MANHATTAN — Two years after a 27-year-old woman died in a Rikers Island jail cell, relatives marched in Manhattan on Monday and demanded an end to solitary confinement in New York’s jails.
Layleen Polanco’s family was joined by relatives of Kalief Browder, a young Bronx man who killed himself just over six years ago after he was held in Rikers for years. Melania Brown, Polanco’s sister, and Akeem Browder carried a coffin past courthouses.
“All I have left is my sister around my neck in ashes,” Brown said. “The mayor made my family a promise that he would end solitary confinement, but he has broken that promise.”
Polanco was transgender and Brown pointed to a transgender flag at City Hall.
“You will not use my sister’s name in vain,” she said. “If I have to fight until my last breath to end solitary confinement, I will do that to get justice for my sister.”
Polanco, who had health issues, couldn’t afford a $500 bail. Browder, charged with stealing a backpack, couldn’t make bail either. He spent two years in solitary confinement and three years at Rikers in total.
Their family members were joined by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“I believe we can keep people safe without torture,” he said. “Instead of fixing it so people are treated like human beings, leadership wants to put people in solitary confinement and torture them.”
In March, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled plans for solitary confinement reforms.
“I came to the conclusion that we could end the confinement entirely, something that has been done in few places in this country,” he said.
The city Board of Correction, an independent jail oversight group, had to hear public comment on de Blasio’s reform plan before it could be approved. PIX11 has reached out to the BOC for more information on the plan’s status. The BOC has a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
PIX11 has reached out to de Blasio’s office for comment.