Last week, Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his plans to close Rikers Island Jail, saying a drop in inmate population and a 9 percent drop in crime could allow the city to move forward in closing the troubled facility. Rikers will close in as little as 10 years, if everything goes according to the mayor’s plans.
Over a year ago, the mayor appointed a 27-member panel to study Rikers Island. The panel unveiled a $10.6 billion plan that will replace Rikers with smaller, more sustainable jails that will be located throughout the city’s five boroughs.
Over a three-year span, New York’s inmate population has fallen from 11,000 to 9,300, according to Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. For the smaller jails to be able to support the state’s inmate population, it will need to be 5,000. However, widespread reported cases of violence are causing challenges for the city. There are also allegations of inmates being brutally abused by prison guards, De Blasio said.
Less than a week after Mayor de Blasio announced his plan to close Rikers, it appears it may never get off the ground. In order to cut the city’s jail population in half, officials will need to decriminalize many offenses, from fare-beating to prostitution.
City Hall is having none of it: “While we appreciate the intent of the commission,” said a mayoral spokeswoman, “these actions . . . could actually jeopardize public safety.”
De Blasio still hasn’t technically abandoned his plan, but does suggest other reforms would be more effective in cutting the jail population than decriminalizing minor offenses.