Photo Courtesy of the Office of the Governor
Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have sparred numerous times since the latter took office in 2014.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently traded blows in the media over Rikers Island and the fate of the infamous jail complex.
Following the indictment of more than two-dozen gang members for attacks on fellow inmates and two City Department of Correction officers in Rikers facilities, Cuomo counsel Alphonso David characterized the island as “savage and inhumane,” and blasted the administration’s plan to close the jail system over a 10-year period.
“Saying it will take 10 years is tantamount to saying we have no real plan to close it. Ten years may see three different mayors and three different City Councils. This proposed closing plan will have no relevance to those administrations—Gov. Cuomo, for example, is not 10 years later implementing Gov. [Eliot] Spitzer’s plans,” David said. “ln short, this 10-year timeline ignores the urgent need for action now. Ten years condemns thousands more young people to be abused by Rikers. How many people have to die and how many lives have to be ruined to make government act? We need action now.”
David also noted that this year, the State “ensured the majority of 16 and 17-year-olds will be removed from Rikers Island. It’s time that New York City step up to the plate with a real plan to close this jail on a rapidly accelerated timeline.”
The de Blasio administration responded in kind.
“As [New York] attorney general, Andrew Cuomo was silent on Rikers Island. As governor, Andrew Cuomo leads a state prison system marred by abuse, neglect and escapes. He runs a state court system responsible for many inmates being on Rikers Island too long,” said City Hall Press Secretary Eric Phillips. “His new-found concern is welcome, but unless the governor is willing to reform his own embattled state prison system and court system, it’s impossible to see his outburst as anything but political theatre.”
In March, de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced a 10-year timeline to finally shutter the island.
However, as de Blasio cautioned, it “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.”
De Blasio also noted that each day there are approximately 9,500 people in custody in the City’s jail system; and in order for the City to close Rikers Island, that population number needs to dip down to 5,000.