Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a plan to close Rikers Island, the city’s troubled jail complex.
Over the next few years the city intends to shutter the multi-jail facility, located on a hard-to-access island in northern Queens, and replace it with neighborhood detention centers. Facing ongoing problems of overcrowding, inmate abuse, and backlogs in the courts that strand poor inmates for months (almost 80 percent of people on the island have not had their case seen by a judge), the 8,000-person jail has come to represent dysfunction in the criminal justice system locally and nationally. Three months ago, thanks to ongoing efforts by activists behind the Close Rikers campaign, the mayor agreed to shut the facilities down incrementally.
Last week the mayor’s office outlined an 18-point plan for a slate of services, including expanded pre-trial diversion and re-entry support, special housing units for acutely mentally ill inmates, and professional development for corrections officers, all while pouring $30 million over the next three years into the physical infrastructure of the island to “accelerate safe reductions in the size of the jail population.”
The plan, officially called “Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island,” offers a way forward as the new jail system is put in place. Its goal is to reduce the citywide jail population by 25 percent, from 9,400 to 7,000 people, over the next five years.
In addition to revamped social services to cut down on recidivism, the Roadmap calls for repairs to facilities over the next five years to meet the demand for re-entry and education programs, improve fire safety, add A/C to more of the jail complex, and upgrade ventilation systems. The plan also calls for more housing with support services for inmates with serious mental illnesses, as well as tech upgrades that go beyond security cameras (though there will be more of those, too). The mayor has selected a Justice Implementation Task Force, a 30-person team that includes Rosalie Genevro, the executive director of The Architectural League of New York and Feniosky Feinosky Peña-Mora, the outgoing head of the Department of Design and Construction, to lead the effort.