A View Inside Rikers from People Who Know it Best

New York City’s Rikers Island houses one of the most violent, dysfunctional, and hellish jails in the country.

New York City’s Rikers Island houses one of the most violent, dysfunctional, and hellish jails in the country. Every day, thousands of people – most of whom are legally innocent and the vast majority of whom are Black and Brown – are subjected to incredibly harsh conditions. Some never make it out alive. We speak with Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau about their book, Rikers: An Oral History. The book catalogs the perspectives of those who know the jail best: people who were formerly incarcerated there, guards, health care providers, public officials, and more. In this episode, the authors dissect why Rikers is such a horrible place, and why nothing seems to change despite years of efforts to improve the conditions inside. And we hear some of the stories featured in the book.


As discussed on the show, bail reform is one of the key ways to keep people out of Rikers. Learn more:


[00:00:00] Simon: New York City’s Rikers Island houses one of the most violent, dysfunctional, and hellish jails in the country. Every day, thousands of people, most of whom are legally innocent and the vast majority of whom are black and brown, are subject to incredibly harsh conditions. Some never make it out alive.

Today, we’re talking with two people who have covered the problems that plague Rikers for years. They’ve co-written a book about it called “Rikers an Oral History”. The book catalogs the perspectives of those who know the jail best: people who were formally incarcerated there, guards, healthcare providers, public officials, and more.

In just a moment, we’ll dissect why Rikers is such a horrible place and why nothing seems to change despite years of efforts to improve the conditions inside. And we’ll also hear some of the stories featured in the book. But first I’d like to ask you to please rate, review, and subscribe to Rights This Way. It will help more people find this podcast.

And now I’m joined by two guests. Graham Raymond is a reporter with the New York Daily News, where he mainly focuses on criminal justice and policing. Reuven Blau is a senior reporter at The City, and he’s known as the Dean of Rikers reporters. Graham, Reuven, welcome to Rights This Way.

[00:02:34] Reuven: Thanks for having us.

[00:02:36] Graham: Thank you so much for having us.

[00:02:37] Simon: Of course. And I just wanna start here with a little bit of like table setting to kind of set the scene for what Rikers is and some of the problems that plague it. So, either of you can jump in on this, but I just kind of want to set that up.

[00:02:51] Graham: Yeah, I mean, very quickly, in most major cities in the US, the jail is in a neighborhood. It’s like literally in the neighborhood. But in New York City, back in the twenties, they decided to center the jail facilities on this island in the East River. And the first one was designed in 1927, and the construction was completed in 1933. It was called the Rikers Island Penitentiary. At the same time, Rikers was used as a giant garbage dump for all the garbage that was coming from the Manhattan and the Bronx and Queens and, um, Brooklyn. They just stuck with it. It was just, I guess, sort of politically convenient at the time. And over the decades, they added on to the facilities. And, by the late 1990s, you had 11 jails on Rikers, which is only accessible by this narrow bridge they built in 1967, which Mayor Lindsay, the mayor of New York City at the time, called the Bridge of Hope. But in 2006, Flavor Flav wrote a raps song and called it the Bridge of Pain.

[00:03:53] Reuven: Yeah, I mean, just to kind of also zoom in now. So there’s, the current population is about 6,000, and you know, one of the things that people are a little confused by is the difference between a jail and a prison and the jail, it’s a jail where the overall majority, over 80% of the people have not been of a crime.

They’re awaiting trial. It also includes a population, a smaller population of people who have been sentenced to a year or less. And the population also is 50% has some level of mental health diagnosis, including 20% with serious mental health diagnosis.

[00:04:26] Simon: Yeah, so I, I think that helps us sort of understand the place a bit and the history. Both of you have covered Rikers extensively in your day jobs as reporters for many years.

But I’m curious because, just to lay it out for our listeners, this book isn’t, you know, a typical book where it’s laid out with chapter after chapter in one narrative voice. It’s actually a collection of stories. That’s why it’s called Rikers

an Oral History because it’s a series of quotes and a series of stories from people who are formerly incarcerated there. You have medical workers, you have corrections unions, officers, and leaders. You have various public officials.

