By Gloria Pazmino

Politico New York

Apr. 14, 2016

A coalition of groups pushing for the closure of Rikers Island rallied on the steps of City Hall Thursday asking Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to consider shuttering the troubled facility and focus on smaller scale jails instead.

“We are here to say that Rikers cannot be reformed — we have to shut it down,” said Glenn Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA — a group working to cut the country’s correctional population in half by 2030.

Martin is a sitting member of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. The commission was formed by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman at the request of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who proposed studying the possibility of closing Rikers Island during her State of the City speech in February. The independent commission is tasked with looking at the viability of that proposal, along with other ways to possibly reform the city’s criminal justice system.

Martin said the commission is gearing up to begin its work and research this week but cited concern about the lack of inclusion of people who have been directly affected by imprisonment on Rikers Island.

“I sit as a member of that commission but the trouble I’ve had with that discussion about whether to close Rikers is that it’s been missing the voice of the community,” Martin said. “This is a message to Mayor de Blasio and a message to City Hall that is not just about elite players having a discussion in the media about closing Rikers, it’s about the people who represent the communities and the individuals who suffered.”

Members of the commission were appointed by Lippman, who at the time said the members represented criminal justice reform organizations, community groups, the judiciary, former prosecutors, the defense bar, academia, corrections, advocacy groups and the business community.

The rally was attended by nearly 60 organizations pushing to close the jail, including the New York Civil Liberties Union and The Legal Aid Society.

Mayor de Blasio has said he plans on cooperating with the work of the commission but has distanced himself from the idea of shuttering the island, citing the logistical challenge and its high costs. De Blasio has instead said his administration is focusing on reforming Rikers in its current state to improve conditions there.

A representative for the commission confirmed the group’s first meeting will primarily be organizational and that the commission is expected to have more information over the next few weeks.