Two days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would shutter Rikers Island by 2027, a special commission that led the push for closing the scandal-ridden correctional facility issued a report outlining its recommendations for reforming the city’s troubled jail system.
In addition to urging Rikers’ closure, the 148-page report calls for at least $11 billion to construct one jail in each of the city’s five boroughs. It also recommends reducing the city’s current jail population of about 9,500 inmates, including about 7,000 held at Rikers, by eliminating sentences of 30 days or less in favor of other forms of “community-based” rehabilitation, and by simplifying the city’s bail payment process that often leads to extended stays.
“Closing Rikers Island is an essential step toward a more effective and more humane criminal justice system,” said former New York Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman, chairman of the 27-member Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, at an event Sunday at John Jay College in midtown Manhattan.
Lippman was joined by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who convened the panel last year as part of an overall effort to reform the city’s criminal justice system.
Mark-Viverito, who described Rikers Island as “a symbol of dysfunction and violence,” said moving to a borough-based jail system would lead to a “more humane, effective, community-based justice system.”
The commission’s report recommends that the five jail sites be closer to court facilities, which they said would reduce the annual $31 million cost of transporting inmates to and from court hearings, and would also provide inmates with more opportunities to see their families, which would help in their rehabilitation.
Lippman said the new jails would cost at least $11 billion, but save the city $1.4 billion annually by reducing the expenses associated with staffing the large Rikers complex. He said the city could use the Rikers property to spur economic development, including using it to create an auxiliary runway for LaGuardia Airport to help ease congestion and delays.
Calls to close Rikers intensified soon after the U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing report in 2014 detailing excessive use of force by correction officers and “a deep-seated culture of violence” among inmates.
The mayor, who did not attend Sunday’s event in Manhattan, spoke about the closure to congregants at two Brooklyn churches that morning. De Blasio originally balked at the idea of closing Rikers, but said Friday that a steady decline in the city’s inmate population helped convinced him that a plan to shut the facility over the next decade was possible.