Mayor Bill de Blasio, joined by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, announces his plans to close Rikers Island as a result of a report on the detention facility set for release on Sunday.
During a press conference held at City Hall on Friday, de Blasio said the process would take 10 years and plans to replace the facility with new jails that will be created across the city.
“There is no doubt that the road to Rikers Island’s closure will be long and arduous,” de Blasio said. “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.
Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane Williams said in a statement that while he applauds Rikers closure, he has believes the criminal justice system should be fixed entirely.
“Now that there’s been a commitment to close the detention center, we must think of a responsible way to shut down Rikers Island,” he said. “While it could mean new facilities, it doesn’t necessitate it. A combination of pre-trial tools and policies and existing penitentiaries could suffice. Not to mention the ongoing positive shift to investing in a preventative paradigm.”
Rikers Island opened in 1932 and currently houses 10,000 inmates with 80 percent awaiting trial. De Blasio said that he plans to cut the inmate population to 5,000.
The facility has come under fire recently for alleged abuse by corrections officers, long wait times for trials and other deplorable conditions. The city was scrutinized over conditions at the facility after the 2015 death of Kalief Browder, who was arrested at the age of 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack and spent three years at Rikers Island without a trial. Two years after his release, Browder committed suicide at age 22.
Just this week, a former Rikers correction officer, an inmate and the inmate’s wife were indicted on charges they brought marijuana, alcohol and tobacco into the jail. James Brown, 45, of Queens, who became a correction officer in January, 2016, was arraigned on charges inlcuding third-degree Bribe Receiving and Official Misconduct. Between November 2, 2016 and December 9, 2016, Brown allegedly accepted $700 from an inmate’s wife to bring in the contraband to her husband, who is being held on a Queens attempted murder case.