From The Intercept:
Anna has made the trip to Rikers hundreds of times in the nearly six years her son has been awaiting trial. Each time, a friend picks her up early in the morning near her apartment in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and drives her out through the city, past the brick houses and manicured lawns of northwestern Queens. They park near the Q100 bus stop and sit silently in the car until the bus pulls up.
On weekends, there’s always a line pushing to get on the bus — almost all women, many with small children, most black or Hispanic. Anna doesn’t rush to the doors like the rest; she has made this trip often enough to know that if you get on last you’ll be the first off when the bus reaches its destination. It’s only one stop, anyway.
The bus runs fast down a narrow bridge, passing the city’s fading skyline on the left and the tarmacs of LaGuardia Airport on the right. Within minutes it stops again and several uniformed men approach with guns and dogs. A large officer gets on the bus and asks attorneys and jail staff to get off. Then he reminds everyone else that this is the end of their “amnesty” — their last chance to get rid of any contraband without risking arrest.
“Happy Sunday,” he ends flatly but loudly. “Welcome to Rikers.”
In October 2010, Anna’s son Jairo Pastoressa was arrested for stabbing and killing a young man during a dispute. He was charged with murder and denied bail and has been sitting in jail for 67 months, waiting for a trial that keeps being postponed. As is the case for 85 percent of Rikers’s nearly 10,000 detainees, Jairo has not yet been tried. Although many are released within a week, some remain in the jail for years as their cases drag through New York’s chronically slow court system. As of March 2016, 75 percent of Rikers detainees had been awaiting trial for less than a year, but there were 109 whose cases had been pending for more than three years and 209 who had been waiting for more than two years, according to a spokesperson with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Jairo believes he is the longest-serving detainee currently on the island. “This system keeps those that have been accused of committing crimes out of sight and out of mind,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in her 2016 State of the City address, in which she announced an independent commission to review whether the population at Rikers can be reduced enough to make its closure possible. “Rikers Island has come to represent our worst tendencies and our biggest failures.”
An officer with a dog walks along the lined-up group twice, the dog sniffing everyone, including small children in strollers.
Anna has been coming here one to three times a week since Jairo was arrested; she knows by heart the steps that precede any visit. She moves fast to the front of the line into the first…