The United States incarcerates more people, at a much higher rate, than any other country on the planet. Five times as many people are locked up in America today, per capita, than 50 years ago, with devastating consequences for families and communities. In New York City, the eight sprawling jails on Rikers Island are symbols of this half-century of mass incarceration. They are notorious for violence and inhumane treatment. They are emblematic of racial disparities in our society: almost 90 percent of the people on Rikers are black or Latinx. Like mass incarceration itself, Rikers is largely hidden from whiter and wealthier communities. There is a once-in-a-generation chance to end this injustice. After a hard-fought campaign led by formerly incarcerated people and the findings of a commission led by the state’s former chief judge, New York City has embarked on a far-reaching effort to close the Rikers jails. The City aims to halve the number of people in jail and move those who remain incarcerated to a smaller system of facilities located closer to the borough courthouses. The plan would reduce the number of jails from eleven (the eight jails on Rikers plus three in the boroughs) to four and reduce the number of people in jail from 7,300 today to 4,000 or fewer. When the City committed to closing Rikers in 2017, it already had the lowest incarceration rate of any major American city (though much higher than any comparable international city). Since then, the number of people in jail on any given day has already dropped by more than 2,000, thanks to hard work from community organizations, pressure from advocates, and changes to the ways that police, prosecutors, and courts are doing their jobs. There is much farther to go, but the goal is within reach. With the progress achieved so far, New York City remains as safe as it’s ever been, proving that there are better ways to fight crime than mass incarceration. The question that remains is whether a smaller, redesigned borough system can put an end to the problems of Rikers. There are good reasons to believe it will. First, location matters. Three of the proposed facilities are on the sites of operating or decommissioned jails next to courthouses in civic centers in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. The fourth is on an NYPD tow pound in the Bronx that is not adjacent to the local court, but which is closer than Rikers or the current City jail in the Bronx, a barge that would be closed along with Rikers. Proximity to courts would help ensure that people arrive to court on time, avoiding case delays that unfairly lengthen incarceration. Better access to public transportation would enable family members to visit more frequently, fostering connections that are demonstrated to improve behavior within jails and improve chances for success on the outside. Nonprofit service providers would be able to see their clients much more frequently, bolstering people’s chances of successful community re-entry. Lawyers would be able to visit clients to prepare their defense, which very rarely occurs at Rikers. Community locations would also increase accountability. No longer would people be hidden on an isolated island, invisible to the public and virtually impervious to oversight. Gone would be the sprawling jail system that exponentially increases the Department of Correction’s management challenges, providing the best chance to break the dysfunctional status quo and change correctional practices. Second, design matters. Unlike today’s jails, these facilities can and should be designed to be places of rehabilitation, not of punishment. Hospitable visiting areas would encourage connections to family and support networks. Sufficient spaces for programming, education, health care, and recreation would mean people could access important services. Improved sightlines and other security features would enhance safety for all. Decent breakrooms and facilities for officers can boost well-being and morale, rippling out to improve conditions for everyone inside. These design principles are incorporated in the City’s initial plans. It is these improved designs that drive the size and height of the proposed facilities, which is one of the main concerns of their opponents. Thanks to recent bail reform legislation, the City has lowered the planned capacity by 1,000 people. This should significantly reduce the buildings’ bulk without compromising much-needed space and services. The City should also move people with serious mental illness to hospital-based treatment facilities, which would further reduce the scale of the borough jails. Building vastly improved facilities will not come cheap. But without them, there is no closing Rikers. And to put the construction costs in context, today’s Rikers-based system of eleven jails costs more than $2.6 billion each year to operate—a stunning $300,000 per incarcerated person per year. A smaller proposed system in the boroughs would slash that operating spending by more than half, savings billions over time and far eclipsing the money spent on construction. Much of the freed-up money should be invested in the communities most impacted by mass incarceration. Reformers have to enter this process with their eyes open. We have to ensure that the initial design principles are not compromised in the final outcome. And as long as anyone is locked up, advocacy and oversight will always be needed so that post-Rikers facilities are operated in a way that keeps people safe and gives them a fair shot at success when they return home. Controversies over land use are inevitable in our crowded city. Concerns about whether the promise of a new system can truly break with the past have to be taken seriously. But those who call for this plan to be defeated should know that the result would be continuing the unacceptable status quo of the Rikers penal colony. This is not the first attempt to shutter that awful island. Prior closure efforts as far back as the late 1970s were defeated for many of the same reasons opponents raise today, perpetuating this decades-long crisis in the jails. We cannot allow history to repeat itself. As the land use review process moves forward this fall, New York City has a momentous choice: approve a much smaller system of borough facilities as we work to end mass incarceration, or endure the traumas of Rikers for generations to come. Tyler U. Nims is the executive director of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform Dan Gallagher is an architect practicing in New York City. In collaboration with the Van Alen Institute, he lead Justice in Design, focusing on design innovation in spaces of detention in New York City. He is currently a member of the Design Working Group for the Mayors Office of Criminal Justice, establishing the Guiding Principles for Design in the borough-based jail proposals.
