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Bill de Blasio moves to house jail inmates in 4 of 5 boroughs

De Blasio announced plans for a new jail in the Bronx, and remodeling of jails adjacent to courthouses in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

The Rikers Island jail complex, which has been

The Rikers Island jail complex, which has been beset by increased violence, is targeted for closure by 2027 under plans that would transfer inmates to other correction facilities citywide. Photo Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday the city is preparing to house inmates at borough-based jails near courthouses and at a new lockup planned for the Bronx, under a plan to stop using scandal-plagued Rikers Island by 2027.

Existing jails adjacent to criminal courts in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens will be remodeled to house more inmates.

De Blasio discussed the jail changes at a news conference on the same day a state panel overseeing incarcerations criticized the city for an increase in jail violence despite extra scrutiny from the public, overseers and a court-ordered monitor.

The Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood will be the site of the new jail. Staten Island, where de Blasio said last year he had “no intention” of opening a jail, has too few arrestees to warrant one.

The new Bronx jail will be at 320 Concord Ave., the current site of an NYPD tow impound.

The other courthouse-adjacent jails are at the Manhattan Detention Center, 125 White St., in downtown, known as The Tombs; the Brooklyn Detention Center, 275 Atlantic Ave., known as Brooklyn House and the Queens Detention Center, 126-01 82nd Ave., Kew Gardens, which stopped housing inmates more than 15 years ago and needs extensive remodeling.

Construction at the sites is expected to start in the next several years at a cost in the “billions,” de Blasio said.

City Council speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) said the chamber and the administration struck an agreement to house inmates at the four locations. He said he wants Rikers to close before 2027.

“We are doing it quicker than 10 years,” Johnson said.

Natalie Grybauskas, de Blasio’s spokeswoman, said the city wouldn’t wait until all four jails are finished before housing inmates at each facility if one is ready sooner. The U.S. Justice Department has said Rikers is beset by a “deep-seated culture of violence.”

The state’s former chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, wrote in amNewYork last fall that de Blasio’s plan for closing Rikers is too slow.

But on Wednesday, Lippman — who headed a blue-ribbon panel last year recommending the closure — said the plan to build the Bronx jail and expand the other borough facilities now puts the city on the right track.

The oversight panel, the Commission of Correction, said Wednesday it may seek to close Rikers ahead of de Blasio’s timeline.

Asked about the commission’s report, de Blasio said local officials are in charge of fixing correction issues, but he welcomed Albany’s help.

“Our hand is not being forced. We determine our own destiny here in New York City. God bless the state of New York,” de Blasio said. “. . . if the governor and the legislature want to help us close Rikers more quickly, they have the power to do so. And if they don’t, then it’s on them, and it’s going to take longer.”

De Blasio’s plan calls for the closure only when the daily inmate census declines to 5,000, compared with the current average of about 9,000. The number of people arrested and jailed in New York City has fallen for more than a decade.

He said the state could speed up Rikers’ closure by helping to drive down how many people are in city custody. He wants more people eligible for bail, speedier trials, and the state to take custody of more parolees now housed in city jails — all of which require state action.

Officials at the news conference announcing the closure plan say Rikers’ isolated location in the East River complicates visits crucial to rehabilitation, necessitates expensive bus trips to shuttle inmates to and from court, and endangers inmates and staff alike because of aging infrastructure.


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