Musician John Legend weighed in on the city’s push to close Rikers Island Monday, saying it will require a major overhaul of the bail system.
The singer-songwriter spoke at a panel discussion alongside City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Glenn Martin, an activist who has led the push to shutter the troubled jail.
“Rikers exists in large part because of that population of people that cannot afford bail,” Legend said, noting 80% of the people held there have not been convicted of a crime.
“When we talk about reducing our population in these jails and making it easier to close Rikers, the biggest hurdle is making sure that no one’s locked up because they’re too poor to pay $ 1,000,” he said. “If your only difference is that you’re poorer, that should not be the reason why you’re locked up.”
Martin, who served on a blue-ribbon commission that recommended closing the troubled jail complex, revealed that the commission initially considered calling for a 20-year closure plan instead of the 10 years it settled on. He now says a decade is too long.
Mayor de Blasio embraced plans to close Rikers within a decade just as the commission was about to release its report.
“It’s a political timeline,” Martin said. “The 10-year timeline is nowhere near ambitious enough, and we have to take it home sooner.”
Gov. Cuomo has expressed support for closing the jail in three years, but Martin said he should back that up with action. “If this is just him taking a swing at the mayor in the media, then he’s going to be held accountable for that,” he said.