The Guardian: New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex to close under new plan
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday that he was developing a plan to shut down the massive jail within 10 years.
“It will take many years and it will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen,” De Blasio said.
It would be replaced with several smaller jails based in the city’s boroughs.
To make it work, the mayor said the jail population would have to be cut roughly in half.
Key details of the plan, including the cost and the location of alternative jails, are still a long way from being worked out, the mayor said.
A commission headed by the state’s former chief judge has been considering options for Rikers as part of a broad examination of the city’s criminal justice system.
That commission was formed in the wake of a string of brutality cases that exposed poor supervision, questionable medical care and corruption.
In the past, De Blasio had said that replacing the jail would be too expensive.
Advocates for prisoners have been arguing that smaller jails, based in the city’s neighborhoods, would be better able to provide services and reduce delays getting criminal suspects to and from court.
It was not immediately clear how local elected officials in the communities where new jails might be built would react. Past attempts to build or expand existing jails in the boroughs have been met with significant resistance from neighborhood groups and others. It is also unclear how the politically powerful jail guards union would react to such a plan, which could conceivably shrink their membership.
The city currently employs about 10,000 correction officers.
A union spokesman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The union’s former president was indicted by federal prosecutors last year in a sprawling municipal corruption case. He has pleaded not guilty.
Violence, mismanagement and corruption have been the subject of intense scrutiny by the media and federal prosecutors in recent years.
A 2015 settlement of civil litigation over pervasive brutality led to the installation of a monitor responsible for overseeing the city’s progress in adding thousands of surveillance cameras and stricter policies on use of force.
The Associated Press and other news outlets first exposed conditions on Rikers in a series of reports in 2014 that highlighted violence, poor supervision, questionable medical care and failures to prevent suicides.
Those deaths included a homeless ex-marine who essentially baked to death in a hot cell and a mentally ill man who sexually mutilated himself while locked up alone for seven days.
Politico: De Blasio commits to closing Rikers, with few specifics
Just days before a special commission was set to release a report calling for the closure of Rikers Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday he supports a ten-year timeline to shutter the troubled jail.
“This is the first time in 85 years, since Rikers Island opened in 1932, that the official policy of the city of New York will be to end our efforts on Rikers Island and close the jails there,” de Blasio said flanked by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte and director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Elizabeth Glazer.
The press conference, which was not initially listed on the mayor’s public schedule, came nearly a year after City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called for the complete closure of the facility.
De Blasio said his own evolution on the idea — which he had previously dismissed as a “noble” but impractical undertaking — came after weeks of conversations between he and Mark-Viverito, describing a consensus that formed around the general idea that the facility could be closed after it reaches 5,000 inmates. The first step would be reducing the inmate population to 7,000 as the city figures out where to house the inmate population would be displaced.
“I didn’t see how it was attainable under the conditions we were facing,” the mayor said, noting that he’d been speaking with Mark-Viverito about the subject for the past two years. “My feeling from the beginning was that if I didn’t believe it couldn’t be done, I wasn’t going to say it. I had to honestly go through all the paces to say, what would it look like, how long would it take.”
The mayor’s announcement in the rotunda of City Hall came two days before a commission impaneled by Mark-Viverito, and chaired by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, is set to release a report recommending the closure of Rikers in support of smaller, community focused facilities spread across the five boroughs.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO New York, calls for the construction of five “state of the art jails” — one in each borough at a cost of $11 billion over the next ten years. De Blasio did not commit to any specific plans for siting new facilities, repeatedly saying it would be up to the Council to approve any new jail facilities.
Mark-Viverito first called for the closure of the jail over a year ago during her State of the City address, shortly after several cases of violence and abuse put Rikers Island in the national spotlight. During that speech, Mark-Viverito also laid out a wide-ranging criminal justice reform agenda which included the reclassifying of low-level nonviolent offenses and a restructuring of the bail system.
De Blasio’s turnaround means top city and state elected officials are in agreement on the need to shutter the jail facility, which currently holds approximately 7,500 inmates — an average daily total that is down 23 percent since de Blasio came into office.
The mayor’s announcement came with few details about how the city would further reduce the inmate population or how the the administration would approach the need to site new jails around the city — a thorny issue sure to cause headaches for an administration already facing a strong backlash to new homeless shelters in a number of communities.
