Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice, along with the Van Alen Institute, released a set of guidelines to decentralize Rikers Island and improve city jails in every borough. The “Justice in Design” report outlines recommendations for healthier jails, including interior and exterior design elements, greater amenities, and ways to better integrate the jail with the surrounding neighborhood. As one of the first steps to permanently closing Rikers, these new justice hubs, or decentralized borough-based jails, would be tailored to the needs of detainees, officers, lawyers, visitors and community members.
The report describes justice hubs as a new model for detention in the city, an innovative way to make the current justice system more fair and responsive to each unique community. According to the report, Rikers Island is too isolated, often plagued with violence and a “fiscal drain” on the city.
The Justice in Design team, made up of architects, criminal justice experts, environmental psychologists and urbanists, held workshops in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens and spoke with members of the community to gather input and ideas for their report. The report reflected the context of each surrounding neighborhood, aiding the team’s goal of creating future justice hubs that restore dignity to those incarcerated while also making the justice system more visible and accountable.
These proposed justice hubs would be set up in close proximity to courts to quicken due process, while providing greater access to lawyers and visitation. The report recommends revamping the interiors of these community jails to give inmates more access to daylight and fresh air while using more natural materials and calming colors. This includes creating new space for engagement with residents from the community, with public facilities like libraries, public plazas, community gardens, art studios, fitness centers, medical clinics and a variety of social services.
The independent commission first convened in February 2016, after Speaker Mark-Viverito called for a body to address the need for incarceration reform ahead of the closure of Rikers. The group is composed of two dozen experts, policymakers and advocates and receives no funding from any political or government entity. Read the full Justice in Design report here.
“Design and structural layout are crucial in shaping the way we as residents of cities interact with the world around us,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement. “As such, the idea of creating community-based jails as Justice Hubs in close proximity to courts–which is consistent with the recommendations as outlined in the report released by the Independent Commission–can help shift preexisting conceptions of the criminal justice system.”
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Images courtesy of NADAAA