Hart Island Transferred to NYC Parks Department

Since 1980, 72,251 people have been buried on Hart Island. Hart Island is a small piece of land off The Bronx. In 2019, it was announced that Hart Island would be transferred from the New York City’s Department of Corrections to the New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

In 2021, Gothamist that Hart Island is the final resting place for more than a million people, including unidentified New Yorkers, families who can’t afford private burials, and many who died during public health calamities such as the HIV/AIDS crisis.

New York City had long employed people incarcerated on Rikers Island to bury the bodies. The job had high turnover in the best of times, but more inmates began to refuse the task as COVID-19 overtook the city in March of 2020. The Department of Corrections offered inmates a pay bump, raising their compensation to $6 an hour. The city eventually shifted to outside contractors to manage the job.

Transferring Harts Island to the Department of Parks and Recreation means incarcerated New Yorkers will be permanently relieved of the duty to bury bodies. In 2019, New York City Counsel passed a bill that makes Hart Island part of a broader project to improve the landscape and operations of the cemetery and make it more accessible to the public.

In May of 2021, The Washington Post reported that New York City Chief Medical Examiner acknowledged that the remains of about 750 COVID-19 victims are still being stored inside refrigerated trucks. Those bodies could end up on Hart Island.

Mass burials on Hart Island began in 1875. A numbered grid system was implements to facilitate disinterments for later identification at the morgue. Today, most of the buried are identified.

In 1991, Joel Sternfeld and Melinda Hunt began to photograph Hart Island as a hidden American landscape. They were granted access to the island, the burials, and Rikers Island inmates over a three-year period. In 2015, New York City settled a class action lawsuit permitting relatives to visit actual graves one weekend per month.

Related Articles on FamilyTree.com:

Who is Buried on New York’s Hart Island?

Hart Island Might Become Open to the Public

Hart Island in New York

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