NYC JAILS ACTION COALITION RELEASES REPORT ON THE EXPERIENCE OF VISITING RIKERS ENTITLED ‘IT MAKES ME WANT TO CRY’: VISITING RIKERS ISLAND

09 Jan NYC JAILS ACTION COALITION RELEASES REPORT ON THE EXPERIENCE OF VISITING RIKERS ENTITLED ‘IT MAKES ME WANT TO CRY’: VISITING RIKERS ISLAND

NYC JAILS ACTION COALITION RELEASES REPORT ON
THE EXPERIENCE OF VISITING RIKERS ENTITLED
‘IT MAKES ME WANT TO CRY’: VISITING RIKERS ISLAND

DOWNLOAD REPORT:  VISITING RIKERS ISLAND – JAILS ACTION COALITION 1.9.18

Visitors to Rikers endure traumatic conditions to visit their incarcerated loved ones
NEW YORK, NY (January 9, 2018)— At the New York City Board of Correction meeting
today, the NYC Jails Action Coalition (JAC) will release a report entitled ‘It Makes Me Want to
Cry’: Visiting Rikers Island, which details the experiences of those who visit their incarcerated
loved ones on Rikers Island and recommendations for improving the visiting process. JAC
presented copies of the report to the Department of Correction and Board members and described
its findings during public comment at the meeting.
The report is based on a year’s worth of research and outreach to those who visit their family
members and friends incarcerated at Rikers. Most of the visitors to Rikers are women, many of
whom bring small children with them to visit. These visitors must endure challenging and at
times traumatic conditions in order to spend just an hour with their incarcerated loved ones.
In addition to other problematic visiting conditions, such as long wait times, long commutes to
the island, and an uncomfortable and unwelcoming visiting environment, dozens of visitors to
Rikers have reported being sexually abused by correction officers during unlawful strip searches
during the visiting process.
“Correction officers have verbally violated me, threatening to put their hand in my vagina,” said
Kamilah Newton, who visited her child’s father while he was detained at Rikers. “They’ve gone
as far as to expose my breast in an open space to search me. I shouldn’t have to give up my rights
just to visit someone.”
“I felt violated because they asked me to show my underwear not only in front of officers, but in
front of other visitors,” said Anna Pastoressa, who visited her son on Rikers for six years
between 2010 and 2016. She calls visiting “an assault on privacy.”
According to Alan Figman, an attorney representing over 45 women who have accused DOC
staff of abusive searches during the visiting process, cameras were placed in search areas on
Rikers after initial claims were filed—but he says the practice continues to happen in the
women’s restroom, beyond the range of the cameras. “Despite filing fifty claims against the
Department of Correction regarding illegal strip searches of women visiting DOC facilities, the

pernicious practice continues to exist and has in no way been controlled by leaders of the DOC,”
he said. “They don’t follow their own protocol regarding searches. [And] the DOC never heeded
my request that women visitors be handed a specific sheet of paper advising them of their rights
regarding searches.”
“It is shocking that New Yorkers who spend half their day or more traveling to see their friends
or family on Rikers Island are being subject to invasive searches and illegal sexual abuse during
their visits,” said New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. “The city may be working to
close Rikers, but these accusations must be addressed immediately and those who are abusing
their positions must be removed swiftly. Simply put, people deserve the right to visit Rikers
without the threat of intimidation or violation.”
Visiting has been shown to reduce recidivism and improve reentry experiences, promote the
mental health of incarcerated people, improve jail safety, and promote stronger family bonds
between incarcerated people and their loved ones. Advocates for New York City jail reform have
called for changes to the visiting process for years.
“The Jails Action Coalition’s report on visiting at Rikers affirms the importance of keeping
people connected during incarceration, and confirms the difficulty of doing so,” said Tanya
Krupat, director of the Osborne Center for Justice Across Generations. “In addition to the men
and women who visit loved ones, tens of thousands of children visit their parents and family
members every year. When visits are supported and child-sensitive, they reduce trauma for
children and increase their wellbeing. The current conditions—including Plexiglas barriers and
long waits—unfairly punish children and make an already difficult situation worse. We hope the
City (including DOC, the Board of Correction, and the Mayor’s Office) will act on the report's
important and sensible recommendations.”