Photo Courtesy of Edwin Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
De Blasio and Mark-Viverito made the historic announcement on Friday.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on Friday announced a 10-year timeline to close the Rikers Island jail system.
“I want to make clear, 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. “So, it is a historic occasion that for the first time in 85 years, we have an agreement to move off Rikers Island.”
However, as de Blasio cautioned, the shuttering “will not happen overnight” and the process cannot be viewed as a quick fix to a decades-old issue.
“There is no doubt that the road to Rikers Island’s closure will be long and arduous,” the mayor added. “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.”
Additionally, on Sunday, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform released “A More Just New York City,” a highly anticipated 150-page report in which the primary recommendation of the 27-member panel is printed in bold: Rikers Island must be closed.
“Rikers Island is a stain on our great City,” said Commission Chairman Jonathan Lippman. “It leaves its mark on everyone it touches: the Correction officers working back-to-back shifts under dangerous conditions, the inmates waiting for their day in court in an inhumane and violent environment, the family members forced to miss work and travel long distances to see their loved ones, the attorneys who cannot easily visit their clients to prepare a defense, and the taxpayers who devote billions of dollars each year to keep the whole dysfunctional apparatus running year after year. Put simply, Rikers Island is a 19th Century solution to a 21st Century problem.”
De Blasio noted that each day there are approximately 9,500 people in custody in the City’s jail system. In order for the City to shutter Rikers Island, that population number needs to dip down to 5,000, the mayor said.
“We believe that can be achieved in the next 10 years. That is the goal that the Speaker and I have agreed to – a 10-year timeline,” de Blasio continued. “Again, it will take a lot of work and a lot of things have to go right in that 10-year timeline to reduce the overall jail population to 5,000 – and that allows us to get to a point of complete departure of all inmates from Rikers Island.”
To view the entire #CloseRikers Commission report, visit council.nyc.gov.