Photo of Rikers Island courtesy of Wikimedia
New York City has awarded architecture firm Perkins Eastman a $7.6 million contract to study where to build jails that would eventually replace those on Rikers Island, the Wall Street Journal reported. The firm will have ten months to propose locations for new jails while looking into whether existing jails could be expanded. Mayor Bill de Blasio in June released his plan to close Rikers over the next ten years, focusing first on significantly lowering the number of inmates.
According to the city, Perkins Eastman will look at three existing jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, while studying possible new sites in the Bronx. Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, told the WSJ, that the process will involve talking to local groups and examining the environmental impact.
“A critical part of that is thinking about jails not as a place that is on an island, hidden from all lives, but as part of the ebb and flow of neighborhoods and considered civic assets,” Glazer said.
The study will look at building more modern-looking jails as a better way to integrate them with the surrounding communities. In July, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice, along with the Van Alen Insititute, released a set of guidelines to decentralize Rikers by creating community-based “justice hubs.”
The report, “Justice in Design,” recommends modernizing the interiors of community jails to give inmates better access to daylight and fresh air, while using more natural materials and calming colors. It also called for creating spaces–like libraries, plazas, gardens and art studios– to spur engagement between the public and those currently incarcerated.
According to the city’s monthly progress report on closing Rikers, NYC’s jail population has decreased by 20 percent over the last four years, from 11,089 inmates in 2014 to 9,152 inmates today. Officials say in order for the Rikers complex to close within a decade, the population there needs to drop to 5,000 inmates.
The NYC-based firm, Perkins Eastman, has worked on public agency projects in the city in the past, starting with the Brooklyn Public Library’s Clarendon Branch. Other notable projects in the firm’s portfolio include the Foley Square Courthouse, the Queens Civil Courthouse and the Brooklyn Supreme/Family Courthouse.
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