New York City - Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that Rikers Island Jail is going to be closed as part of a plan to end mass incarceration.
According to Business Insider, Mayor de Blasio said that "it will take many years. It will take many tough decisions along the way. But it will happen."
He said that a combination of crime reduction, alternative sentencing, and bail reform would lower the city's jail population over the next ten years would be enough to close Rikers.
New York City jails currently have 9,500 inmates in custody, and must reduce that number to 5,000 before Rikers can be closed. City officials are assuming that "a few new facilities" must be built for the remaining inmates but Mayor de Blasio could not confirm an exact number.
He said that he would advocate for "the fewer the better." Of course he would. In a social post dated March 31, 2017, the Mayor said:
"Rikers Island is an expression of a national problem. The mass incarceration era did not begin in New York City but it’s going to end here."
This is the same Mayor de Blasio that in 2016 called an effort to close Rikers "a noble idea" but "an ultimately unworkable one" because of the potential billion dollar or more price tag and the lack of facilities to transfer inmates to.
In Friday's press conference, the Mayor said that he has changed his mind after meeting with city officials, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. She has been very vocal about having Rikers shut down, stating that it is a "symbol of injustice" for the city.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also supported the idea. He said that it is an outrage for something like Rikers to exist.
In 2015, New York City settled a federal lawsuit after a years-long federal investigation that revealed civil rights violations, corruption, violence, and excessive force at Rikers Island.
An independent commission created by the City Council and led by Judge Jonathan Lippman in 2016 issued a report that included a plan for inmates to be moved off of Rikers Island and into a system of smaller, borough-based jails, at a cost of $10.6 billion, according to The New York Times.
Perhaps the Mayor changed his mind because he is up for re-election this year. Or perhaps he truly cares about the inmates at Rikers Island. He has been under intense pressure from Governor Cuomo and prison reform advocates to do something about the notorious jail.
Some reforms have already been made by him, including more training for officers, new procedures on the use of force, and less use of solitary confinement.
Mayor de Blasio said that he did not totally agree with the commission's plan to place a jail in each borough.
The commission's report also included ways to reduce the inmate population, including holding fewer people on bail, expansion of diversion programs for drug offenders and the mentally ill, and changing state law to treat some lower level offenses, such as prostitution, as civil rather than criminal matters.
The report also suggested adopting changes to speed up cases and trials, and reducing uniformed staff at the Department of Corrections by more than half, which would result in savings of $1.4 billion alone.
And the report mentioned what to do with the island once Rikers closed. Residential development is not feasible. But business development is,such as an extension of La Guardia Airport to create a third runway, a hub of critical city infrastructure such as water and waste treatment centers, research facilities and a public greenway.
I agree that closing Rikers is a noble idea. I agree that more training and fixed are needed. But I see major problems with the suggestions that are offered. Inmates who are serving prison sentences do not need to be placed in residential area or borough jails. There are not enough local corrections officers to staff these facilities.
Releasing criminals pre-trial is also not the solution as many of these criminals are a danger to society. You only need to look at the case with FDNY EMT Yadira Arroyo's killer, Jose Gonzalez, to see that.
Changing the severity of crimes does not address the problem of the crime itself.
It seems to me that there are no real solutions to this problem presented by the Mayor or city officials. Perhaps the mayor knows this, but he doesn't plan on being around in 10 years to see the consequences.
What do you think of the plan to close Rikers Island? We'd like to hear from you. Please let us know in the comments.