France 24, February 12, 2021
It’s long been one of the United States’ most infamous jails. Now Rikers Island looks set to become a renewable energy hub, a plan for which New York City environmental justice organizers have campaigned since the closure of the jail complex was announced in 2019.
For many Americans, the name Rikers Island evokes a modern-day Alcatraz. The island jail complex, which sits a bridge away from the New York City borough of Queens, has over the last decade become synonymous with the abuses of mass incarceration, including violence by guards and between inmates as well as routine use of solitary confinement. Nearly 90% of those held in the jail are Black and Latino, according to city statistics, and three-quarters have yet to be charged with a crime.
Now the island is set to be radically transformed, under a plan that the advocacy group Freedom Agenda says will “lay the groundwork to begin restoring the harms of mass incarceration and environmental racism”.
On Thursday, the New York City Council passed the Renewable Rikers Act, a pair of bills which will begin the process of turning the island into a renewable energy hub once the jail closes for good in 2026.
Councilmember Costa Constantinides, who sponsored the bills, cheered the outcome of the vote.
“The 413 acres of Rikers Island have, for far too long, embodied an unjust and racist criminal justice system,” Constantinides said in a statement. “These bills will offer the city a pathway to building a hub for sustainability and resiliency that can serve as a model to cities around the world.”