So it’s their sort of stories and memories from the place and any insights about Rikers. So I’m just curious why you decided to put the book together that way.

[00:05:15] Graham: Well, the honest truth is that, is that Reuven and I, when we were working together at the New York Daily News, had talked about doing a conventional sort of third-person history of the correction department of Rikers Island. Then we were approached by Random House, the publisher of our book, who wanted to do an oral history. And, you know, we really warmed the idea after we thought about it. It essentially takes the control out of our hands and puts it in the voices of the people that we interviewed. And so it becomes a lot more honest in that way. It’s not Reuven and Graham’s take on the city jails. It’s just us sort of giving a platform to people. A wide range of people.

We, we talk to everyone who would talk to us and let them just share their intimate stories about their experiences.

[00:06:02] Simon: And how many people did you talk to for the book?

[00:06:05] Graham: So, roughly 130 people.

[00:06:07] Simon: Wow, okay. And how long did it take to collect all those stories and put them together?

[00:06:11] Graham: Well, we are both working our day jobs, so, well, it took more than two years. It was fairly, in hindsight, I wish I could have, you know, just done the book full time, but that was not to be, and we were both juggling our jobs and the book project at the same time, so it was pretty challenging.

[00:06:27] Reuven: And one of the other questions we get asked a lot is, you know, who do we decide which voices to include? And how we kind of went about this process and, you know, we were just trying to get kind of a 360 view of experiences there, including detainees, officers who, you know, have their own experiences is very different.

And everybody in between, you know, cooks, clinicians, commissioners, supervisors, just a real 360 view of the horrors that kind of exist. And what we were trying to highlight is that it’s not a good experience for anyone. It’s not working for anyone.

We were in the bullpen, hadn’t even been through intake was dinner time, so correction officers were eating outside food. Really good-smelling food. A young lady came in, and it was right after everyone in the bullpen had been served sandwiches, so she kept saying she was hungry, she was hungry. Correction officers refused her because they said she had just missed the cutoff for dinner time. Mind you, this is bullpen, so she doesn’t have any other options to get food. The officers were just laughing and eating their own outside food.

She was a young woman. She pushed her hand outside through the bar, and she grabbed the garbage can that was sitting next to the bullpen, and she pulled it closer to the bars, and she reached her hand in, and she grabbed out pieces of half-eaten baloney, and she just started eating it out of the garbage. And there had to have been ten officers sitting around who just watched her. I was so angry because it was very frustrating to see so many human beings laughing at someone who was just hungry and having no care for her. You kind of knew this was how it was gonna be. There was definitely not relationships being built between correction officers and incarcerated people. It was an us versus them kind of thing.

Yeah, so this section jumped out at me. I mean, when I, you know, we did these interviews.

It’s a section from Kendra Clark, who’s talking about her first day and she was detained in 2010. I think it was one of those things that, it’s hard to kind of understand that, how that would happen to someone. It kind of showed me how serious like the kind of lack of humanity that exists in some of these areas.

And, and also just the idea that, like, you know, the correction officers wouldn’t see this person as like who just wanted food. And Graham and I have been covering Rikers for a long time, and it, it’s really one of those stories where it’s kind of hard to shock the two of us, but when Kendra talked about that with me, it was, it really jumped out.

[00:08:50] Simon: And Reuven. What do you think creates that level of coldness from corrections officers?

[00:08:57] Reuven: Yeah. I mean, it’s a really good question. You know, we, I’ve talked about this story a few times in a few different kind of events we’ve done. And our first event we did for the book was at Columbia and Vinny Schiraldi, the former correction commissioner who was there for the last six months of the De Blasio administration. I referenced the story and, and he jumped in, and he pointed out after he said, look, you know, correction officers don’t start out this way. Like, you know, people don’t set out to kind of harm others in this way. And he kind of felt that it was this issue, like as over time, or like the system, it kind of creates this sort of, you know, us as versus them and that there’s this inability to see others as humans and there’s this inability to try to work together. That there’s this constant friction, that there’s always gonna be the friction that exists, but it’s like it’s taken to kind of an extreme.

[00:09:41] Graham: Um, I mean, I agree with what Reuven said. Just yesterday, I interviewed two correction officers who are graduating actually right now from the academy. They knew about all the chaos turmoil that’s been going on in the, in the jails over the last couple years.

