Second Man Incarcerated at Rikers for Minor Parole Violation Dies of COVID-19

For Immediate Release                                                                

 Friday, April 10th, 2020

 Contact

Downstate: gabriel sayegh, gabriel@katalcenter.org (646) 335-2264

Upstate: Emily NaPier Singletary, emily@weareunchained.org | (315) 243-5135

 

Second Man Incarcerated at Rikers for Minor Parole Violation Dies of COVID-19

Raymond Rivera, Aged 55, Died April 4

Two Weeks After Gov. Cuomo Promised to Release 400 People Detained at Rikers for Alleged Minor Parole Violations – and 1,100 People Around the State – Only Half Have Been Released from Rikers

Since Cuomo Release Announcement on March 27th, 25 More People Have Been Sent to Rikers for These Minor Violations

New York, NY – This morning, The New York Times reported the harrowing, tragic story of 55 year-old Raymond Rivera. He was detained at Rikers on a minor, non-criminal parole violation; he was supposed to have been released more than six weeks ago. Instead, he caught the novel coronavirus, and died on April 4.

 

On March 27th, Governor Cuomo announced plans to release 1,100 people incarcerated in local jails across the state for minor violations of parole (technical violations), like Mr. Rivera. Out of the 400 on Rikers that Cuomo promised to be released, the Times reports only half have been released thus far, and NY State is holding up the release of the rest, even as the pandemic rages through the jails. Since the Governor’s announcement, 25 people have been sent to Rikers for allegedly committing minor parole violations.  

A new poll from the American Probation and Parole Association shows 3/4 of jurisdictions across the country have either stopped or were planning on stopping arresting people for technicals at the same time as NY State continues to add people to the dangerous Rikers jails for technicals.  Additionally, 50 probation/parole executives from around the country have signed this Statement issued by EXiT calling on jurisdictions to stop incarcerating people for technicals.

Mr. Rivera’s tragic, avoidable death underscores the urgent need for Governor Cuomo to immediately release people from jails and prisons in New York. It also spotlights the critical need for Governor Cuomo and lawmakers in Albany to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act (Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B - Benjamin / A.5493A - Mosley)).  There are over 5,000 people incarcerated in local jails and state prisons for technical violations of parole, being held in cages, and vulnerable to sickness and death. If the #LessIsMoreNY Act was passed, thousands fewer people would be incarcerated for technical violations and lives would be saved.

Releasing people from jails and prisons—including those incarcerated for technical violations of parole—and passing the #LessIsMoreNY legislation are preventative public health measures that will help mitigate the public health crisis in New York’s jails and prisons.

 

Statements by Bill Sponsors and groups leading the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign

 

State Senator Brian Benjamin, sponsor of the #LessIsMoreNY Act, said:  "The novel coronavirus, COVID19, is impacting all New Yorkers, and is now spreading rapidly inside of Rikers Island. Raymond Rivera was detained on Rikers for a minor parole violation, and died of the virus -- just as Mr. Michael Tyson the week before. These tragic deaths underscore how urgently we must act to save lives in this pandemic, including the lives of people detained in local jails and state prisons. Two weeks ago, Governor Cuomo responded to calls by community groups and lawmakers to release some people from prisons and jails in the face of the pandemic. He promised to release up to 1,100 people who were incarcerated for technical violations of parole. Yet, as we read in New York Times, people are not being released quickly enough and hundreds who are eligible for release are still on Rikers today. Lives are being lost. Time is of the essence. Governor Cuomo and DOCCS must expedite the release of all 1,100 people they identified, and seek to identify additional people for release. And in the legislature, we must finally pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act. If my bill had been law, Mr. Rivera and Mr. Tyson -- and thousands like them -- would not otherwise be incarcerated. It speaks volumes that a coalition of people who make laws, enforce laws, and have been affected by these laws all support this legislation. The pandemic makes passage of this bill now all the more urgent.

State Assemblyman Walter Mosley, sponsor of the #LessIsMoreNY Act, said: “As COVID-19 ravages our state, no community has been effected more than the black and brown communities.  This fact is exasperated by one of the most vulnerable populations: those who are incarcerated.  Nearly 6,000 people statewide are incarcerated in jails and prisons due to technical parole violations, and their families are left to hope and pray that their loved ones aren’t affected by COVID-19.  Every day that goes by this vulnerable population is in danger; already several people have died while incarcerated because of technical violations. Governor Cuomo promised to release 1,100 people incarcerated for minor parole violations, including 400 from Rikers. But as reported in the New York Times, only about half of those people have been released from Rikers. Governor Cuomo must take immediate action to release people now. Additionally, our Less is More legislation could have saved their lives, instead several families have lost someone dear to them.  Less is More is designed to dismantle one aspect of the prison pipeline but also save lives. We cannot wait to pass this bill any longer - lives hang in the balance.  It must be passed and it must be passed now.”

