On Mayor Adams & Solitary Confinement on Rikers Island

By Tommy M.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams

New York City’s Mayor, former police captain Eric Adams, has vowed to bring solitary confinement back to Rikers Island, New York’s most notorious “correctional institution.” Via The City1:

“Solitary confinement is considered by the United Nations, human rights organizations, and medical and mental health experts to be a form of torture,” reads a letter signed by 29 Council members and sent to Adams as he prepared to take office on Jan. 1.

From the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, “The Mandela Rules, updated in 2015, are a revised minimum standard of UN rules that defines solitary confinement as ‘the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.’ Solitary confinement may only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and ‘prolonged’ solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.”2

Juan E. Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, had this to say on the subject: “Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system. … Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely, or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.”3

American politicians do have a tendency to ignore the UN’s declarations on human rights (such as those of Palestinians).

Firstly, Rikers Island is not a prison; it is a complex of jails where those accused of crimes are held awaiting their sentencing. Inmates can be held there for one year or longer before being transferred to a state prison. Those incarcerated on Rikers Island have not yet been convicted of a crime.

“It’s not about punishment, it’s about correction,” said Adams’ spokesperson, Evan Thies.1

In defense of his support for solitary confinement, then Mayor-elect Adams relied on his own authority as a former police captain. Responding to criticism at a press conference, he said, “I wore a bulletproof vest for 22 years and protected the people of this city. And when you do that, then you have the right to question me on safety and public safety matters. I think I know a little something about this,”4 the implication being that Mayor Adams’ experience as a police officer supersedes international law.

Prisons and jails in the United States are not actually correctional institutions except, perhaps, for some bourgeois criminals. For average people who go to prison, and for their friends and family, it is the end of their life. Convicted felons, when within the walls of a prison, are no less than today’s slave class. When they leave prison, many are not rehabilitated but are made worse, often having to repeat their criminal actions to survive poverty. The system intentionally perpetuates the continuation of the cycle of crime so that it has a surplus population whose labor is much easier to exploit if they are incarcerated.

We are taught that the 13th Amendment “abolished” slavery when in actuality, it simply moved slavery from the plantation to the cage. What is not made explicit is the true purpose of the prison industrial complex: to round up the non-laboring population and force them to work for whatever corporation patronizes (or owns) the prison. Of course, it is well-known that the overwhelming majority of American prisoners are black and Latino.

These are the words of John Ehrlichman, one of President Nixon’s close advisers, admitting the fact that the government knowingly inflicted harm on these communities for political purposes.

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”5

The incarcerated population is tortured by poverty outside of prison, tortured by crimes committed towards and by them, and then tortured within the walls of so-called “correctional institutions.” Rikers is already known for its unsanitary conditions.6 Its hygiene standards have fallen far since the pandemic began.7 Prisoners’ lives are already completely neglected.

Solitary confinement is a ruling class solution. While it leaves a scar on the prisoners, it controls their behavior and makes it easier for the prison to continue the forced labor. Their mental and physical health is disregarded. They take the trauma they endured back home to their friends and families.

What behavior was corrected? Who was rehabilitated?

Without a doubt, the class struggle must include our incarcerated population. When they aren’t in prison, they are forced out of work. Prisoners may not be the revolutionary force in society, as the working class is, but communists cannot turn away from them. We stand against solitary confinement and all other methods used to torture prisoners.

The prison industrial complex is one of the crucial aspects of the bourgeoisie’s terror campaign against the American poor and working class. The capitalist class uses liberal figures like Eric Adams, who callously use progressive rhetoric to absorb revolutionary fervor, but whose policies actually perpetuate cycles of crime and poverty within economically disadvantaged American communities.

Communists cannot leave this fight to the capitalists or petit-bourgeois social democrats. The only movement that can defeat the prison industrial complex is the educated and revolutionary working-class one, guided by the scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism.


1 Blau R., Honan K. “New Council Members Assail Adams’ Plan to Restore Solitary Confinement in NYC Jails”. The City (Dec 21, 2021) https://www.thecity.nyc/2021/12/20/22847572/eric-adams-solitary-confinement-in-nyc-jails-plan-slammed

2 Blau, Reuven “How the City Failed Three Men Who Died of COVID-19 in Jail: Watchdog”. The City (Mar 8, 2021) https://www.thecity.nyc/2021/3/8/22318504/nyc-failed-inmates-died-covid-rikers-jails

3 Blau, Reuven “How the City Failed Three Men Who Died of COVID-19 in Jail: Watchdog”. The City (Mar 8, 2021) https://www.thecity.nyc/2021/3/8/22318504/nyc-failed-inmates-died-covid-rikers-jails

4 Blau, Reuven “How the City Failed Three Men Who Died of COVID-19 in Jail: Watchdog”. The City (Mar 8, 2021) https://www.thecity.nyc/2021/3/8/22318504/nyc-failed-inmates-died-covid-rikers-jails

5 Rubenstein, D. Bromwich R. “As Deaths Rise in N.Y.C. Jails, Oversight Board Fails to Raise Alarm”. The New York Times (Nov 8, 2021) https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/08/nyregion/jails-rikers-oversight-correction.html

6 “Solitary confinement should be banned in most cases, UN expert says” UN News (Oct 18, 2011) https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/10/392012-solitary-confinement-should-be-banned-most-cases-un-expert-says

7 “United States: prolonged solitary confinement amounts to psychological torture, says UN expert” UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (Feb 28, 2020) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25633

Leave a Reply