Posts tagged with "Rikers Island":
Technology is abstracting so much of our lives that it is easy for change to come out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Many physical objects have been reduced to algorithms hidden in cloud servers and embedded in code on handheld devices. Remember CDs, day planners, watches, and cameras? Architecture, on the other hand, is more difficult to eliminate and maintains its relevance by making visible the invisible within our society. For example, a proposed Manhattan jail tower towering 45 stories over Chinatown and Tribeca makes visible the fact that we can’t just abstract and sweep away our country’s mass incarceration problem. This proposal confronts us—including some very wealthy residents of those neighborhoods—with the harshness and scale of the problem. New York City has chosen four sites—one each in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens—for relocating the jail facilities currently located on Rikers Island. Activists say that moving the incarcerated closer to their homes is a more humane way to keep them connected with their families and communities, citing the difficulty of visiting the island as well as transportation costs for court dates. However, the realities of moving 5,000 inmates brings a spatial challenge: Where do you put them? So far, each proposed site seems tone-deaf about how they would affect the surrounding streets and neighborhoods. Lynn Ellsworth of Human-scale NYC and Tribeca Trust has done a great service by publishing her paper, “How Did Reform of the Criminal Justice System Turn Into a Real Estate Project?” that highlights how the city will sell Rikers Island to real estate developers for $22 billion and then spend another $11 billion dollars on the new jails. In addition, she has also done a deep urban design analysis on the 45-story Manhattan jail on the edge of Chinatown and Tribeca and produced a series of ghost building images that show how the Manhattan jail will negatively affect its surroundings. However, her proposal calling for the city to keep and renovate Rikers Island highlights the contradictions in what can be considered progress on this issue. Perhaps the real question needed now is, “How can we rethink the entire jail debate?” The official renderings from the city’s Department of Correction show only exterior images. A recent New Yorker story, “Inside the Mayor’s Plan to Close Rikers,” quotes architect Frank Greene, who is working on the new jail plans. “I could see these buildings we’re doing for New York City someday becoming community colleges with dormitories inside them,” he told the magazine, a statement which represents the sort of design thinking we endorse. But this thinking needs to be put into signed and approved architectural plans. As the plan currently stands, the fact that the city would build a massive skyscraper jail that would replace half of the historic “Tombs” detention facility on Centre Street with no concrete plan for what will be inside of the building, how incarcerated people will actually live in the building, and what facilities are planned for visitors is truly insane. This is a moment for New York City, its corrections department, its local politicians, and the public to discuss what our incarceration policy should look like on an institutional and facilities level. All we have now are promises and nothing about how these monster facilities will actually operate. Finally, one noted criminal justice reform advocate, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, makes a serious case for closing all prisons. In New York Times Magazine, she asks, “Why don’t we think about why we solve problems by repeating the kind of behavior that brought us the problem in the first place?” The Times article points out that for Gilmore, prison abolition is “both a long-term goal and a practical policy program, calling for government investment in jobs, education, housing, health care—all elements that are required for a productive and violence-free life.” This is the question to ask as President Trump has just signed his First Step Act, which will begin the release of thousands of prisoners from federal prisons; and as prisons in California, by court order, have begun to empty out their overcrowded facilities by releasing low-level offenders. Rather than build more jails or prisons, we should ask if we really need carceral structures in the way we have thought about them since the 19th century, as places of punitive architecture and inhumane residence. But we also need to ask if we even need more jails or prisons, or whether there might be better ways to rehabilitate people in the future.
A joint team of AECOM and the Philadelphia-based construction consulting firm Hill International has been tapped by the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to oversee the design and construction of the four borough-based jail towers that will replace Rikers Island. The pair was awarded a $107.4 million contract to administer the four teams that will build the new jails, one team for each location. Once complete, the four new jail towers will each be expected to hold approximately 1,500 beds, as well as rehabilitative and reentry programs, counseling, educational, and health components, as well as community space, at a total cost of $8.7 billion. If the new jails in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan move ahead, they would be the city’s first design-build projects. The DDC issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Program Management Consultant team in October of 2018 for the borough-based jails project. AECOM touts that the company is no stranger to building correctional facilities, and the company’s broad architecture and engineering experience makes it a good fit for design-build, where the architects and builders work in tandem to realize the project. The AECOM-Hill team will work off of a framework first devised by Perkins Eastman, which, along with 17 subcontractors, laid out the potential sites and space requirements for the replacement jails. Their final determination was that the city should refurbish existing buildings or build new jails close to the central courthouses in each borough so that inmates could easily make their court appearances. Of course, the plan hasn’t been without its detractors. All four jails are being moved through the Uniform Land Use Review Process at once in an effort to close Rikers as fast as possible, but residents have been pushing back against erecting new jails in their neighborhoods, and clashing with carceral activists. At the time of writing, four community boards have voted against the plan (Community Board 1 rejected building a 45-story jail tower at 125 White Street on Tuesday), although their votes are nonbinding.
The de Blasio administration’s 10-year plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails is ahead of schedule, but community groups are voicing their opposition to some of the proposed replacements. Residents of Tribeca and Chinatown are up in arms over the decision to build a 45-story jail tower at 125 White Street, currently the Manhattan Detention Complex more infamously known as “the Tombs.” While the city had originally planned to shift a portion of the island’s projected 5,000 inmates (the administration expects to reach that number from the current 9,000 through bail and sentencing reform) to a 40-story tower at 80 Centre Street in Lower Manhattan, that fell through in November of 2018. Now, the plan is to demolish the two towers at 124 White Street (13 stories) and 125 White Street (9 stories) and replace them with a 45-story, 1.27-million-square-foot tower with 1,440 beds. The entire Rikers replacement plan is currently moving through the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), and thanks to a $7.7 billion bonus to the Department of Corrections (DOC) in the 2020 capital plan, is expected to wrap up in 2026, a year ahead of schedule. But as part of the ULURP, each of the four borough-based jails are currently facing public feedback as part of the environmental and land use review. Tempers have flared at Community Board 1's meetings over the 125 White Street tower. At an April 8 meeting before the board’s Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, residents clashed with social justice activists. Because the proposed tower would be 37 percent larger than what the area’s zoning allows, the jail requires a permit from the City Planning Commission before it can proceed, of which public feedback is taken into consideration. Overall, a number of Tribeca, Chinatown, and SoHo residents raised concerns over the cost (the new jails will require $11 billion to complete); the shadows cast by the tower, which would stretch from West Broadway to Mott Street in the winter and from Church Street to Chrystie Street in the summer, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); the impact of the Tombs demolition on the surrounding neighborhood; and the potential repurposing of the proposed tower into luxury housing if the city manages to decrease the number of incarcerated peoples enough. While that last concern may seem a tad outlandish, the original proposal for the tower at 80 Centre Street did involve a mix of affordable housing units. Architect Alice Blank, who sits on Community Board 1, also raised concerns about the potential history that would be lost if the Tombs came down. Blank pointed out a resolution recently passed by Community Board 3 against the demolition, which states: “The Art Deco/Art Moderne-styled South Tower of the current Manhattan Detention Center is NYC Landmark eligible, and the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building and Prison at 100 Centre Street have previously been determined to be New York State National Registry-eligible. These eligibilities suggest that the proposed demolition and redevelopment would be an inappropriate and significant loss of historic and architectural resources. The 100 Centre Street building, which retains some Egyptian Revival architectural details from the original ‘Tombs’ building, as well as 80 Centre Street and 125 Worth Street constitute a coherent architectural group in Civic Center. The demolition of ‘the Tombs’ would undermine the value of a visible piece of the criminal justice history and the historical development of NYC.” Of course, criminal justice and prison reform advocates have pushed back. In 2017, Rikers was appraised as being so dangerous by the State Commission of Correction that the agency halted transfers of inmates into the jail from outside of the city. At the time, the oversight commission found that Rikers failed to meet minimum safety standards. The Tombs has its own well-documented legacy of violence, and the building’s squalid conditions aren’t helped by the tiny slit windows punched into its monolithic facade. At the April 8 meeting, it was clear that pro-jail tower activists saw the issue as a racial one, while opponents of building a jail tower in Manhattan have argued that renovating Rikers Island would only cost $1 billion and would mitigate all of their concerns. “I’m disgusted to hear that y’all don’t even want to have a new jail when 90 percent of the people who are incarcerated in the Department of Corrections are black and brown Latin people. Not any of you that are opposing this tonight!” a woman shouted at the CB1 meeting, according to The Tribeca Trib. “Having jails on Rikers Island doesn’t solve half of our problem,” said a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office, who offered to comment after AN queried the DOC. “Renovating Rikers wouldn’t do it. The facilities are too archaic and old, and they don’t have the appropriate space or programming. To say that Rikers can be rehabilitated is untrue.” Centralizing the jail population on an island mainly accessible via the Rikers Island Bridge adds an extra level of undue hardship to the jail’s staff, visitors, and inmates who have to meet court dates in their home boroughs—each jail tower has been proposed for a site close to the borough’s courts. It also damages inmates’ connections to their local support networks, added the spokesperson. Building new facilities will allow the city to not only increase the cell size for each inmate and better the light and air conditions, but to add vocational, health, educational, and re-entry programs to each location. When asked whether the city could convert the Manhattan jail tower into market-rate housing down the line, however, the spokesperson was unable to rule it out. They said that it was too early to draw any conclusions about where the prison population would be ten years down the line, especially before the bulk of Mayor de Blasio’s bail reform proposals took effect. Time will tell whether the city alters its Manhattan tower proposal before appealing to the City Planning Commission. The Manhattan Community Board 1 Land Use Committee will be voting on a recommendation for the Borough Based Jails/Manhattan Detention Complex ULURP application on May 13. A full board vote will come later in May, followed by a public hearing held by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. After that, the scheme will be voted on by the City Planning Commission, and finally, the City Council. It should be noted that all of the preliminary massings released thus far have been just that, and no concrete design details have been made public yet. Update: An earlier version of this article stated that Rikers Island was reachable by ferry, which is incorrect. While plans to connect the island to the NYC ferry system have been proposed, it is not a stop at the time of writing.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has released its final selection of sites for the four borough-based jails that will replace the notorious prison on Rikers Island. At an under-the-radar mayoral press conference yesterday, the city released its 56-page draft plan (available here) which includes the final locations, number of beds, amenities, zoning restrictions, and other materials necessary for the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) to proceed. The final selection comes eight months after the city tapped Perkins Eastman to analyze and design alternative sites to the centralized Rikers complex. There had been some back-and-forth with the community in each of the four boroughs over where these 1,500-bed jails would be built (Staten Island is sitting this one out). According to the draft plan, the city will move ahead with its backup plan for the Bronx after failing to secure its preferred site adjacent to the Bronx Hall of Justice and will build a 26-story jail on an NYPD-owned tow pound at 320 Concord Avenue. The city will push ahead with plans for a 40-story jail tower in Tribeca at 80 Centre Street, currently home to the Marriage Bureau. Brooklyn’s proposed jail at 275 Atlantic Avenue, currently the site of the Brooklyn House of Detention, could also be built out up to 40 stories. The Queens location, 126-02 82nd Avenue in Kew Gardens (formerly the Queens House of Detention) would reach up to 29 stories.
As the draft report fleshes out, each new jail will be designed to integrate with the surrounding community and will include ground-level retail and community facilities, and the Bronx location may contain up to 234 residences, including affordable units. Hundreds of new accessory parking spots will be included at each location, and the Queens jail will open their lots up to the public. As for the jails themselves, the 6,000 beds will accommodate the 5,000 prisoners expected by 2027, when the phase-in of the new facilities will be fully implemented. Rikers's current population has been consistently falling and was pegged at just under 8,500 in May of 2018–the administration and jail reform advocates are hoping to keep slashing away at that number through a combination of bail reform, expedited trial wait times, increased access to legal representation, and reduced incarceration for lower level offenses. While the move to close Rikers was lauded by politicians and civil rights activists alike, the community in all four locations must still weigh in on the plan before the project can begin the Uniform Land Use Review Procedures (ULURP) process in mid-2019. The city will be holding a series of workshops to solicit feedback before advancing its plan. According to the report, public meetings on the draft report will be held as follows: Borough of Brooklyn, September 20, 2018, 6:00 PM P.S. 133 William A. Butler School 610 Baltic Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217 Borough of Queens, September 26, 2018, 6:00 PM Queens Borough Hall 120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens, N.Y. 11424 Borough of Manhattan, September 27, 2018, 6:00 PM Manhattan Municipal Building 1 Centre Street, New York, N.Y. 10007 Borough of the Bronx, October 3, 2018, 6:00 PM Bronx County Courthouse 851 Grand Concourse, Bronx, N.Y. 10451 Design details for each jail are currently sparse, and will likely be forthcoming as the final sites are locked down.
Today NYC released its draft plan to build 4 jails to #CloseRikers but there is no big press conference or event. @NYCMayor is talking about ferries. Later there is a private briefing for reporters pic.twitter.com/sTR5IAdzZe— Christopher Robbins (@ChristRobbins) August 15, 2018
As part of the plan to close Rikers Island by redistributing inmates to smaller jails across four of the five boroughs, the Daily News reports that city officials are looking to build a 40-story jail tower at 80 Centre Street in Lower Manhattan. Perkins Eastman, along with 17 subcontractors, has been tapped to redesign the smaller community-oriented jails in each borough and orient the new developments toward a rehabilitative model. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office had released a list of preferred community-chosen locations in each borough back in February, but ran into opposition with their sites in the Bronx. Now the plan for the Manhattan location appears to have changed as well, as the city is looking to top the nine-story 80 Centre Street with a jail tower that could contain affordable housing. The initial location in Manhattan, an expansion of the Manhattan Detention Complex at 125 White Street, was deemed infeasible for the number of inmates that would need to be housed. Rikers currently houses 9,000 inmates, but the city is hoping to cut that number to 5,000 through bail and sentencing reform and distribute the population throughout the new sites. Closing the jail has been the goal of vocal activists for whom the facility embodies gross abuses of the criminal justice system. Mayor de Blasio has recently come to support the push for closure. If the jail tower moves forward–80 Centre St. is one of two sites under consideration–the 700,000-square-foot Louis J. Lefkowitz State Office Building would be gutted and the preserved facade would serve as the tower's base. The granite, art deco building is currently home to the marriage bureau, and was completed in 1930 and designed by William Haugaard; according to the city’s official building description, Haugaard kept the building squat to avoid casting shadows on the nearby courthouses and Foley Square. The jail’s vertical shape would mean that men and women would need to be separated on different floors, as would the hospital area, outdoor space, recreation areas, and classrooms. AN will follow this story up as more details become available.
After Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration announced that it would be replacing the notorious Rikers Island jail with four smaller sites spread across the city, the city pledged that it would move swiftly to begin the public review process before the end of the year. Now, the rush to actually secure the listed sites has hit a snag as residents and politicians in the Bronx are pushing back against the construction of a jail there. The move to close Rikers and spread inmates out across the city’s boroughs can only be accomplished by cutting the 9,000-inmate population in half, a target the administration is aiming for through bail and sentencing reform. Perkins Eastman, working with 17 subcontractors, has been tapped to master plan and maximize density at each of the new jails. By spreading the remaining 5,000 inmates out to local jails, the city wants to cut down on administrative costs and centralize their facilities. But as Crain’s reports, the proposal to build (or reactivating) new jails in dense neighborhoods isn’t going over well. In the Bronx, the city is angling to build a 25-story facility directly next to the Bronx Hall of Justice, which would put the prospective jail within walking distance of the B, D and 4 subway lines, and the Melrose Metro-North train station. As Crain’s notes, while the location makes sense for lawyers and those awaiting trial along with their visiting families, the political interests at play could derail building on that plot. One part of the 100,000-square-foot site is owned by the city, while the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York owns the other two plots. As the feud between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo continues, it has become increasingly likely that the state government would initiate the required land transfer. City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson has also objected to building the jail in her district since the Hall of Justice is directly across the street from two public schools. In a bid to speed up the process, all four sites will move through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) together as one project. As the environmental review could take up to four months alone, the city would need to move fast to secure all of their desired sites before the end of the year. If the Hall of Justice doesn’t pan out, the city may fall back on the more politically expedient site it had originally selected; an NYPD-owned tow pound at 320 Concord Avenue.
Only two weeks after New York City announced that Perkins Eastman would be studying potential locations and designs for the borough-based jails that will eventually replace Rikers Island, the Mayor’s office has released a list of the chosen, community-based sites. These four smaller jails will ultimately provide space for 5,000 inmates, and are spread out across three existing Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities and one new location in the Bronx. The four chosen sites are as follows: Manhattan Detention Center, 125 White Street, Manhattan, 10013 Brooklyn Detention Center, 275 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, 11201 Queens Detention Center, 126-01 82nd Avenue, Kew Gardens, 11415 NYPD Tow Pound, 320 Concord Avenue, Bronx, 10454 The decision is as a joint agreement between Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Members from each of the relevant boroughs. As part of the arrangement, all four sites will undergo the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), the public review process, as a single project instead of individually. The city will simultaneously solicit public input and conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) to speed the ULURP process along. “This agreement marks a huge step forward on our path to closing Rikers Island,” said Mayor de Blasio in a press release sent to AN. “In partnership with the City Council, we can now move ahead with creating a borough-based jail system that’s smaller, safer and fairer. I want to thank these representatives, who share our vision of a more rehabilitative and humane criminal justice system that brings staff and detainees closer to their communities.” Of note is the establishment of a permanent jail in the Bronx, which as of writing is serviced by “the Boat,” a jail on the barge in the East River, and the reopening of the Kew Gardens detention center which closed in 2002. The plan to renovate and reorient these jails towards a rehabilitative model will be spearheaded by Perkins Eastman and its 17 subcontractors. Besides masterplanning the sites, Perkins Eastman will also be responsible for maximizing density at each of jail. This movement of inmates off of Rikers will be accompanied by a suite of intake, bail, mental health and re-entry reforms targeted at reducing the overall amount of inmates. Mayor de Blasio’s announcement comes, maybe not coincidentally, immediately after the state level Commission of Correction released a scathing 70-page report on the condition of Rikers Island. The commission, which has delivered its findings to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature, has labeled Rikers as one of five “worst offenders” in the state, and details inmate deaths, escape attempts, fires, and conditions that are “unsecure, unsanitary and dangerous, for staff and inmates alike.” Although the city has committed itself to closing Rikers Island within ten years, the state may take action as a result of this report to close the jail sooner. The full report is available here.
New York City has tapped Perkins Eastman to study the design and location of new city jails to replace Rikers Island, the detention facility that's slated for shutdown over the next decade. The ten-month, almost $7.6 million contract asks the New York firm to study three existing jails in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. The architects will look at sites for new detention facilities, especially in the Bronx, where the borough's main facility is "the Boat," a jail on the barge in the East River. Perkins Eastman selected 17 subcontractors to assist with the project, including Atelier Ten, WSP (formerly WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff), W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, and RicciGreene Associates, a New York firm that specializes in jails. Community engagement consultants Fitzgerald & Halliday and the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that serves justice-involved individuals, are the only non-engineering, architecture, real estate development, or planning firms on the list. Along with these collaborators and the city, Perkins Eastman will reach out to neighborhood groups, study the environmental impact of the jails, and ideate on designs. This will be the firm's first detention facilities project. "The physical expressions of what jails look like, where they’re located, and what happens inside of them will determine what kind of system we’ll have, and it’s critical that we’re thinking about jails not as places that are far away on islands and hard to get to, but as part of the ebb and flow of a neighborhood," said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, in a prepared statement. The borough-based facilities will be integrated with their neighborhoods, in contrast to Rikers, and they will be designed to accommodate education, vocational, health, and re-entry services to inmates. At the end of the study, which is officially the pre-schematic design services for a forthcoming citywide jail services master plan, the team is expected to produce three conceptual designs, complete with plans, sections, elevations, and renderings, along with cost estimates. Last November, the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the study, and Perkins Eastman was selected from four eligible respondents. Although the Department of Correction (DOC) is the lead agency on this study, the RFP was initiated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), and the DOC. The news comes as the Rikers shutdown, announced last year, begins in earnest. In early January the city announced it will be closing the first of ten jails on the island this summer. Right now, there are about 8,700 people in jails citywide, but the city says it needs less than 5,000 inmates to close Rikers for good. Perkins Eastman Spokesperson Amber Zilemba confirmed that work should begin shortly. [H/T The Wall Street Journal]
Rikers Island, New York City's notorious jail complex, is set to close within the next decade. For some activists, the pace of change is too slow, but, if the city is taken at its word, ten years is a solid chunk of time to rethink justice in 21st century New York. A design team, convened by Van Alen in collaboration with NADAAA, has set out to do exactly that. Justice in Design, a new report from the Van Alen Institute, a design advocacy organization, gives broad guidelines on how New York's criminal justice system should look, feel, and function. Notably, it centers the urban condition but aims to enhance life for those behind bars, as well as those outside the justice system, by elevating both the city and the jail's livability with public programming, dense service networks, and lots of light and greenery. The project was deeply collaborative. To produce Justice in Design, Van Alen partnered with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the legal experts, politicians, developers, and prison reform advocates she convened last year to address the Rikers closure. That group, sometimes called the Lippman Commission but known formally as the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, issued its recommendations this past March: Closing Rikers Island, it said, is a "moral imperative," and it advocated for reducing the city's overall jail population and creating a network of neighborhood-based jails. To that end, Van Alen convened architects, environmental psychologists, prison reformers, and nonprofit leaders for the project team. Dan Gallagher and Nader Tehrani, principals at New York– and Boston-based NADAAA, partnered with urbanist Karen Kubey; Susan Opotow and Jayne Mooney, a psychologist and associate professor of sociology, respectively, who work at both John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, CUNY; as well as Susan Gottesfeld of the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that works with justice-involved individuals and their families. (The team is credited in the commission's report with providing "additional support" to the study.) The group hosted workshops in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens with law enforcement, reformers, academics, and formerly incarcerated individuals to get an idea of what jail is like inside, and after. The workshops, Gallagher said, helped the designers better understand both day-to-day life in Rikers and incarceration's impact on housing choice, employment, and mental health long after release. From there, the team developed its design guidelines. Instead of producing a strictly carceral space, the designers envisioned a networked jail system spread throughout the city and meant to serve the wider community, not just prisoners. Called Justice Hubs, the mini-neighborhoods are intended to confront re-entry dilemmas—despite new rules, for example, many industries still discriminate against people with backgrounds—while addressing day-to-day challenges faced by those who work in the criminal justice system. In the Brooklyn forum, residents said they weren't concerned about safety if a jail were to open in their neighborhood. Instead, Gahllager said, people were worried the building would be ugly: a grey concrete Hulk surrounded by razor wire. That prompted the team to think not only about the design of the jail itself, but its relationship to the city and its people. "The building has to become more than a big wall with something else going on inside," said Gallagher, a partner at NADAAA. "It has to be an active tool of civic engagement." NADAAA's conceptual designs try to make life on the inside as normal ("more conventional," per Gallagher) as possible. The report emphasizes access to natural light and ventilation not only in outdoor areas, but in visitor rooms, activity spaces, and (especially) cells. Instead of monolithic cinder blocks and concrete finished, the architects advocated for softer, natural finishes to add visual variety and reduce background noise, a significant stressor in close quarters. The layout is supposed to make it easier to move within the jail, and the facilities would be placed near courts and social services. There would be ample but unobtrusive parking for corrections officers, too. The team didn't want to reproduce the spatial segregation that Rikers—a literal island in the East River, near Laguardia Airport—embodied. As a result, community facilities like public outdoor space, gardens, art studios, and libraries are part of the program and are open to detainee's friends and family, as well as residents who have no personal involvement with the jail. This is the first time NADAAA has done a project like this. Van Alen approached the firm both for their design sense and for their ability to analyze and rethink troubled systems. "It was one of those situations where we said, 'okay let's jump in with both feet,'" Gallagher explained. He gave full credit to the team's non-architects, whose research and work experience brought a local and highly international perspective to the project. They read up on Denmark, for example, which lets inmates wear street clothing and cook with sharp knives (but even their relatively progressive prison system is far from perfect). The design team's role going forward is unclear, Gallagher and Van Alen confirmed, but both parties want to stay involved. The general recommendations, summarized on the last few pages of the report, are just that. The concepts don't specify designs, as Justice Hubs will adjust to local zoning: A 200-bed facility in densely developed Downtown Brooklyn might look very different from a similar-sized jail in St. George, Staten Island. With a mandate to envision a system that at its core features many jails, there wasn't much room for questioning the fundamentals of the carceral state or challenging the culture of surveillance. But the guidelines are a cautious step in the right direction to end a traumatic system where detainees suffer degrading and abusive treatment, visitors lose hours on the bus to see family, and guards are hurt by inmates who themselves may struggle with poor mental health. Although Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the closing of Rikers, he hasn't been totally clear on whether he supports community-based jails. Given how quickly NIMBYs mobilized against the mayor's new homeless shelters, it's unclear how residents may react to neighborhood jails. Still, the design team is optimistic about the recommendations. "As a society we have a responsibility to facilitate best outcomes," said David van der Leer, Van Alen's executive director. And architects, he hopes, will keep a seat at the table.
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.
Rikers Island could cease to hold inmates in ten years time if a plan, backed by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, goes ahead. The penal colony is the largest in the world, housing a daily population of around 10,000 inmates. The mayor and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are supporting a plan that will be put forward by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, part of a report that, according to multiple news outlets, is to be released this weekend. Run by the New York City Department of Correction, the Rikers Island complex has annual runnings costs of $860 million. 9,000 officers and 1,500 civilians administer and manage approximately 100,000 admissions a year. 85-to-92 percent of the inmates are awaiting trial, but cannot afford bail. According to Politico, Lippman has spent months exploring the possibility of shuttering Rikers. Lippman was the head of a commission investigating the issue. The New York Times has said that this is the commission's report's top priority, shifting inmates into smaller, more local jails—a move which would cost $10.6 billion. "The commission believes that the use of Rikers Island must be phased out over the next 10 years and its facilities demolished," the report supposedly recommends. However, this money, the report continues, would be recouped in savings of $1.4 billion per year brought around by massive reductions in staff—down 3,700. “Closing Rikers Island also provides a unique opportunity to redevelop the island,” the report also observes. Jim Venturi, planning advocate and head of urban planning design firm ReThink Studio, Jim Venturi penned an Op-Ed in The Architect's Newspaper in 2015 calling for the expansion of La Guardia into Rikers Island. "They are within 200 feet of each other, but otherwise a world apart. The abuses at Rikers show New York at its worst, but an expanded LaGuardia could be the world’s leading airport," he said, adding: "The closing of Rikers would allow LaGuardia to expand its flight capacity and add long-haul flights to global destinations to meet a growing regional demand." "We’re ecstatic to hear that this long-overdue closure will be initiated. We should take full advantage of this once-in-a-century opportunity to transform a human rights disaster into a new, world-class gateway for our city," said Venturi AN after the news that Rikers could be closing. "Instead of being the shame of New York, Rikers Island would become something we could be proud of." Speaking to the New York Times, Mayor de Blasio’s press secretary Eric Phillips said the mayor has “always been publicly and privately supportive of the goal behind the closure movement.” He went to say that “it’s no secret that City Hall has been working diligently behind the scenes for some time to test whether closing the facility at some point in the future is feasible. We expect to share results of the mayor’s focus on these significant challenges very soon.” If the plan is enacted, Rikers Island will require a new name to match its new image, a notion put forward by the report that did not supply any alternatives. UPDATE, 3/31: Mayor de Blasio has released the following statement elaborating on Rikers Island:
New York City has always been better than Rikers Island. I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to this reality. Our success in reducing crime and reforming our criminal justice system has paved a path off Rikers Island and toward community-based facilities capable of meeting our criminal justice goals. There is no doubt that the road to Rikers Island’s closure will be long and arduous. It will require that local officials and stakeholders stand up and support facilities that meet our moral obligation to thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we will never turn our backs on. It will require that our state government, and each component of our criminal justice system, contribute to the reform efforts critical to reducing our jail population and improving re-entry services and educational programming. The length of this process will also require continued investment in the facilities and conditions on Rikers Island that remain key to rehabilitation efforts for thousands of New Yorkers in the years ahead. This moment would not be possible without the work of Speaker Mark-Viverito, who has helped fuel the progress toward a more just criminal justice system.