More than two dozen incoming City Council members demanded Tuesday that Mayor-elect Eric Adams end solitary confinement at Rikers Island — sparking a war of words with the next mayor just days after he said he’d continue to segregate violent inmates from the jail’s general population.
Adams set the stage for the standoff last week after Mayor de Blasio began moving detainees out of solitary confinement, also known as punitive segregation. In response, Adams said he would maintain the practice.
But on Tuesday, Adams got push-back from 29 City Council members who sent him a letter demanding he “reverse the pro-solitary confinement position.” Incoming Queens Councilwoman Tiffany Caban also posted the missive on Twitter just before 8 a.m.
“Solitary confinement is considered by the United Nations, human rights organizations, and medical and mental health experts to be a form of torture. It causes intense suffering and has taken the lives of countless New Yorkers, including Layleen Polanco, Kalief Browder and Brandon Rodriguez,” they wrote. “We, the undersigned, urge you, Mayor-elect Eric Adams, to respect the sanctity of human life, and reverse [your] pro-solitary confinement position.”
Aside from Caban, the letter is signed by Council members Carlina Rivera, Diana Ayala and Keith Powers. Council members-elect who signed off include Crystal Hudson, Lincoln Restler, Gale Brewer and Charles Barron.
The mayor-elect didn’t take long to hit back — and slammed the lawmakers for raising the issue publicly before coming to him directly.
“Why am I learning about the letter through the media?” the former NYPD captain said in a response to a reporter’s question. “If you want to work as a partner, call me … The one thing that’s different from everyone that signed that letter and Eric Adams: I wore a bulletproof vest for 22 years and protected the people of this city. And when you do that, then you have the right to question me on safety and public safety matters.”
But Councilman-elect Barron said being a former cop doesn’t give Adams a monopoly on expertise.
“That’s an idiotic response,” Barron said. “I mean, how stupid can you get?”
Adams went on to suggest that Council members, like Barron, who signed the letter should spend more time on Rikers to better understand his rationale.
“I’m asking them: Go do a week on Rikers Island, spend time there. Then you come out and tell me that dangerous people should walk up and down and not be held accountable for their actions,” he said. “You cannot have a jail system where someone sexually assaults a staffer, slashes an inmate and then say, ‘It is alright — I’m going to give you an iPad and just hug you and say don’t do it again.’”
He then made a distinction between solitary confinement, which he described as “inhumane,” and punitive segregation, which he said he’d employ with “services” for inmates.
“I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “I was extremely clear. I do not support solitary confinement. I support punitive segregation. That’s a difference. Solitary confinement is throwing someone in a small jail cell, locking them up — it’s inhumane — we should not do that.”
But many reform advocates see little difference between the two. Barron views them as the same thing and accused Adams of using a “play on words” to “manipulate public opinion.”
“That’s one of the cruelest types of punishment human beings can conjure up, and he should be ashamed of himself for trying to play semantics with it,” Barron said.
Adams, in turn, suggested Tuesday that his critics are the ones “romanticizing” the issue for political gain.
When asked by reporters to delineate the difference between solitary confinement and punitive segregation, Adams suggested that punitive segregation, under his administration, will involve putting violent inmates in larger areas and giving them “the services they need,” including mental health services.
“We’re going to put them in environments — not caged like animals … so they can no longer be dangerous and harmful to others,” he said.
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