Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Rory Lancman, Chair of the Committee on the Justice System, and Council Member Donavan Richards, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety, are calling on the city’s top law enforcement officials to take all necessary measures to keep as many New Yorkers as possible out of the criminal justice system in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement comes just as, Wednesday morning, it was revealed that a Corrections Officer working on Rikers Island tested positive for COVID-19.
Currently, there are over 900 people held in jails on Rikers Island over the age of 50. At least two-thirds have chronic medical conditions, around 300 are held on a parole warrant, around 200 are held on bail, and 75 on a city sentence.
One of the first NYC deaths due to coronavirus was an investigator who works on Rikers.
In the letter sent on Wednesday addressed to Mayor de Blasio, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Elizabeth Glazer, and the city’s district attorneys, Johnson, Lancman and Richards requested the NYPD to stop making low level arrests for cases like low-level minor drug possession; arrests that target street vendors, canners, fare evaders, those perceived to be sex workers: and failure to appear in court during the virus crisis as they are putting the public health is at risk.
“While we acknowledge that incarceration may be necessary for those charged with serious crimes, we ask for the use of bail or remand only in cases when absolutely necessary during this public health crisis,” the group wrote in the letter.
“People who get arrested end up spending hours and hours in a small room with strangers waiting to see a judge. We know that many of these people are at higher risk for COVID-19. The potential for the virus to spread in these close quarters is enormous. We must stop forcing people unnecessarily into an environment in which the virus can easily spread. Many of them will be released within hours, so this is for the safety of all New Yorkers.”
Also on Wednesday, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Council Member Brad Lander, Communities United for Police Reform, and a coalition of criminal justice advocates held a virtual press conference calling on the same:
“Over-incarceration and the approach to broken windows policing have long been a disastrous approach devastating lives and communities,” said Williams in a statement. “Now, amid the rapid spread of COVID-19, the public health danger is even greater and more acute. I’m calling on the NYPD to suspend non-violent, so-called victimless quality of life arrests which could increase exposure rates among at-risk individuals…
“If we value safety in this city, we value safety. If we value health, we value health. If we value each other, we value each other. If we continue to knowingly expose the most vulnerable New Yorkers to this disease through over policing of broken-windows offenses, those values are laid bare.”