Donna Hylton, Founder and Executive Director of A Little Piece of Light, said: “Raymond Rivera and Michael Tyson should not have died while being detained for not committing any crimes. A technical violation should not be a death sentence. Two weeks ago the Governor promised the release of 1,100 people from New York State jails who posed no threat to public safety; it is two weeks later and we have yet to see the release of these individuals. What we are seeing instead is the total disregard of human life and the lack of care and concern for those who are our most vulnerable and those who did not commit any crime. What is happening instead is the criminalization of Black and Latinx people who are being accused of minor violations and sent to jail to possibly die. A Little Piece Of Light demands the passing of Less Is More by our Legislators and Governor Cuomo.”

Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: "How many incarcerated people need to die before Governor Cuomo realizes their blood is on his hands and he starts acting with some urgency? He has so many mechanisms to release people from jails and prisons at his disposal, yet has chosen to use only one, and its implementation has been mediocre at best. He announced on March 27 that 1,100 people locked up on technical parole violations in local jails across the state would be released. It is a full two weeks later and hundreds of them are still behind bars, not to mention the additional 700 people in local jails and more than 4,000 people in state prisons, mostly Black and Latinx, locked up on the same minor technicalities that his announcement intentionally left behind. This callousness is compounded by the fact that Raymond Rivera and Michael Tyson would not have been in jail at all had the Governor and Legislature passed the Less is More Act last year. Things like missing an appointment or not completing a program should not be jailable offenses ever, especially not during a public health emergency where a parole violation can quickly turn into a death sentence. Mr. Rivera and Mr. Tyson deserved better from their government. Don't fail the more than 5,000 people in similar circumstances and their loved ones. New York must immediately release anyone incarcerated on a technical parole violation and pass the Less is More Act. Anything less can only be seen as an acknowledgement that our state government views thousands of their constituents as less than human."

Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: "Cuomo has allowed another person to die. It's outrageous that Mr. Rivera was incarcerated at Rikers at all. But to learn that he was supposed to have been released six weeks ago, and wasn't, and then caught COVID19 and died, this is an absolute scandal. Infections are spreading like wildfire across the facilities on Rikers Island, and yet Cuomo keeps sending more and more people there for minor violations of parole.  Our neighbors and families in NY are losing their people forever, they are suffering and dying alone in caged custody while Cuomo implies things are getting better in NY state!  Governor Cuomo cannot be praised as a Crisis Response Leader while leaving people, mostly Black and Brown people, to die in jails and prisons. Gov Cuomo must prioritize the necessary actions to release the 1,100 people he announced he would let out two weeks ago on March 27th.  He must use his existing authority to release the more than 5,000 people detained in New York on technical parole violations, which he can do right now. He must also release thousands more who are elderly, sick, nearing the end of their sentences, and otherwise vulnerable to the virus, as he can do by using his clemency powers. And how many deaths will it take to spur the Senate and Assembly into action in passing the #LessIsMoreNY Act? Ending mass incarceration is not a game, COVID19 is not a game. This is life and death. The Legislature and Governor must immediately pass the #LessIsMoreNY bill as well as other critical reform proposals from #HALTsolitary to Elder Parole and more that have sat idle while lawmakers rolled back bail reform. Now. Now is the time for action."

Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab and former Commissioner of New York City Probation, said: "It is horrible whenever an incarcerated person or staff member dies from COVID-19 because they were exposed due to the forced proximity with medically vulnerable people that characterizes our jails and prisons. But it is especially tragic when those people had no business being behind bars, because they were locked up for non-criminal, technical parole violations like Michael Tyson and Raymond Rivera. Governor Andrew Cuomo needs to use his emergency powers to immediately release the 5,000 people in state prisons and local jails for technical violations and cease incarcerating any new people for technicals. Meanwhile, the legislature should make the Less Is More Act the first bill they get to the Governor for his signature when they return from their break so they ensconce the sensible reduction in incarceration for technical violations into law.  COVID-19 isn't going to disappear, and there should be no more Michael Tyson's and Raymond Rivera's dying because they missed appointments or didn't complete programs. It was bad practice to lock people up for trivial misbehavior before the pandemic, it is absolutely unforgivable now.

Tyler Nims, Executive Director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said: “Raymond Rivera, who was locked up at Rikers only for a non-criminal “technical” violation of parole rules, was supposed to have been released from those dysfunctional, disease-ridden jails more than six weeks ago.  Yet today Mr. Rivera is dead from COVID-19, the second person accused of a parole violation to have died after catching the virus at Rikers.  Despite the claim by State DOCCS that they are releasing people accused of these minor violations, at least 25 more people have been sent to Rikers for these non-criminal rules violations over the past week – which is a surefire recipe for further suffering and death.  DOCCS must immediately stop jailing people for alleged parole violations and fulfill their promise to release people who currently are jailed for these violations, and the Governor and Legislature should pass the Less Is More Act as soon as possible this session.  As is becoming increasingly clear, it is a matter of life or death.”

 

About the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign:

The Less is More NY Campaign is a coalition of groups working to pass the Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B – Benjamin / A.5493A – Mosley), developed by people on parole, people currently incarcerated, family members, and groups across New York. Passing this bill would be an important step in the fight to end mass incarceration and mass supervision by restricting the use of incarceration in response to parole violations and promoting early discharge from community supervision.

Follow online: #LessIsMoreNY  www.lessismoreny.org

 

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