And they still are going ahead with becoming correction officers. And they said, you know, as long as you continue to do your job with integrity, even when no one’s watching, everything’s gonna be okay. And I thought, you know, what a great sentiment that is. And I’d love to talk to them again in five years and see what happens.

Because I, I feel like there’s a cynicism that descends on the system and takes perfectly decent people and changes them in some ways.

[00:10:24] Simon: Absolutely. And that kind of brings up another point, and then love to get to your story Graham. But I just don’t wanna lose this thread of the accountability piece cuz that’s such a big piece, and I think that’s kind of what you just said Graham gets to is, like, the correction officer you talked to said, even if no one’s watching, you can still behave with integrity and that’s important.

But, what we’ve seen over and over and over, despite the federal monitor that Rikers is under and has been for many years, despite the Board of Correction, which is at least supposed to be an extra layer of oversight beyond the Department of Correction that runs the jail.

And I’m curious what both of you think, maybe you disagree. But, it seems like there’s such a lack of accountability when Guards engage in abuse, or misconduct, or miss shifts, or fail to check people on suicide watch, et cetera. That that sort of comes into play, right?

And that, you know, when nobody’s watching, people are not behaving honorably in a lot of instances.

[00:11:22] Graham: Yeah, it’s really striking. I mean, it all starts with the location of the jails. I mean, I, I think there’s kind of a subconscious message that putting the jails on an island that nobody can get to unless you have a specific reason to be there is the beginning. And then after that, as we report in the book, Each individual jail is its own fiefdom. And a lot of people don’t understand that city agencies aren’t these monolithic entities. They’re essentially a collection of competing interests that are vying for power. Right? So the way it expresses itself in the Department of Correction is one of the ways, is that the wardens of each jail have their people in the jail. And Rick Lombardi, who was a gang investigator for DOC for a long time, talks in the book about going into a jail where he knows a detainee has been beaten to within an inch of his life and trying to get information and the warden meeting him at the entrance to the jail and saying, no, you don’t need to go in that area where the beating happened.

We wanna show you what’s happening over here. And I’ve had people who, you know, in the past who have worked for the press office at DOC say that they have trouble getting information from their own people because of this instinctual sort of bury the information first and fight on information.

And you see it throughout the class action lawsuits that, you know, there’s this whole record of DOC burying information or trying to hide it. A federal judge late last year had to swear in court to make a point about the fact that DOC is so resistant to turning over information. So, it starts with the physical location and, and it just goes all the way through all of these different elements of how the agency operates.

[00:13:04] Reuven: I think Graham really hits the notes on that. You know, we were talking also there’s a chapter in the book about kind of them lying about their statistics. You know, I think we’re seeing now, I mean, it’s just this constant battle from us on day-to-day basis to get information from them. There was somebody who passed away this week, and the DOC, for a long time forever, would not notify the press when somebody did die in, in custody. And until the last year or two under Vinny Schiraldi, they started allowing, you know, kind of letting reporters know sending out a press release, and they just stopped.

This is the first time they stopped doing that. I mean, it’s, you know, obviously, we know that this person passed away, and there’s a lot of eyes on the department right now, but there is a foreseeable future where there’s not as many reporters covering this, and somebody passes away, and they don’t know about it. I mean, there are definitely times where I have not reported, and there’s just this, this idea of trying to kind of hide what goes on from the public or to kind of manipulate what happens. There was a big issue with missed medical visits. There was thousands of missed medical visits. The numbers were terrible. They were going up. They were constantly getting assailed, you know, from the public about these missed medical visits. And so what the reaction was, instead of kind of trying to fix it, which they have done a little bit, making it a little bit easier for people behind bars to actually get to the clinicians without an escort. They have done some of that, but at the same time, they also kind of changed how they keep the statistics.

So, suddenly the numbers started looking a lot better. There’s this constant manipulation of what actually is happening on Rikers or in any other of the city jails.

