Legal Aid Letter Objecting to Description of People Held at Rikers Island Runs in Daily News
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 01, 2016

After the Daily News used the term “jailbird” for a headline on a story about absentee ballot access for incarcerated potential voters, The Legal Aid Society and JustLeadershipUSA denounced the description in a published letter to the paper.

The letter from Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, and Glenn E. Martin, Founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA, emphasized, “these ‘jailbirds,’ as you refer to them, are our neighbors, friends and family who are subjected to the brutal and inhumane conditions of Rikers Island, much of which has been reported by your own publication.” Luongo and Martin noted the overwhelming majority of the city’s jail population were detainees who were innocent until proven guilty, and almost all black and brown. Distributing absentee ballots to such eligible voters is exactly what should be done, they insisted.




Daily News
November 1, 2016
Ensuring a Rikers right to vote

Manhattan: Contrary to the tone of your Oct. 27 article “Jailbirds granted absentee ballots as they await trial under new City Council bill,” the distribution of absentee ballots to innocent people who are eligible to vote is what we should be doing in one of the most progressive cities in the U.S., especially when the law entitles them to have access to the polls.

These “jailbirds,” as you refer to them, are our neighbors, friends and family who are subjected to the brutal and inhumane conditions of Rikers Island, much of which has been reported by your own publication. Over 80% of the population in our city jails are detainees and are innocent until proven guilty and almost all of these people are black and brown. The reach of the U.S. Constitution does not end at the bridge to Rikers.

In addition, many are there simply because they can’t afford to post bail. Those who can afford to do so are at home, where they are welcomed at the ballot box.

That everyone living on Rikers Island should retain a voice in the democratic process should be welcomed by a society desperately seeking a solution to suffering caused by mass incarceration. Those harmed by the criminal justice system’s failings are exactly the people we must turn to now for help solving this crisis.

As partners in the #CLOSErikers campaign, we know that that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Your paper should be invested in upholding our democracy and more thoughtful in the way you describe our fellow New Yorkers.

Justine M. Luongo, Legal Aid Society Glenn E. Martin, JustLeadershipUSA