Jay Z and John Legend
4.1.2017

Jay Z & John Legend Applaud Pledge to Shut Down Rikers Island

Jay Z and John Legend are among those celebrating the news that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to shut down Rikers Island.

On Friday (March 31), De Blasio announced his pledge for the jail complex that has long been criticized for its treatment of inmates. “New York City has always been better than Rikers Island,” he said. “I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to that reality. Our success in reducing crime and reforming our criminal justice system has paved a path off Rikers Island and toward community-based facilities capable of meeting our criminal justice goals.”

Hov celebrated by reflecting on the subject of his recent documentary series, Time: The Kalief Browder Story. “Kalief is a prophet,” tweeted Jay. “His story will save lives. You guys watching and your compassion made this happen. Thank you.”

At 16, Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. Despite proclaiming his innocence, Browder was sent to Rikers for three years without a trial. Two of those years were spent in solitary confinement. Eventually, his charges were dropped and Browder was released. Later, he lost his life to suicide.

Browder’s story inspired many, including President Barack Obama, who banned solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. “Today, [solitary confinement] is increasingly overused on people like Kalief, with heartbreaking results — which is why my administration is taking steps to address this problem,” Obama wrote in 2016. “In America, we believe in redemption.”

But Hov wasn’t the only celebrity praising De Blasio’s promise. John Legend also thanked the mayor for this. “Thanks to @NYCMayor, @NYCCouncil, Judge Lippman, @CloseRikers & @glennEmartin for your commitment to end #massincarceration,” he wrote. “In closing Rikers, New York City takes a crucial step towards ending #massincarceration. Now the hard work begins.”

Director Ava DuVernay, who chronicled the history of mass incarceration in her film The 13th, also reflected on the news. “Remembering the incarcerated citizens who’ve been abused + forgotten in this place,” she wrote. “Saluting families + activists who worked to dismantle.”

De Blasio said this won’t be easy. He noted that it will take years and that it will be a “long and arduous” road.

“There is no doubt that the road to Rikers Island’s closure will be long and arduous,” he wrote. “It will require that local officials and stakeholders stand up and support facilities that meet our moral obligation to thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we will never turn our backs on. It will require that our state government, and each component of our criminal justice system, contribute to the reform efforts critical to reducing our jail population and improving re-entry services and educational programming. The length of this process will also require continued investment in the facilities and conditions on Rikers Island that remain key to rehabilitation efforts for thousands of New Yorkers in the years ahead.”