In commemoration of the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr., State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Pharm Souffrant Forrest made an unannounced visit to the Rikers Island jail to check on the conditions of those incarcerated.
Both authorities revealed that several of the people who are “behind bars” and who have been accused of committing a crime have experienced delays in their trials before the courts, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Senator Ramos clarified that she found prisoners who have been awaiting trial for up to 5 years, which generates mental health problems in people while they wait for “their right to a constitutionally guaranteed trial.”
Last week, more than 150 detainees declared a hunger strike, synonymous with protesting the poor conditions they are going through, at a time when COVID-19 infections have increased within the correctional complex, added to this, the frustrations of not being able to comply with the quarantine protocols recommended by the CDC.
“On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we came seeking justice for those who have been accused, but not convicted. Being the vast majority of people who are in this same situation on Rikers Island,” said Senator Jessica Ramos.
According to the legislators, the prisoners are demanding better access to health, medical care, mental health care, healthier food, and things as simple and basic as the mail that often fails to reach its recipient.
Brooklyn Assemblywoman Pharm Souffrant Forrest listened to the testimonies of the prisoners, however, “she was struck” by one person who had requested mental health services for more than four months but had not received attention.
Ms. Souffrant Forrest clarified that after speaking with the medical and mental health staff of the correctional complex, the lack of attention to the person who had requested it was largely attributed to the lack of personnel.
“This is not just about staffing, it’s about neglect,” said Assemblywoman Souffrant Forrest.
Both Ramos and Souffrant attribute that this goes further, it is a major structural failure and a systemic problem. Therefore, they demand the approval of the state bill of “Treatment, Not Jail”.
This legislation would lower the barriers between incarcerated people and treatment for mental health, substance abuse, and other disabilities that impede rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Jessica Ramos in the Senate and Pharm Souffrant Forrest, represents a pragmatic shift toward a more holistic, harm reduction-oriented understanding of community recovery and safety.
The law also takes a smart approach to crime to ensure that those who most need treatment have access to specialized services while making communities safer.
Both legislators urged residents across the state to call the appropriate senator or assembly member and “ask them to sign up as a co-sponsor.