Faith Leaders Demand Action from New York City’s Mayor to Ensure Safe Reentry for Those Leaving Rikers Island During COVID-19 Pandemic

Trinity Church Wall Street
Posted Jul 22, 2020

Today Trinity Church Wall Street and prominent faith organizations, including The National Action Network, led by Rev. Al Sharpton; Central Synagogue; and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, launched Faith Communities for Just Reentry, a coalition calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to enact immediate measures to provide safety and support for those being released from Rikers Island during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Without adequate support, those who are being released because of COVID-19 are facing homelessness and illness – and that’s not acceptable.” said the Rev. Phillip A. Jackson, Priest-in-charge and Vicar of Trinity Church Wall Street. “The pandemic has magnified the systemic racism of the criminal justice system, and as faith leaders, we have an obligation to call for action.”

“The Mayor and City Council have the power to fix this,” he said. “Their immediate action is urgent because of the pandemic, and these actions would also address the ongoing need for support and dignity for those re-entering society. Each year, 15,000 to 20,000 New Yorkers are caught in the cycle of incarceration and homelessness, 80% of them people of color.”

“Jewish tradition teaches that one may never say to a penitent, ‘remember your former deeds’ (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 4:10),” said Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Senior Rabbi at Central Synagogue. “In fact, our sages accord a sacred status to those who transform and change their lives through the process of atonement. ‘In the place where penitents stand, even the wholly righteous cannot stand’ (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 34b). And yet, over and over again, our city not only reminds those returning from jail or prison of their justice-impacted histories, we also actively deny them the resources and support needed for their re-entry journeys and ongoing transformations,” she said.

“As a people who believes in the power of repentance and atonement, we urge our city to not only welcome home our brothers and sisters who have served their time, but to embrace their personal transformations as models for all of us embarking on personal and collective journeys of change and evolution,” she said.

The coalition is launching today with a vigil near the bridge that leads to Rikers Island. The vigil can be viewed livebeginning at 7AM.

The coalition, which includes leaders from the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim faith communities, is proposing a three-point Policy Agenda for urgent action to:

  1. Provide safety for people released from incarceration during COVID-19 by providing them with valid identification, an effective healthcare transition that allows people to immediately access the care and medication they are already entitled to, and timely coronavirus testing.
  2. Ensure that justice-involved individuals have stable homes by ending permanent exclusions from government-supported housing and discrimination in the private market, modifying the rental assistance voucher system, and leveraging public funds to create new housing to meet their needs.
  3. Develop a coordinated reentry system that works across government agencies and is held accountable to the well-being and whole dignity of each person so that this will not happen again, neither during national crises nor the everyday crises that families in our communities endure.

Full information on the coalition’s agenda can be found here.

The members of Faith Communities for Just Reentry are:

  • Rabbi Nicole Auerbach, Central Synagogue
  • Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
  • Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Central Synagogue
  • The Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director, Interfaith Center of New York
  • Rev. Wendy Calderón-Payne, Executive Director, Bronx Connect
  • Rev. Peter Cook, New York State Council of Churches
  • The Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York
  • The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean, Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary
  • Marc Greenberg, Executive Director, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing
  • Rabbi Hilly Haber, Director of Social Justice Organizing and Education, Central Synagogue
  • The Rev. Phillip A. Jackson, Priest-in-charge and Vicar, Trinity Church Wall Street
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, T’ruah
  • The Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary
  • Rev. Michael Livingston, Interim Senior Minister, Riverside Church
  • Julio Medina (M.Div.), Exodus Transitional Community
  • The Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island
  • Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President, National Action Network
  • Rabbi Joshua Stanton, East End Temple
  • Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York
  • Rabbi Rachel Timoner, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Elohim
  • Rev. Kevin VanHook, Riverside Church
  • The Rev. Winnie Varghese, Trinity Church Wall Street

As part of its ongoing social justice work, last month Trinity awarded nearly $7 million in grants to 56 organizations dedicated to ending systemic racism and the cycle of homelessness in New York City. In April, Trinity provided over $2.4 million in grants and loans to local nonprofits to help vulnerable New Yorkers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Follow the coalition’s activities on social media, #JustReentry.

About Trinity Church Wall Street

Now in its fourth century, Trinity Church Wall Street is a growing and inclusive Episcopal parish of more than 1,200 members that seeks to serve and heal the world by building neighborhoods that live Gospel truths, generations of faithful leaders, and sustainable communities. The parish is guided by its core values: faith, integrity, inclusiveness, compassion, social justice, and stewardship. Members come from the five boroughs of New York City and surrounding areas to form a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse congregation. More than 20 worship services are offered every week at its historic sanctuaries, Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel, the cornerstones of the parish’s community life, worship, and mission, and online at The parish welcomes approximately 2 million visitors per year.