Photo Courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
“Putting an end to Rikers Island is a mission that goes far beyond the walls of the jails themselves,” said Hon. Jonathan Lippman, chairman of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The City Council on Thursday voted in favor of a polemic plan to permanently close Rikers Island and replace it with four new borough-based facilities.
The tally was tied to a commitment by the City to invest $391 million—including $126 million in previously planned investments and $265 million in new programming—to reform Gotham’s criminal justice system and address the root causes of incarceration.
Four Borough-Based Jails in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, will replace Rikers. The World’s Borough site is the Queens Detention Center at 126-02 82nd Ave. in Kew Gardens. According to the administration, the City would demolish the existing facility and replace it with a modern one. The new jail would have housing units for detainees, programming and recreational space, and a new above-ground public parking facility. On the ground floor there would be publicly-accessible community space.
According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City plans to add more than $71 million for alternatives to detention and incarceration and reforms to the Department of Correction, building on $126 million in annual investments “to reduce justice involvement, support communities, and make the justice system smaller, safer, and fairer.”
Highlights of those investments and policy changes include:
- $54 million expansion of pretrial services including Supervised Release, the City’s primary diversion program, which has prevented 15,000 people from entering jail since its inception in March 2016. This program will be expanded to become an option for people facing every type of criminal charge.
- $17 million in new funds to expand and continue Alternatives to Incarceration programs that will now serve 7,300 people per year, which will reduce the number of people serving sentences in City jails.
- Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice will invest in a planning grant for The Imagining Project, a collaboration between Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and the Columbia University Justice Lab, an organization whose long term mission is to create a plan for getting to zero incarceration and minimal convictions for youth age 25 and under. A similar effort with the Center for Court Innovation will create a community justice center to provide community-based programming in Far Rockaway, with a focus on providing alternatives to arrest and incarceration and reducing recidivism post-incarceration.
- Building on the existing investment in in-custody programming and reentry services, the City is restructuring such services to ensure access to comprehensive social services and access to paid transitional employment post-release for everyone leaving City jails.
- Services to support incarcerated individuals facing medical and mental health issues, including: doubling the number of therapeutic treatment units in the jails, known as the Program for Accelerated Clinical Effectiveness; expanded mental health discharge planning services; and a new program to help ensure continuity of medical care for those exiting City jails.
- Expanded programming for social and emotional learning to help school communities be more proactive in changing school culture and climate, with the goal to foster and maintain a supportive school environment while reducing conflict.
- Requiring every detention facility to have dedicated administrative space for community-based providers as well as dedicated space for services and programming in every housing unit. Also requiring new trainings for correction officers, program staff, and healthcare staff to participate in together.
- Expanded pre-arraignment diversion that will allow more people to avoid prosecution and have their arrests sealed.
- Increased funding to community-based restorative justice programming, with a particular focus on serious felony level cases that would otherwise result in detention and incarceration.
Additionally, to increase investment in neighborhood-based and community-led programs that improve public safety and reduce violence, the City has promised to invest additional $2.7M in new investments and expanded Cure Violence programming in six areas, including the 113th Precinct in Southeast Queens, encompassing South Ozone Park, St. Albans, Hollis, Springfield Gardens, South Jamaica, Addisleigh Park, and Locust Manor.
The administration has also pledged to establish new neighborhood investments to support communities surrounding the borough-based jails through new affordable housing, youth programming, community, and cultural centers. In Queens: capital improvements at PS 99 in Kew Gardens and PS 139 in Rego Park; and upgrades to Queens Community House located at 80-02 Kew Gardens Rd.
“Putting an end to Rikers Island is a mission that goes far beyond the walls of the jails themselves. In addition to criminal justice reforms at every level, it will also take investments in communities and in supportive housing, mental health treatment, alternatives to incarceration, and reentry services to help keep people out of jail and out of the justice system altogether,” said Hon. Jonathan Lippman, chairman of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform; former chief judge of New York and New York State Court of Appeals. “The programs and investments announced today are strong initial steps towards the changes that we need to see to achieve our shared goal of a better approach to justice in New York City.”