. De Blasio has been an absolute failure on the subject. His fake tour of the facilities the other day, during which he refused to speak with a single guard or inmate — claiming he already knows everything there is to know — was an embarrassment.

The only thing de Blasio gets right about the crisis at Rikers is the need to change the rules so correction officers are not allowed unlimited sick time. Thousands are calling in every day. Of course, they’re doing this under a contract his administration agreed to, but something has to change. The latest plan to deal with the sickout crisis is to move correction officers from courthouses to Rikers and move street cops into the courthouses. That depolicing would only encourage more crime, adding to the need for jail space.

The disaster at Rikers — filthy conditions, violence committed by and against inmates, the deaths of 11 detainees this year alone — do indeed call for radical measures. Obviously the city is not up to the job anymore. We doubt the state would be; its leaders are also of the soft-on-crime type. The jail complex is overseen by a federal monitor, but he’s not doing enough either. Maybe a full federal takeover of the island is what’s necessary. Something’s gotta give.

De Blasio pretends the answer is in his misbegotten scheme to close Rikers and build new jails, including in Kew Gardens. We disagree and have always advocated for renovating or replacing the jails on the island instead. But even if he were right, the plan is to close Rikers by 2027. We need answers now. He and the four House reps of the apocalypse should forget their fantasy ideas and get together to make Rikers livable for the crooks locked up there, the innocent few mixed in and the guards who have to oversee it all.

(1) comment

stan chaz

Thank God for legislators like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nydia Velazquez, Jerry Nadler and Jamaal Bowman: legislators whose anguished voices are a plea for change;

Legislators with a conscience - a conscience & concern that is fed up with years of inaction, years of NIMBY-ism, years of out-of-sight & out-of-mind neglect, and years of fear-mongering and scapegoating of whole populations as irredeemable menaces to society (…as all too sadly, is perpetuated by your editorial)..

Legislators who are thankfully speaking up and speaking out and shining a sorely needed spotlight on this shameful & inhumane hellhole that we call Rikers Island.

Legislators who say that we as a city, we as a resonsible community, cannot continue to treat people in this way - and still call ourselves moral, or enlightened, or civilized.

Legislators who have the courage and conviction to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Indeed, WE too will be judged, judged for the way we treat “the least of these”. the strangers, and troubled and despised in our midst,

And we are morally failing on all counts. For when we fail to see & recognize our humanity in others, we diminish our own humanity.

Simply sweeping people off the streets as if they were trash (without actually trying to resolve their underlying problems) inevitably leads to a situation and a crisis such as we have today in Rikers;

A situation where people are dying in our custody & care, an appalling situation with detainees literally being given death sentence as they await their trials amid inexcusable court delays, a situation with many unable to afford even minimal bail, while all the while being exposed to inhumane violence, lack of mental and medical treatment, and dangerous overcrowd in the midst of a deadly pandemic. And with correction officers used as pawns in this cruel tragedy, caught in the middle of a maze of misery.

You don't “renovate” an institution (and a mentality) like Rikers - as your editorial suggests. No, you don’t redecorate - you demolish.

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