Updated: Mar 26, 2020
by Hope J.
Over the past year, the volunteer collective No New Jails has fought against jail expansion in New York City. An explicitly abolitionist group, No New Jails holds that new jails should not be built for the simple reason that jails should not exist. The group formed after the Close Rikers campaign endorsed the plan to replace Rikers Island with four new jails, and abolitionist organizers split off to form NNJ. Despite the City Council’s vote last month to open those new jails—one in every borough except Staten Island—No New Jails is far from finished with their work. Hope spoke with Mon, an activist, strategist, and designer from No New Jails about their campaign. This interview has been edited and condensed. H: Can you talk about what the feeling was among the NNJ folks when the plan passed, especially in light of the co-optation of abolitionist language to celebrate the plan’s passage? M: We were not surprised. We have seen, and have continued to see, non-profits, governments, and corporations co-opt the language of abolition to justify carceral expansion. This plan was never about getting people out of jail. The City Council was not going to become abolitionist overnight. If they wanted to close Rikers Island, they could have done it already. No New Jails started from nothing, and we won the effort to expose the city’s intentions. We have a lot of momentum right now.
H: Since the city council vote, what about No New Jails’ plans and strategy have changed? M: We want to continue doing work around mutual aid with folks who are currently incarcerated and returning home. We are supporting NYCHA residents as they organize in the movement for free housing in NY. We want to do political education, and build on the knowledge that is already there surrounding the connection between free housing and prison abolition. Finally, we will keep attempting to stop the new jails from being opened.
H: In your eyes, what might society look like in an abolitionist world?
M: That answer is created by hundreds of people. In NYC, it would look like closing Rikers Island now, supporting people who come home from Rikers Island, providing free fares on the MTA, providing free and accessible housing and public transport to all, creating non-coercive mental health services, and investing in our schools. If the city regularly chose to invest in its communities, that would help keep people safe and help people thrive.