Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rikers Island Jails

1) Rikers Island Map (Wikipedia [edited]). 2) 2009 Aerial View of Rikers Island ( 3)

1957 Aerial View of Rikers Island (

Bronx, located in the East River

Take the MTA Q101

Rikers Island, home to ten inmate facilities and almost 14,000 inmates, is the largest jail facility in the United States. It lies in the East River between the Bronx and Queens and represents the extreme racialization of stratified populations within the prison industrial complex. The “mile long bridge to Rikers Island is a dividing line” between the ambivalent New York City population and those trapped within the confines of the self-perpetuating criminal system of the city.

Riker’s Island was purchased by New York City in 1884 from the Dutch Ryker family, and was initially used as a jail farm. The inmates housed at the Department of Correction’s original main base of operation on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt’s Island) were transferred to Rikers Island in 1932 and the first permanent jail structure on the island replaced the previous century-old and dilapidated Penitentiary. Since then, the jail system has grown to incredible and daunting proportions.

With a population greater than the entire prison systems of thirty-five states, 92% of which are Black and Latino and 75% of whom return to Rikers Island after a year, Rikers Island embodies an extreme of what can be seen across the country. Although Black and Latino Americans represent only 49% of the total city population, “nearly all of… [whom] come from one of the city’s ‘dead zones’: central Brooklyn, southeast Queens, Spanish Harlem, the Lower East Side, and the South Bronx,” they hold an extraordinary majority within the city’s correctional facilities. Despite the fact that crime rates have significantly dropped in the city and across the country, the increased incarceration and intensity of laws have created a huge surplus in prisons, primarily affecting poor communities and communities of color. The “deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the black community, heavily driven by educational failure, joblessness, and public sector budget cuts, are increasingly exacerbating the crime problem.” The result of the increased incarceration and overrepresentation of people of color in prisons is “overwhelmingly and effectively neutralizing young Black and Latino American males,” eliminating possibilities for the creation of stable and successful communities.

Prisons and jails have therefore become highly racialized and stigmatized spaces. They are the ultimate representation of what is a non-white space, with “the ideal of pure and homogenous space through exclusiveness, exclusivity, and homogeneity.” The representation of prisons as a wholly un-pure space maintains that it is also very much a black space.

- Josefina Peralta and Tiffany Chang


Barth, Kodi. “City of Jails.”

City of New York Department of Correction. “History of DOC.”

Flateau, John. 2002. The Prison Industrial Complex Race, Crime & Justice in New York. Calabasas: DuBois Bunche Center.

Wynn, Jennifer. 2001. Inside Rikers Stories from the World's Largest Penal Colony. New York: St. Martin's.

George Lipsitz, “The Racialization of Space and the Spatialization of Race.” Landscape Journal 26:1 (2007)


  1. I would like to use the third image on this post, the illustrated aerial view, for the website of my volunteer group which teaches on Rikers Island. Please let me know if that will be a problem. Thank you,