The Womens Jail at Rikers Island Is Named for My Grandmother. She Would Not Be Proud. – The New York Times

In 1988, my family and I were honored when New York City named the new womens jail on Rikers Island for my grandmother, Rose M. Singer, a longtime jail reform activist. The Rose M. Singer Center was supposed to be a beacon to the world, a place where women caught up in the criminal justice system would be treated humanely and kept safe.

The jail has not lived up to that vision, however. Instead, it has devolved into a torture chamber, where women are routinely abused, housed in unsanitary conditions, and denied medical and mental health services. They are treated as less than human, not as our grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters.

The conditions at the jail are an affront to the good name and legacy of my grandmother, who fought tirelessly for criminal justice reform. I applaud the mayor and the City Council for voting to close Rikers Island, which includes Rosies, as it is commonly known, but this will not take place until 2026. Women should not be forced to live in these abject conditions for a day longer.

Covid-19 has made the release of women who pose no threat to society even more urgent. Right now, as the virus continues to sweep through the city, we are witnessing the virus ferocity in close-packed jails and prisons, with at least 1,200 reported cases of Covid-19 among inmates and officers in city jails as of late April. Social distancing is next to impossible in crowded detention centers.

Pregnant women should be diverted into specialized facilities. Even with the city budget deficit, deepened by the coronavirus, such alternative programs should not be cut.

The Singer Center was designed to reflect the work of my grandmother who served for decades on the Board of Correction, a watchdog group, and was an ardent activist for jail reform. It is always a tragedy when women must be detained. But it was my grandmothers wish to provide these women with an environment conducive to their returning as productive and responsible members of society. The city has failed in that.

As now operated, the Singer Center does not offer women and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers the safety and dignity they deserve. I am sure my grandmother, who died in 1991, would not want her name associated with such a place. I call on the Department of Correction to immediately ensure the health and well-being of every woman held on Rikers Island. Do not tarnish my grandmothers good name any longer.

Suzanne Singer is rabbi at Temple Beth El in Riverside, Calif.

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The Womens Jail at Rikers Island Is Named for My Grandmother. She Would Not Be Proud. - The New York Times

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