Photo of Rikers Island courtesy of Wikimedia
In April, Mayor de Blasio announced his support of closing the jail complex on Rikers Island after protests and calls from activists and public officials. In a proposal released Thursday, the mayor says closing Rikers will take at least ten years and will require a big decline in the number of inmates there, a drop in crime rates and significant funding. As the New York Times reported, according to the city’s 51-page report, in order to close Rikers within a decade, the population at the complex needs to drop to 5,000. Currently, the daily population is about 9,400, much lower than the average of 20,000 inmates the prison held during the 1990s.
Chart of proposed inmate population reduction courtesy of the mayor’s office
The city estimates that reducing the inmate population by 2,400 is possible within the next five years if changes are made in the bail system and the jail diversion programs are expanded. The report says crime rates need to be driven down even further and the time it takes to process cases shortened. Plus, the city’s criminal justice system must undergo more basic changes to really see a reduction in population, like rethinking the way the system deals with people accused of serious crimes. This may mean keeping those charged with felonies out jail by fitting them with electronic monitors or confining them to their homes.
Most of de Blasio’s plan includes investing in the infrastructure of Rikers so it can operate for another decade. The plan details about $1 billion in capital improvements and providing more housing for people with mental health problems. Another $100 million will go toward a training academy for correction officers, to replace the current one held in a shopping center in Queens. By the end of the year, the city also hopes to install thousands of surveillance cameras to curb violence.
The mayor’s proposal to close Rikers follows a plan released by the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito and an independent commission led by Jonathan Lippman, the state’s former chief judge. While packed with similar ideas, Mark-Viverito’s plan called for a construction of new jails in all five boroughs, a term the mayor has yet to support publicly. However, even if the city reaches their goal of 5,000 inmates, the city will need to build new jails outside of Rikers and update existing complexes in the city.
In the report’s introduction, de Blasio writes, “It would be much simpler for us to tell people what they want to hear and say we can achieve this goal quickly and easily, but we won’t do that. Instead, we are realistic.”
Follow the city’s roadmap to closing Rikers here.
[Via NY Times]
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