Incarcerated people at Rikers go on a hunger strike to protest inhuman conditions

Kiarra Rocker ‘23, Feature Editor

Over the past years, we have seen an influx of people sounding the alarm against the inhuman conditions at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex. Rikers is notorious for subjecting incarcerated individuals to dire practices. These conditions have done nothing but expand with the COVID-19 pandemic. With the overcrowding, unhygienic practices, staff mismanagement, and low vaccination rates, inmates were seen deciding to put their bodies on the lines.

In early January, 200 inmates at the Robert N. Davoren Complex building on the island participated in a hunger strike, protesting the poor conditions to which they were being subjected. Incarcerated people at the prison have reported frigid temperatures inside, mail being tampered with, and prominent medical issues. 

Supporters on the outside held rallies to advocate for those striking and to inform others. This newfound attention towards the strike prompted Senator Jessica Ramos to meet with the hunger strikers on Jan. 17, to address the concerns addressed. Voicing her support, she said, “Having met these men, I can tell you that they are men who are asking for very basic human needs.”

Ervin Bowins, who is incarcerated at Rikers, told his attorney, “We have a list of reasonable things we would like to bring to the table so that we can get things rolling, such as a law library, recreation, and mental health service, and medical stuff like that.” He proceeds to talk about how they are not being afforded basic mandatory standard practices, and that they just want help.

Outside the island, organizations such as the Legal Aid Society and the Bronx Defenders called the conditions at Rikers horrendous and that they should “serve as a reminder of why incarceration is not a panacea for public safety concerns.” As of early February, President Joe Biden is set to visit New York City, which lawyers are hoping is an opportunity to seek assistance and raise further attention to the conditions at Rikers.

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