Photo of Rikers Island courtesy of Wikimedia
A blue-ribbon commission has recommended that Rikers Island be closed and replaced with several smaller facilities based on a study of the storied jail’s future according to the Daily News. The panel, led by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, has been studying the the troubled 10-jail facility for more than a year. Mr. Lippman and the Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, will officially announce the findings on Sunday. A member of the commission said that recommendations include supervised release of some detainees, new smaller jails across the city and an overhaul of the bail system as part of a transition that would take 10 years to complete. According to a recent New York Times report, Mayor de Blasio has shifted his position on the issue and will be announcing his support for a closure plan, possibly at a news conference Friday.
80 percent of the jail’s 10,000 inmates are awaiting trial. The growing shut down Rikers movement was, in part, sparked by the plight of Bronx teen Kalief Browder who was wrongfully imprisoned at Rikers for three years. Arrested at the age of 16 in 2010, he was charged with stealing a backpack, though he insisted he was innocent, and jailed for three years–two of them in solitary confinement–without having been tried or convicted. Browder committed suicide five years after his release in 2010; his story was the subject of a documentary produced by Jay-Z titled ‘Time: The Kalief Browder Story.’
A Board of Corrections meeting was held Thursday to discuss the latest violence in city jails; slashings in have increased in the past year, from 131 in 2015 to 155 in 2016 according to records. De Blasio has earmarked over $200 million for corrections, including the addition of more correction officers and extra classes for inmates, and has reportedly employed consultants to recommend ways to transform the jail. The mayor, who has been opposed to closing Rikers in the past, has reportedly told those working on the issue that his position had changed, and that he has agreed with the basic ideas of a plan to eventually close the troubled jail complex. He also held a press conference on Wednesday to announce re-entry services for Rikers inmates.
Related to the discussion on how to transform the jail, the work of “Justice in Design,” an initiative led by Van Alen Institute with Speaker Mark-Viverito and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, will be used to inform design principles for jail facilities. The initiative has assembled a team of architects, environmental psychologists, and incarceration experts to host community workshops and develop design guidelines on ways to design a modern jail, facilitating neighborhood integration and safer, more humane facilities. According to a press release, the initiative represents “a fresh way for city officials and designers to collaborate to imagine a post-Rikers NYC and develop an urgently more humane approach to incarceration.”
According to the Daily News, the city “quietly looked at the possibility,” in 2015, and identified multiple locations for the $10 billion-plus plan. Speaker Mark-Viverito has spoken out in favor of the jail being shut down, and Gov. Cuomo. is in favor of a shutdown.
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Lead image, Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons.