Legislation to transfer jurisdiction of Hart Island to the Department of Parks

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Transfer jurisdiction of City Cemetery on Hart Island from Department of Correction to Department of Parks & Recreation

New York's City Cemetery occupies Hart Island, 131 acre island in the Long Island Sound on the eastern edge of the Bronx. Since 1869, prison labor is used to bury unclaimed and unidentified New Yorkers in mass graves that are inaccessible to the public.

Because the burial island is run by the Department of Correction (DOC), access to the island is severely restricted; relatives of the dead are only allowed to visit on one designated day per month and must register beforehand with the DOC, sign a waiver and relinquish phones and digital devices. Relatives of the dead must also be accompanied by someone from the DOC while visiting an unmarked grave.

The island has been plagued by erosion (resulting in exposed bones floating in the Long Island Sound) with trenches left open until they are filled with the coffins of 150 adults or 1000 babies buried in pine boxes.

Many New Yorkers have no idea that Hart Island exists, and many people do not realize that their relatives ended up in mass graves at the burial site.

Although progress has been made, as a result of a NYCLU lawsuit to allow greater visitation, there are still multiple roadblocks in allowing visitors to visit the largest tax-funded mass burial site in the country.

Citizens of New York City have a right to freely access the public cemetery on Hart Island without contacting the Department of Correction.

The DOC should not be responsible for managing the upkeep and visitation of a mass burial site nor should relatives of the dead have to go through numerous barriers just to visit their loved ones. We believe that Hart Island should be under control of NYC Parks and Recreation (or a new city agency) created to insure that every New Yorker receives a decent burial as required by law.

We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our leaders to act now to transfer jurisdiction of Hart Island to the Parks Department.

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