De Blasio’s Rikers announcement gets mixed results

Stephon Johnson | 2/22/2018, 10:22 a.m.
It’s taking too long. It’s going too quickly. More facilities aren’t the answer. He’s not protecting inmates. He’s not protecting ...
Rikers Island

It’s taking too long. It’s going too quickly. More facilities aren’t the answer. He’s not protecting inmates. He’s not protecting correction officers.

No matter who you are, you probably had something to say about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement last week regarding a deal with the City Council to replace Rikers Island with four potential sites in every borough except Staten Island.

The four sites announced by the city were the Brooklyn Detention Center in Downtown Brooklyn, the currently unused Queens Detention Center in Kew Gardens, the Manhattan Detention Center near Foley Square in Lower Manhattan and the NYPD Tow Pound in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.

“In partnership with the City Council, we can now move ahead with creating a borough-based jail system that’s smaller, safer and fairer,” stated de Blasio. “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.”

But according to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., he learned of the announcement at the same time most New Yorkers did. A representative for Diaz said that Diaz was never consulted and later sent a statement from Diaz.

“I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” said Diaz. “I expect that the administration will present my office with a detailed outline of their plans for a new jail, and I will examine those plans carefully as the process moves forward.”

One thing some people noticed was the lack of a facility for Staten Island. It’s something that members of JustLeadershipUSA’s #CLOSErikers and #FREEnewyork campaigns noticed.

“The mayor’s plan also contains a glaring omission: any mention at all of Staten Island,” read a joint statement from the campaigns. “The people who’ve been trapped at Rikers and their families know that solutions must include all neighborhoods in the city. But this mayor continues to send a message to Staten Island families that their incarcerated loved ones don’t matter.”

When asked about no proposed facilities in Staten Island, a de Blasio representative mentioned something de Blasio said to reporters during the announcement—he said he wanted facilities in places where most of the city’s crime occurred.

“Because the simplest answer is there are very few inmates who come out of Staten Island, and this is a big endeavor, and it just did not make sense given how much we have to do. These four facilities will allow us to achieve our goal,” said de Blasio to reporters.

New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake, while a fan of closing Rikers Island, did not approve of City Hall making this move without consulting elected officials about facility locations. He also thinks race could have played a role.

“It is simply disrespectful that a decision of this magnitude of proposing to open a new jail in the South Bronx was made behind closed doors, without engaging the broader Bronx community,” said Blake in an emailed statement. “Being more direct, it is a sign that according to City Hall that communities of color are not deserving of respect and that more jail cells should come here instead of helping children understand stem cells. One must ask, would this be the treatment in the Bronx or elsewhere if we didn’t have such a large representation of people of color?”

De Blasio also stated, “We also need the state to address the fact that it has hundreds of its parolees in our jail system…The state needs to take responsibility for those individuals and get them off Rikers to relieve the burden.”

Organizer Josmar Trujillo said that replacement facilities shouldn’t be on the mayor’s radar at all. He called de Blasio a hypocrite and suggested that he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

“Replacing Rikers with more jails is not the answer,” said Trujillo. “The point isn’t to erase a facility; it is to keep people from going in them. Of course policymakers can’t commit to that. Mayor de Blasio said we must reduce the jail population just one week after arguing against the idea that we shouldn’t arrest people for fare evasion.”

“None of these politicians are serious,” Trujillo continued. “Instead of bickering over where these jails should be built, they should end the era of mass criminalization by divesting from police spending and dedicating that money to community building, like free public transportation.”