By Bill Parry
The city will begin its long process of closing the prison complex on Rikers Island this summer, when the first of nine jails will be closed, the de Blasio administration announced Tuesday. The closing is made possible by the reduction of the city’s jail population, which last month fell below 9,000, a record low last reported in 1982.
“Every day, we are making New York City’s jail system smaller and safer,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “This announcement is an important step in our plan to close Rikers Island and create more community-based facilities to better serve people in custody and our hard-working correctional staff.”
As of Monday, the Department of Correction’s jail population was 8,705. The mayor’s plan to close Rikers in favor of community-based jails, announced in March, calls for the island’s prison population to be reduced to 5,000.
The D.O.C. will close the George Motchan Detention Center, which currently houses 600 men who will be relocated to other jails in the system, and there will be no layoffs or a reduction in DOC uniformed staff.
“The Department of Correction and the city are committed to closing Rikers, and today we begin delivering on that commitment,” DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann said. “It is something we are able to do because of our department’s reforms in creating safer jails and the city’s work in creating a fairer justice system. Under Mayor de Blasio’s administration, we have reduced our jail population by 21 percent and have helped make our jails safer. We will continue building on our progress in reducing our jail population through programs that provide life and work skills that help individuals in custody re-enter our community.”
Former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who led a blue-ribbon panel on criminal justice and incarceration reform, said New York City is on its way to being a model for the rest of the nation to follow.
“Today’s announcement of the closure of one of the jails on Rikers represents an important step in the right direction, and with the historic reduction in New York City’s jail population, it is clear that mass incarceration is not a prerequisite to keeping New York safe,” Lippman said. “The sooner new, smaller, state-of-the-art jail facilities are designed and sited in the boroughs, the sooner all of the horrific jails on Rikers Island will be a thing of the past.”
It was the so-called Lippman Commission that released a 146-page report recommending an “achievable plan” to permanently close Rikers Island and establish borough-based facilities in April. The mayor followed with his own comprehensive plan in March.
“The closure of the George Motchan Detention Center on Rikers Island is evidence of this administration’s commitment to criminal justice reform,” said state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), the chairman of the Assembly’s Correction Committee. “By offering low-level offenders alternatives to incarceration, enacting supervised release for low-risk defendants, and supporting other paths to stability, this city is proving that it’s possible to lower crime while ending the cycle of incarceration that too many find themselves caught in. I am proud to stand with Mayor de Blasio as we take another step towards a better, fairer and safer New York.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr