Mayor Bill de Blasio is promising to shut down Rikers Island Correction facility by replacing it with five smaller new jails throughout the city’s five boroughs.
The campaign-trail announcement is intended to help de Blasio mollify left-wing opposition and then win the November election, but it will eventually create huge public protests, say critics.
“This announcement [of new jails] is unwelcome in most parts of the city who face the prospect of having an unsightly, unsafe and undignified jail in their neighborhood,” said Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli and former New York Trump campaign co-chair. “The problem with Rikers Island is not the location… creating smaller new facilities ignores the very common sense reason why we put this facility on an isolated island in the first place,” Borelli told Breitbart.
Mayor de Blasio also rushed the press conference to pre-empt the Riker reform plan offered by a city-wide commission, said left-wing City Council member Rory Lancman. The mayor did not want to be “left virtually alone among the city’s progressive Democrats in defending Rikers Island,” he said.
However, de Blasio got what he wanted — progressives applauded his Rikers plan. Glenn Martin, the co-founder of #CloseRikers, believes the planned 2027 closure is “a step in the right direction.”
Rikers Island is one of the world’s largest correction facilities. The 413-acre island that was once a former dump is located between Queens and the Bronx on the East River. It currently has ten jail facilities with a population of about 9,500, of which 2,500 of those are long-term inmates. The rest are in the jail because they can’t afford to post bail before their trials on various offenses.
“I’m here to make what is really a historic announcement.” de Blasio said at a press conference Friday afternoon at City Hall. “New York City will close the Rikers Island jail facility.”
“It will take many years, it will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen,” he promised.
According to the mayor, the prison can be shut once the prison population is pushed down to 5,000 from the current population of about 9,500 people.
De Blasio emphasized that his plan assumes there will be an overall reduction in crime during his tenure. “This is how the pieces fit together: Job One is to reduce crime, reducing crime means reducing the jail population,” he said.
“That’s the goal in this whole process – to get our jail population – overall – all of our jails combined – down to 5,000 people,” de Blasio emphasized. “We believe that can be achieved in the next ten years. That is the goal; it will take a lot of work and a lot of things have to go right in that ten-year timeline to reduce the overall jail population.”
Also, de Blasio tried to muffle public alarm by saying it was not his job to decide where the five new prisons will be built. “We will need a few more facilities,” de Blasio said, adding:
I would argue the fewer, the better. And we’re going to make that determination. But the only way those facilities end up happening is through the City Council. We are laying the groundwork now and it will be future administrations that have to deal with this.
The mayor also downplayed worries by New Yorkers. “You’re talking about years before any of this actually takes shape,” de Blasio said, adding:
I think if anyone is concerned, first of all they should know there is no specific plan in place for any specific neighborhood or any specific size facility. There’s going to be a very long and public and transparent process.
The mayor’s plan is very similar to rival recommendations from the city commission.
The commission was led by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, after the media exposed corruption, violence against inmates and brutality by prison guards. The 146-page Lippman report is titled “A More Just New York City: Independent Commission of NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.”
Lippman recommended the closure of Rikers Island and the construction of new jails across the five boroughs, at an expected cost of $10.6 billion.
He called for reducing the number of people being held on bail by expanding the diversion programs for drug offenders and the mentally ill, and by changing the state correctional laws on the arrest of low-level offenders.
By reducing the inmate population, the Lippman report says the number of Correction Officers can be cut by more than 65 percent, so reducing the current force of 10,000 officers down to 3,700. That plan could save $1.4 billion to help fund construction of smaller prison facilities.
Before his grand announcement, de Blasio opposed closing Rikers, calling the idea “unrealistic” and a diversion from progressive reform. He also noted such closure would cost the city “billions and billions of dollars.”
In 2014, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Press Bharara announced the Justice Department’s plan to sue the city after the Legal Society in 2011 filed a class-action lawsuit regarding the corruption and abuse of inmates in Rikers. This prompted de Blasio to announce a series of minor reforms, which were never implemented.
Also, de Blasio recently told reporters that Governor Andrew Cuomo should mind his own business regarding the future of Rikers. “We know it’s our responsibility, but let’s be clear, Rikers Island is the responsibility of the city of New York to resolve,” de Blasio told reporters when asked about the governor’s suggestion to close down the troubled jail.
“Our job is to address this crisis; we’ll be doing a lot more moving forward, the state’s job is to take care of the state prison system, it’s just simple as that,” de Blasio said.