Comments on the Potter's Field: The Future of Mass Graves
25 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2015
Date Written: 2014
The paper addresses burial policy with respect to city cemeteries and, in particular, New York City’s Hart Island, the so-called 'potter’s field,' which is currently operated under the Department of Corrections. The institution is the target of a significant amount of recent scrutiny, including litigation, New York City Council oversight committees, and public criticism. These converging debates culminated in an overhaul of DOC policies regarding access to Hart Island, formation of an online database of burial records in April, 2013 and proposed legislation that would transfer jurisdiction over the island to New York City's Parks and Recreation. The paper outlines the pressing need for an understanding of the city cemetery as a global institution, noting how burial processes can change over time. It looks at New York City's own mass grave in addition to other variations throughout the world and history. The essay reviews the city cemetery in the context of three ‘criticisms’ raised by Hon. Elizabeth S. Crowley’s ‘Briefing Paper’ on the subject and recently proposed legislation that affects the institution.
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