Fact check: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's claim about Rikers


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a democratic socialist running for New York’s 14th congressional district. On September 28, she made the following claim on her Twitter account about Rikers Island, a notorious jail complex in New York City:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter

About 80% of the men and women detained on Rikers have not been convicted of a crime. GOP Senators urge the presumption of Kavanaugh’s innocence. Where was that for Kalief Browder? In practice, the presumption of innocence is a luxury extended to the powerful and the wealthy.

Claim:

“About 80% of the men and women detained on Rikers have not been convicted of a crime.”

Fact check:

WikiTribune contacted the New York City Department of Correction to request official figures on the percentage of people detained at Rikers who have yet to be convicted.

They responded with the following document and said that the pie chart breaks down the inmate population.

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The document is incomplete. It encompasses all detainees in the NYC Department of Corrections system, and fails to distinguish the population of Riker’s Island. Based on the these figures roughly 76 percent of inmates in the NYCDOC system have yet to be sentenced in any way. (6247 divided by 8177).

In other coverage, WikiTribune found slightly different numbers but mostly around that figure.

France24, a French government-funded news site said in March 2018 that 85 percent of people detained at Rikers has yet to be convicted.

This figure has also been reported in The New York Times.

On average, Rikers Island holds about 10,000 inmates on a daily basis, with about 77,000 people cycling through in all each year. Most of the inmates — about 85 percent — have not yet been convicted of a crime;

However this article (Huffington Post) from May 2017 claims it’s about 76%. The article explains that many of those detained cannot post bail because they cannot come up with the money. Also a majority of people detained are people of color and are often held for months or even longer. Because Ocasio-Cortez was careful and used the word “about 80%,” we rate this claim True.

More context:

  • In a jail, most detainees are supposed to be awaiting trial where they could be convicted or acquitted. Though 500,000 people accused of a crime in the United States end up in jails like Rikers Island because they cannot afford bond, leaving them under violent conditions (ACLU).
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