How We Got Here


Kalief Browder tragically died in June 2015 after his incarceration for years as a teenager on Rikers Island, accused of stealing a backpack, a crime he did not commit. Galvanized by Kalief’s death, local grassroots activists increasingly mobilized to shut down Rikers immediately via the Campaign to Shut Down Rikers.

In an effort to quell to grassroots organizing, in February 2016, New York City Council empowered an independent commission to study the City’s criminal justice system. Led by a former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, the Lippman Commission’s other members included executives of large nonprofits and foundations, private attorneys, and academics.

Sensitive to mounting political pressure, in April 2017, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pivoted from his longstanding refusal to shutter Rikers Island. In a move intended to both trumped the Lippman Commission’s findings and co-opt longstanding calls to close the Rikers jail complex, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan claiming that Rikers can only be closed by constructing four new massive jails.

In February 2018, Mayor de Blasio and City Council jointly announced their agreement to build four new “community-based” jails in the name of closing Rikers. City Council also voted to fast-track the land-use approval process required to build four skyscraper jails in New York City neighborhoods.

Where We Are Now:

No New Jails NYC formed in September 2018, shortly after the Mayor launched the formal land-use approval process for the jail expansion plan. A direct continuation of the grassroots efforts to close Rikers immediately, No New Jails NYC also draws on the success of previous of jail construction fights in NYC.

From May to November 2019, the Mayor’s jail expansion plan will be put before a string of public bodies and officials, each with increasing power, to say yea or nay to rezoning neighborhood locations in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx for the Mayor’s massive new jails via the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. 

At the same time, No New Jails NYC is building power in communities throughout New York City and with its incarcerated members. Overwhelmingly, New Yorkers agree that all efforts should be dedicated now to closing all jails on Rikers Island, that there is no need to build any more jails, and that the billions of dollars budgeted for new jails should be redirected instead to community-based resources that will support permanent decarceration.