[00:14:27] Simon: And, bring up manipulation of statistics and the fact that maybe people are dying, and it’s not being reported on. I know that the number of deaths so far has been much lower than it was last year. Last year, I believe 19 people died on Rikers. This year…

[00:14:45] Graham: We just had, it’s just the second person officially this year. There, there was a third man who died of cancer, but that was diagnosed at Rikers. He was already in advanced stages when he got there.

[00:14:56] Simon: Got it. And so, do you have a sense that any of that is being manipulated? Is there a chance that that is not accurate?

[00:15:02] Graham: Well, with respect to the deaths, there’s four or five agencies that are legally obligated to investigate the cases. So, what you have with the deaths is everything just gets strung out, and you don’t get timely and valuable recommendations after deaths have taken place. It takes many, many months. The Board of Correction has been the best in terms of coming up with recommendations. They usually get their stuff out within a year, but the other agencies, it often takes much longer, and so families are left with the lawsuit as an instrument of accountability. But of course, the city settles the lawsuit before it goes to trial, and all the records are then sealed. There’s money that’s paid out, but ultimately it’s an unsatisfying conclusion. In the book, there’s this, a chapter on death in which Michael Valez, the brother of Matthew Valez, who was beaten to death in Rikers in 1999 and 2000, they got 2.3 million dollars for Matthew’s death. But his parents, the money did nothing to change the way that they felt about what happened or or making things any better. And in fact, the money became a great burden that cost a lot of strife in the family.

[00:16:12] Reuven: I mean, I haven’t heard anything this year, per se. Like I, it does look like that actually is trending in a very positive direction. I will say that there was a manipulation during covid, right? We actually did a story at The City. I think it was one of our interns who did an amazing job putting together this piece about they were release people kind of at the last minute, you know, like on a compassionate release, and then they were passing, like they were already on a ventilator, in the hospital and then, and then they would get released, and then they would pass. So DOC would say, hey look, which obviously you and I know the person never like regained consciousness. So, there was several of those that we highlighted. I think the New York Times did one as well. It’s one of those things where, like we asked the mayor about it. They said we’re gonna do a whole review. And as far as I know, they never did. There was definitely nothing that was made public in revealing how they counted those stats and if there was more that we never were aware of.

[00:16:57] Graham: We interviewed the hip-hop artist Fat Joe, and he said something that really resonates about the architecture of Rikers, the architecture of public housing, and the architecture of the public schools here. So I’m just gonna read that. And just for background, he grew up in the South Bronx, and he was never in Rikers, but he had many friends who went to Rikers. And he says he had a lot of friends who were murdered in that period when he was growing up. There’s a school to jail pipeline. I grew up in the projects in the South Bronx, and in New York, it’s gladiator type predator prey. The construction, the actual architecture of the projects, the architecture of the public school system in the inner city. I never got to be in Rikers, thank God. But when I used to go visit friends, it’s the same architecture. And so when you go in there, it’s a familiarity with the projects that you call home, that you grew up in. It’s the same design minus that men stay with men and females stay with females. But it’s the same design. It’s the same. I can’t prove it. I didn’t do studies, but it’s the familiarity. If you grew up in the suburbs in a mansion and now you gotta go live in the hood, you’d be like, what is this? But if you grew up in the projects and the public school system and then go to Rikers Island, it almost feels like no big deal. It feels like, oh, we know this setting. I’m willing to bet that the same architect designed all three things.

And then I asked him, if you go out to the Rockaways, you see these balconies that are screened in with metal. And he said you can go to Webster Avenue in the Bronx for that. They got the gates. That’s what I’m trying to explain. That’s in every borough. It’s in New York, New Jersey. That’s how Cabrini Green was set up. I’m telling you, I was born in Rikers Island. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Just thought that that was just a really striking. The expectations of growing up in certain neighborhoods, and where are you gonna end up? Are you gonna be a lawyer or a doctor or a scientist? Are you gonna make it until you’re 27 without going to Rikers three times and, you know?

[00:18:59] Simon: I think the fact that he says, yeah, he’s, born at Rikers is really striking. And especially thinking about your home a, a place that you know, at least in theory, is a place of comfort, a place of safety, a place of nurturing, a school. You know, again, a place where people are supposed to grow and understand their place in society and the way society functions and how to become a sort of informed citizen within that society. Just to imagine that all of that is so similar architecturally, and, you know, we could go on and on about the ways that schools are over-policed in the NYCLU’s view. I won’t drag you into that conversation, but there certainly is an argument for that. And, um, the projects are very heavily policed. So yeah, thank you for, for sharing that piece. That stood out to me as well.

