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De Blasio: Too many new jails in plan to close Rikers Island

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference in the Blue Room at City Hall on March 16, 2017. Credit: Corey Sipkin

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio voiced support on Monday for a plan to shutter Rikers Island in the next decade but objected to a recommendation aimed at replacing the facility with jails in the city’s five boroughs.

De Blasio, speaking at an unrelated news conference on Randall’s Island, said he believed the decade-long plan to close the scandal-ridden jail complex could be achieved with “just a few locations,” that would be determined through a public vetting process involving the City Council and relying on community input.

A 148-page report released Sunday by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform recommended an $11 billion plan to build jail facilities in each borough.

“I do not agree with the commission’s report on that matter,” de Blasio said. “They’re suggesting five new facilities. I don’t think that makes sense because it would involve the expansion of facilities in Brooklyn and Manhattan,” and Queens.

The commission also recommended new jail facilities in the Bronx and Staten Island.

The 27-member commission, formed last year by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and led by former New York Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman, argued closing Rikers is needed because the correctional complex’s mass incarceration model has done little to rehabilitate convicts, and instead has fostered a culture of brutality and inhumane treatment of inmates.

A spokesman for Lippman could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night but at a Sunday news conference, Lippman said having a jail in each borough, near court complexes, would help cut down on the cost of transporting inmates to and from Rikers for trials.

The commission’s yearlong examination of problems at Rikers laid the groundwork for de Blasio’s announcement Friday that the city would seek to close the embattled correctional facility, currently home to about 7,000 inmates.

On Monday, when asked about the commission’s report, de Blasio said he had not read it, adding that he hoped to start discussions with City Council leaders in the “coming weeks” about developing a plan to move the closure proposal forward.

“I want the fewest new jails possible, and I don’t start on the assumption of where they’re going to be for a lot of reasons including that there has to be a process,” for selecting and approving the sites, de Blasio said.

He said he had “no intention of opening a jail on Staten Island. . . . we know that very few of our inmates come from Staten Island.”

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