By Rachel VIck

Criminal justice reform advocates gathered in all five boroughs to condemn the prison system on Friday, bringing the call to action to Queens Criminal Court.

Organized by the Freedom Agenda of the Urban Justice Center, more than a dozen activists, public defenders and members of CourtWatch NYC gathered outside to demand a better system on International Day human rights.

“Every human being should be equal in dignity and rights. Unfortunately, this is not the case for people who are directed to the New York prison system, which is a human rights crisis, ”said Darren Mack, co-director of Freedom Agenda. “Judges and prosecutors are sending people to a potential death sentence. If DOC can’t keep people safe and alive, they shouldn’t have anyone in their custody. “

Activists, armed with placards bearing the names of the 14 people who died in custody in 2021 – the rally took place ahead of the announcement of the 15th death on Friday morning – spoke about their personal experiences with the system highlighted by recent findings released by the ‘independent. monitor operated to monitor the situation on Rikers Island.

Freedom Agenda member Corinne Conrad shared her family story and firsthand experience of the “human rights crisis in our backyard”.

His grandson told him that he was locked in his cell without food for 24 hours, without a mattress for four days and that he was given the medication he needs for a mental health problem, given only sporadically and without explanation. After cutting her finger, she said she was allowed to wrap it in toilet paper because she had not been taken to a doctor.

“I have spent years defending my neighbors and fellow New Yorkers [while] working on the New York City Commission on Human Rights – this year my grandson was sent to Rikers, ”Conrad said. “I can’t believe our city has allowed this scourge to exist for so long; every person there is a human being… they are sent there and instead of losing their freedom it is as if they have lost all the human rights they ever had. “

“[Correction officers] ignored everything he implored, ”Conrad said. “It’s crystal clear… I say no more. “

Over the past year, advocates and politicians have called for a change in the city’s prison system with renewed vigor, but efforts to improve conditions have been complicated by understaffing among correctional officers, aggravated by vaccination warrants.

Many say that making the changes will require action at the systemic level – starting with sentencing decisions in courthouses.

“Conditions inside Rikers must change, but more fundamentally, the behavior of prosecutors and judges in our legal system itself must change,” said Meghna Philip, litigation lawyer at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “The relentless use of pre-trial detention, even in the face of death on death, does not make anyone safer or provide a minimum of justice. It is simply violence against our predominantly poor, predominantly black and brown clients, and it must stop. “