An Island Unto Itself
There's something really wrong at Rikers Island.
Even if you don’t live in New York City, the jail’s reputation has outgrown its geography, delivering some of the most consistent reminders of flaws in the American criminal justice system.
It has become the site of too many stories about what happens behind jail walls, out of public view. Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to close the jail because of its brutal past and present.
Rikers Island is where 16 year old Kalief Browder, accused in 2010 of stealing a backpack, was held for more than three years without trial, mostly in solitary confinement.
His family couldn't afford bail. During his incarceration, he was beaten by guards and other inmates, and he attempted suicide several times. Once free, unable to overcome the trauma, he did indeed commit suicide.
It's happening again.
Shaun King writes in the New York Daily News: “No case has reminded me more of Kalief Browder than that of Pedro Hernandez. Except what's happening to Pedro right now comes after years and years of politicians promising that what happened to Kalief would never happen again. But damn it, it's happening again, and all of New York is to blame.”
Pedro was accused of a shooting that the victim and eight witnesses say he didn’t commit. Some say that now-infamous NYPD detective David Terrell framed Pedro.
Since July 2016, Pedro has been held on Rikers Island. Like Kalief before him, he has refused to take a plea bargain for a crime he says he didn’t commit.
In the meantime, Pedro has excelled academically at Rikers and is the recipient of a full-tuition college scholarship, which he can use if he is freed by September.
This is where a speedy trial would help.
How to help Pedro Hernandez get free
To learn more about what’s happening on Rikers Island, watch the riveting documentary TIME: The Kalief Browder Story.
Donate to Pedro’s family’s effort to raise the $250,000 bail set by the judge
Contact the Acting Commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction, Cynthia Brann, to urge her to immediately address Pedro Hernandez’s situation.
While you’re at it … check out the National Bail Out, which works to address the impacts of high bails and pre-trial incarceration on poor communities.