[00:19:47] Reuven: So, this is Anna Patraro, she’s a woman clinician, gonna share this with you, she says there was an inmate who would slash himself blood everywhere, like blood flying. It was crazy, and he would just be like, okay, now can I go to the mental observation unit? Obviously, he belonged in MO. It was hard. There was a guy that used to call all the staff cupcake gerbil face. He was huge, and he used to mutilate himself so bad that he would end up in the hospital. Rikers Medical couldn’t help him. He would have to be transported, and for some reason, I was the only person who could get through to him. So, they’d be like, before you cut, can Miss P come? And he’d be like, only if she comes. And I would go there, and he would still be bleeding. He’s like, I won’t finish cutting myself. I saw his bone. That’s how bad it was. And when you actually talk to him, he was such a teddy bear, but he had this tough exterior because he was in that environment for his entire life. I wouldn’t react. I’d just be there for him. That’s self-mutilation, self-harm, goal-directed behavior. But then there’s the people who are so emotionally harmed that they do it to feel pain so that they don’t feel the pain inside. That’s how they explain it. And they know they’re not killing themselves. They just wanna hurt themselves. And then there’s the people who are really seriously trying to kill themselves. You just wanna be careful because these people could really hurt themselves, and they’re so hurting that they hurt other people. Hurt people, hurt people. That’s the phrase.

And I, I just wanted to share that one also because it, it was just such a window into the just extreme situation that people are in and how just some people, as we speak right now today, are in a locked facility where there’s a paramilitary organization running the facility and they’re kind of surrounded by all these rules and regulations that, you know, some of them don’t have the mental capacity to handle or to deal with. And, just how we as society have placed them there where no one in their right mind thinks this is the right way to help them or where they should be.

And yet here we are, in 2023, in New York City, you know, kind of the liberal beacon of the country, doing this to hundreds if not thousands of people a year on Rikers Island.

[00:22:10] Simon: And, correct me if I’m wrong, but Rikers is top three place of a mental healthcare facility. I mean, it’s not a mental healthcare facility, but its where mental healthcare is delivered. It’s the third largest or something, and the other two are jails. Is that right?

[00:22:25] Reuven: Yeah. I don’t, I don’t, know the fact, but I mean, it’s definitely gotta be up there. I mean, in part because just the the sheer number, like, there’s no hospital in the city that has this sort of physical space to handle that many people in one area.

Like, they are spread out, and they, you know, combined in other places that the numbers probably kind of match. But I think we talked to some people in the book who said, like, I forgot who said it, but it’s the largest mental hospital in the city, in the state, and arguably in the country, as you were saying.

[00:22:48] Graham: I mean, the discussion of closing Rikers. They’re gonna close Rikers and build four borough jails. And I wonder whether they’ve considered the mental health component enough in those plans. It seems to me that the city needs a functioning mental health facility. A modern functioning mental health facility. And I think it also needs more supportive housing. The Fortune Society, which is a big organization here in incarceration and post-incarceration services, wants to develop supportive housing in the Bronx for mentally ill people who have been incarcerated. And the reaction from the community has been this violent, not in my backyard sort of reaction. And every community has a responsibility to accept these kinds of programs because that’s part of being in a community. And so I was kind of shocked by the resistance to this project. But it’s gotta happen. But there’s 6,000 people in Rikers, I think. There’s still quite a bit of room to release people so they don’t have to spend their time there, and then they can be in a better housing situation in the community.

[00:23:55] Simon: Yeah, absolutely. And we’d have to bring down those numbers, as you’re saying. To get to the place where Rikers could close, right? And we’re not particularly close to that, right? I think it’d have to be around 4,000 or something. The jail population.

