2017-04-05 / Front Page

Plans To Close Rikers


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s surprise announcement over the weekend that Rikers Island prison will be closed in about 10 years, should bring special joy to Astorians who have lived in its shadow for many years.

Many community-led demonstrations to shut down the prison have been held through the years, and people are growing impatient, de Blasio explained. It will take 10 years because during that period, other smaller-sized jails will be built for future use. The projected cost is expected to be $10.6 billion, including the cost of new jails, that will be split among the five boroughs.

De Blasio’s embrace of the whole idea came as a commission studying the future of Rikers was expected to announce a recommendation at City Hall last Sunday. At that time, New York Chief Judge Jonathon Lippman, who heads the 27- member panel, was to release a 97-page report recommending the closing of Rikers, to be replaced by a few smaller facilities spread around the city.

The entrance to Rikers Island. 
Photo Vinny DuPre The entrance to Rikers Island. Photo Vinny DuPre For de Blasio, the question of closing Rikers had been viewed as a sound idea but just wasn’t on his radar. In contrast, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was a heavy supporter of the closure and tried to convince the mayor to embrace it. Finally, he did.

According to The New York Times, the mayor was to meet with Judge Lippman on Thursday evening, and Mark-Viverito accompanied him there. After Judge Lippman briefed the mayor on the plan, de Blasio reportedly was cool to the idea, especially the creation of smaller jails in each borough, as well as the huge cost.

But he started to warm to the idea, citing the low crime statistics which call for smaller prisons, and was eventually won over by the bold idea. The mayor reportedly cited pressure he has been getting from prison reform advocates and finally he decided to make the move calling for Rikers to be shut down.

Last Friday, he stated, “It will take many years. It will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen.” Given the reputation that Rikers has, with frequent news reports of prisoners and prison guards being targets of deadly beatings and assault, it seems de Blasio and Judge Lippman’s commission made the wise decision.

In response to the unexpected announcement by Mayor de Blasio of his plans to begin shuttering Rikers Island and replace it with facilities in all five boroughs over the next 10 years, Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst) commented, “As one of the first elected officials to call for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex, I commend Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito for their commitment to shutting down this troubled facility.

“For too long, Rikers Island has been a black hole for human rights. Rikers Island’s culture of violence remains a constant threat to the wellbeing of both correction officers and the incarcerated. It has become emblematic of all that is wrong with our criminal justice system. The city must establish new, smaller facilities in each borough, as per the Lippman Commission’s report. I look forward to working with the administration, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the #CLOSErikers coalition to create a sustainable plan to phase out Rikers and construct more humane and manageable jail facilities across the city.”

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