In the United States, mass incarceration has become one of the defining issues of the decade. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. prisons and jails hold more than 2.2 million inmates—nearly one quarter of the world’s prisoner population—a disproportionate number of them minorities.
New York has its own jail problem. Though the city has seen drastic drops in both crime and incarceration rates, it is home to one of the nation’s most notorious municipal detention centers, Rikers Island. Located in the East River just 250 feet from LaGuardia Airport’s runways, the 413-acre complex—plagued by violence and scandal—is home to nearly 10,000 inmates. The majority of them have not even been convicted of a crime; they are there awaiting trial or detained because they simply cannot afford bail.