[00:24:07] Graham: Well, 3,300 is the number that they that they set. But, not to be lost on. I’m sure the listeners understand this, but if you’re in jail, you can’t work you, you can’t pay your rent, you can’t see your kids, your relationships collapse. It has all kinds of consequences that maybe aren’t well recorded, but that affect your family, your community. It’s all kind of connected. So, if someone can be out of jail while they’re awaiting trial for whatever they’re charged with, it’s usually a better result in the long run for all New Yorkers.

[00:24:39] Simon: Absolutely. Thank you for saying that, Graham. And just a quick plug for one of our other episodes here. You can listen to our bail podcast. We have a couple episodes on bail. And exactly what Graham is talking about is related to bail and the need to keep people from having to go to jail for the reasons you just laid out. With that, Graham, do you want to hit us with one more selection.

[00:24:59] Graham: Sure. This is one of my favorite stories in the book, and Reuven’s tired of hearing it. It’s about conditions. Detainees will fight, and officers will do their thing and whatever. But, one of the fundamental things that the city agency or government agency’s supposed to provide. They’re supposed to provide decent conditions and there’s federal, state, and local law about the conditions in Rikers or the conditions in the jails that are supposed to be met. But, as we’ve seen over the decades, often, the conditions are horrendous. And in fact, in late 2021, the conditions were so bad. This was in the aftermath of the pandemic. The conditions were so bad that, that a bunch of legislators went out there and called it a humanitarian crisis. Which, you know, is a phrase that we don’t often hear associated with institutions here in the United States. But anyway, this is a story from John Boston, who is a legendary lawyer, retired director of the Legal Aid Prisoners Rights Project.

Back in the mid-nineties, when we were doing our fire safety inspections, one of the things we did was go into a housing area with the fire safety experts and look around at the fire extinguishers and so forth. Then, you go to the fire exits and say, can you open these fire exits so we can go outside? They say we’ve gotta get the key. Okay, we say, get the key. Can we get the key, and can we get the key today as opposed to next week? Anyway, they get the key, and we go out to fire escape, and one of the fire escapes was so choked with rubble, apparently from some construction thing, that it was a safety hazard just to get down it. There were 50 people per housing area, and two or three floors worth of people would’ve had to come down that fire escape. So it would’ve been a hundred to 150 people or 200, 300 depending on whether two sides of an area came to the same fire escape. We got down the internal fire escape to the door, stepped outside, and walked down the shorter set of stairs to the bottom of the fire escape, and there’s a tree growing at the bottom. If you were running away from a fire, that tree would be right in your way. Now, it wasn’t a big tree. It was one of those Atlantis trees, I think. The ones that are always popping up in the corners of parking lots, the really tall, thin, gray ones, and it was like four and a half, five feet tall. But the point is fire safety is supposed to be inspected pretty often. How long had it been since somebody paid any attention to that fire escape that there was a four-and-a-half-foot tree at the bottom of it blocking people from escaping? It was sort of emblematic of the whole experience of dealing with the Department of Correction.

And uh, I think he, he said it all there. I mean, there are legal requirements about maintaining of all things fire safety, fire escape. And just recently, I did a series of stories about a fire in one of the jails, and it turns out that the sprinkler system didn’t work.

This was a fire that was set by a detainee. He was angry at a very aggressive search that was happening that morning. And the sprinkler system didn’t go off or didn’t function. And then, it turns out that the sprinkler system had been turned off for some reason and then just never turned back on. And fire safety is like a basic thing. Well, I’ve gotta have sprinkler in my apartment and at work, you know, and they couldn’t even despite spending however many millions of dollars they spent, they didn’t care enough to make sure that the fire escape was clear of rubble and and that tree.

[00:28:20] Simon: Yeah, exactly. I feel like that’s a perfect microcosm of the dysfunction at Rikers. And before I let you go, just final thoughts before we close.

[00:28:30] Reuven: Yeah, I just, first of all, I just wanna thank you again for having us on. This is really, you know, kind of flattered to get a chance to talk to you and your audience about, you know, the latest in Rikers and just to kind of leave listeners with a rundown about what the latest, right?