De Blasio said the continued drop in crime, combined with a raft of new policies at the jail, and changes in how certain offenses are policed and prosecuted led him to believe that a two-stage process for closing the facility was possible.
First, he said, the city’s overall inmate population needs to reach 7,000, at which point he said the actual work of closing Rikers could begin. Second, the city’s detainee population must continue on a steady decline to 5,000 before Rikers can close.
“We believe that can be achieved in the next ten years — that is the goal that the speaker and I have agreed to, a 10-year timeline. Again, it will take a lot of work and a lot of things will have to go right,” de Blasio said.
It hinges on a decades-long reduction of crime that has continued during his time in office, though De Blasio acknowledged the timeline could change. “Job one is to reduce crime, reducing crime means reducing jail population. Any talk of getting of Rikers is meaningless if we don’t keep reducing crime,” he said.
De Blasio, who has also been facing pressure from Governor Andrew Cuomo to close the jail, said the state would have to be a willing partner, citing a need to make the court and bail systems more efficient, along with alternative to incarceration programs that could help decrease the population.
“Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito have prioritized criminal justice reform since entering office, and their shared decision to finally close Rikers Island is a testament to those priorities and concerns,” Legal Aid Society’s attorney-in-chief Seymour James said in a statement. “We join New Yorkers from every borough today flushed with many emotions that the dream of closing Rikers Island will finally become reality.”
Mayor De Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito
New York, N.Y.
This decision is a huge mistake. It’s the basic definition of lunacy. It was lobbied profusely by the council speaker, an opportunistic shrew that’s about to relinquish her seat by term limits, pushed by the image and legacy hungry governor of this state and pressured on a spineless power grasping mayor easily led for the progressive cause of the moment.
Although to be fair, the shutdown of this hellhole has been coming, especially with the perpetual and entrenched corruption and anarchy among guards and convicts through the decades and that has furiously manifested in just the last 5 years. Most notably with the food poisoning, the conviction of the C.O.’s union head Norman Seabrook from his theft and money laundering of their pension funds, and the scandalous torture and indifference that led to the suicide of Kalief Browder, who was initially imprisoned there by the NYPD over a theft charge that was unsubstantiated and who remained incarcerated for 3 years, 2 years in solitary, because he and his family couldn’t afford bail. The Browder case became a big cause celebre’ that went from rappers to singers to actors then all the way to the White House, when Barack Obama made an obligatory acknowledgement on his social networking account.
But it damn sure should not lead to developing new jails and the transfer to prisoners to local towns. The costs of these logistics combined will be humongous. And the rage among the chosen area’s constituencies against them will be massive.
The timing of this announcement, which clearly Mayor De Faustio And Speaker Sphincter-Face decided to drop prematurely on the weekend to avoid wider attention was pretty lame. Despite this tactic being standard procedure. Also, the fact that Missy is about to leave the speaker position and the possibility that De Faustio might not be re-elected means that they will not be around when these jails get built. But all those who just gave themselves 32 % raises last year are going to have their work cut out for them when they meet the pissed off masses against any prospects of a jail near their supermarket, their kid’s schools or even craft beer gardens and faux speakeasy bars.
But now it’s out here, some pertinent questions and observations must be met. Like how are they going to convince said citizenry when they can’t even convinced them to open a shelter or even the 6th shelter in their district. Also, how the mayor and speaker assume and speculate that crime will go down enough to justify building a jail in each borough. And also the big question is exactly where will they be built. Will they resemble the jails in Hazard County and Mayberry? Or maybe Arkham Asylum?
According to the fair use stipulations, naturally they should be in affluent areas, preferably populated by enlightened liberal thinkers like our mayor and speaker, and every celebrity from the fields of entertainment, sports and punditry. More naturally, and to cut the costs certain to accrue from meaningless studies and contracts to prison complex developers, why not reign in all those who have took advantage of generous rezoning, upzoning and deed lifting from our caring mayor with their massive CONY PAC donations and have them use whatever condos they are currently having trouble selling and whatever developments that are currently in progress, say the Domino Sugar buildings by Two Trees or Ratnerland Greenland Properties by
Atlantic Yards Pacific Park and devote some of the higher floors and re-purpose them as prison cells.
And speaking of Bill’s philanthropist predator developer caring pals from the Gentrification Industrial Complex, it’s not coincidental at all that these demented, twisted visionaries were already discussing luxury living tower and destination (!!!) potential or even as a 100 % affordable housing complex (more likely a poverty colony) as early as last winter.
Here’s a quote from some guy at Slate Properties from just 2 weeks ago (remember these motherfuckers?)
“The possibilities really are endless,” said David Schwartz, co-founder of development firm Slate Property Group. “You really have never had a piece of property in New York City that is this large that you can do almost anything with. This is as blank a canvas as you get.”
Blank canvas. This guy saw a blank canvas despite the existence of multiple buildings, thousands of incarcerated prisoners, and most essentially thousands of officers and staff who will soon lose their jobs. Also despite the fact that it’s not going to be demolished any time soon. An observation this crass and soulless is not a surprise considering that Schwartz and his moneyed and privileged peers now see any vacant space, no matter how minute or incongruous to it’s surroundings as billion dollar properties that should be modeled in their wannabe fountainhead fantasies.
But the speculations even more ridiculous than those of the G.I.C. are the ones the speaker and mayor are spouting from their face assholes, that crime is going to magically decrease. Therefore, the tearing down of the island’s buildings will begin and the new borough prison facilities will commence construction. It also hinges on the hopes of good behavior by the release of prisoners under supervision during the 10 year duration.
The biggest hedge is probably the omniscient inequitable economic divide, inflated cost of living and unaffordability of a large percentage though ignored populace in the 5 boroughs of NYC.
Basically, this is going to be a huge gamble on communities. And a preposterous bet that, basically, all crime will cease. Which is going to be a bit hard considering that most major crimes, though lower than 20-40 years ago as everyone is constantly reminded, has remained steady and rose in some. This goal might be slightly attained if marijuana was legalized, but recent stats show that despite the decriminalization of pot last year, possession arrests are still high (no pun intended at all), and largely disproportionate towards Blacks and Hispanics.
But hey, what does it matter if it makes some officials feel good about themselves and raises the financial investment prospects of certain individuals and corporations. Everything is for our own good and in the name of progress, even if it’s mostly theirs. Maybe one day these good and swell feelings will trickle down to the people who clearly no longer have a say on how this city should run, in the hopes it will shield all from the next random crime or violation of their space.
And just maybe, the cost will not be much of a burden, if Figurehead Trump’s budget proposal favoring military and law enforcement actually gets the congressional go ahead. Which may be the ulterior reason why the judge decided to phase out Rikers in congruence with the human rights violations issues involved.
But for all the self-satisfaction and eerie gloating, especially by speaker Missy, and the ensuing outrage surely to come by people that have to live near these prison branches as if they are ATM’s, whom already are being maligned as NIMBY’s by some news media networks, the one person who may be truly against it should have the last word on the abrupt termination of this plan.
And that’s Akeem Browder, Kalief’s brother.
“It wasn’t the walls or the conditions that killed Kalief, it was the human beings behind the walls that abused and ultimately drove him to suicide”
So how the hell are smaller jails going to improve the environment and the entrenched violence, corruption and anarchy instilled in the culture of incarceration. When the same culture and environment is already on the public streets. How do you think they got to Rikers in the first place, Miss Speaker? In fact, why haven’t the cops who actually arrested Kalief Browder on bogus charges been exposed and punished?
For now, all the young thugs out there and repeat offenders should try, try to fly right so as to fulfill the utopian wishes of our exalted elected officials. Because this utopian plan cannot be realized if robbing, killing, fighting and raping is still remaining statistically steady. Hopefully the words below are still significant and can still influence and inspire…
Well listen to me, you young hoods, this is some advice
You do the crime, you’re payin’ the price
Cause if you’re in the drug spots, sellin’ crack on the block
Snatchin’ chains, bustin’ brains, like a real hardrock
If you ever hear a cop say you’re under arrest
Go out just like a trooper, stick out your chest
Cause you might have been robbin’, you might have been whylin’
But you won’t be smilin’ on Riker’s Island
Kool G Rap & DJ Polo