It’s Unconscionable to Keep Solitary Confinement at Rikers Island – Next100
Commentary   Criminal Justice

It’s Unconscionable to Keep Solitary Confinement at Rikers Island

To maintain the nightmarish practice of solitary confinement is deeply disturbing to anyone like me who has experienced it, as well as anyone who believes in what our justice system is supposed to do.

In response to comments made by mayor-elect Eric Adams this week, in which he stated his desire to continue “punitive segregation,” or solitary confinement, at Rikers Island and other jail complexes, Vidal Guzman, a Policy Entrepreneur at the Next100 think tank working on justice reform efforts in New York, who was formerly incarcerated at Rikers, and who has spent more than two years in solitary confinement, released the following statement:

“At age 16, I was sent to Rikers Island jail, where I stayed for over a year. Years later, still a teenager, I was re-incarcerated, this time sent to a jail upstate, where during my time I spent a total of 905 days in solitary confinement. I can say this: the last two places I’d ever want to be again are Rikers Island and in solitary confinement.

“The news that incoming mayor Eric Adams plans to extend solitary confinement at Rikers Island was a punch to the gut. Rikers is set to close for a reason: It is hell on earth, a modern day torture island. To submit someone already facing the inhumane conditions at Rikers to solitary confinement—a practice that serves zero purpose, and in fact undermines the goals of rehabilitation—is unconscionable.

“In my first few weeks at Rikers, I saw multiple kids take their own lives and never leave that Island—a tragedy that we continue to see happen at the jail. To this day, I still feel the effects of my two-plus years in solitary—the 23-hour days spent waiting for a letter from home to come; the one hour I was allowed out, only to exit to a smaller cage. Trying to survive in that environment: it was torture.

“The next mayor of New York City should expedite the closing of Rikers Island jail as fast as possible. To keep the nightmarish practice of solitary confinement is deeply disturbing to anyone like me who has experienced it, as well as anyone who believes in what our justice system is supposed to do.”

About the Author

Vidal Guzman Criminal Justice

Vidal Guzman is a New York City-based community organizer who has worked with the End Qualified Immunity Campaign, Black Lives Matter, and Just Leadership USA. At Next100, Vidal works to end the forced labor of incarcerated people currently allowed under the U.S. Constitution and New York State aw, and to improve wages and training opportunities for the incarcerated. Vidal draws on his experience as a formerly incarcerated young person, initially incarcerated at 16, after being tried as an adult.

See more