There’s kind of the talk a lot of, uh, advocates are pushing for receiver to, to take over, and that’s kind of hanging over the department. There’s currently a federal monitor who’s been over the department since 2015. His name is Steve Mulling. He’s issued report after report indicating that things have just gotten worse there, and so there’s kind of a lot of stuff kind of still happening over on the future with Rikers and, so far, the federal judge Laura Swain has not indicated that she’s got the, I’d argue the courage to look in that direction of receiver and talk about what that might look like. I think the next hearing’s in another like six months, right

Graham? I think in a little while. But you know, and meanwhile also the shutdown Rikers plan, the mayor himself has talked about needing a plan B because the population has gone up. And as far as that goes, it seems like it’s only talk like he’s actually put the money in the budget this year for the demolition of the Manhattan and Brooklyn jails.

And there have been short pauses there. But it does seem like the money is there for it. And the City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has spoken out repeatedly and strongly kind of expressed support that this Shutdown Rikers plan continues and moves forward. So that, you know, definitely looks like it’s kinda in motion without any specific kind of roadblocks right now, at least right now, in this moment.

[00:29:51] Simon: For folks’ awareness, the receivership, if Rikers were to be placed under receivership, it would be under federal control. Right now, it is under city control. So that would be a big change. So that’s what Reuven is referring to.

[00:30:05] Reuven: Just to clarify that too, is that, you know, one of the things that I think it’s confusing that the mayor said, like, well, why would we want a receiver, the federal, you know, Bureau of Prisons is run really poorly and why would we want them to take over? That’s not what would happen.

It wouldn’t be the federal system taking over in New York City. Right? What it would be is, it would be federal, you’re right, like federal takeover, essentially. But it would be a receiver appointed by the federal judge. And that receiver would be potentially, you know, depending on what the receiver is appointed to take over, like the whole system.

In other places, it’s, it’s, in California, it’s the medical, in Chicago, Cook County. It was you know, in Alloa County, it was specifically the juvenile population. So likely, it would be kinda a chunk of Rikers. It wouldn’t be the whole thing, potentially. And it would be somebody that the judge would, ultimately, kind of be overseeing.

So technically, it would really be the federal judge kind of running it through this receiver who arguably would probably be somebody that the judge would try to get somebody that all sides agree with on, you know, and it could be somebody who had like kind of prior experience running a jail or a prison or it could just be somebody who has prior experience running a bureaucracy or an agency.

[00:31:06] Simon: Got it. That’s a good explanation and and clarification. Graham any any last thoughts?

[00:31:12] Graham: One thing that Rueven and I talk about quite a bit is that, you know, we do stories for our respective news organizations about these things that happen, and they kind of go out into the transom, and then what’s the result of it? It, it seems like it’s very hard to penetrate the public consciousness about stuff that goes on in Rikers. And at the same time, somebody dies, and it’s kind of the thoughts and prayers thing after a mass shooting, you know, it’s like everyone says all the right things, but then what’s the result? And that’s the challenge that I think New Yorkers should think about, which is how do we want, you know, all this tax money that’s going to fund the jails, and it’s very expensive. The correction department’s budget isn’t 2 billion dollars. And the the average annual cost of a detainee is 570,000 dollars. But what do we want our jails to be? Do we want them to continue to be complete hell holes where people are dying, getting beaten up all the time? I think it’s something worth considering.

[00:32:14] Simon: Absolutely. And I just wanna say, for people listening, we’ve delved into just literally four stories in here. This book is full of dozens, if not hundreds, of stories from, as they said, 130 people. And Rikers definitely gets plenty of, of media coverage, including from both of you.

And there’s lots of big-picture talk about Rikers. You know, we’ve talked about should it be under receivership. Is it gonna actually close? Deaths at Rikers are spiking, or they’re going down or. But one of the things that I think the book really does an amazing job and, and I think it’s hard to capture in day-to-day reporting on this is the voices from inside. The people who have experienced the place firsthand and can really tell these narratives that really provide that human element that I think will hopefully, Graham, to your point, make it harder for people to provide that thoughts and prayers response when there is this humanity kind of staring them in the face.

And I think that humanity is very present in this book. The book is Rikers an Oral History. Get it wherever you can get books. And with that Reuven, and Graham, thank you so much for being on Rights This Way.

[00:33:26] Graham: Thanks so much Simon. I we really appreciate it.

[00:33:28] Simon: Thank you.