NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is making history as the first government official to officially announce his plans to shut down one of the many troubled jail complexes in America.
The mayor said Friday that he wants to close the NYCs Rikers Island jail, in a process he warned would take at least a decade.
“It will take many years and it will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
According to NBC, the mayor said the jail’s daily population would have to be slashed to half of what it was just a few years ago. Which would require new and smaller jails being made in its place. This would make for a potentially lengthy process when considering the possibility of neighborhood opposition.
Key details of the plan, including the cost and the location of alternative jails, are still a long way from being worked out, the mayor said.
The mayor’s announcement comes two days before the unveiling of recommendations by a commission that was established by the City Council after a number of brutality cases from the jail were exposed. The complaints included poor supervision, questionable medical care and corruption at Rikers, among many others. The commission has been working to consider options for the troubled jail as part of a broad examination of the city’s criminal justice system.
The mayor’s decision to close the jail comes after he once considered the option to be too expensive.
The mayor credits the fact that Rikers is now housing less inmates as the reason behind his changed decision. The number of inmates at Rikers has dropped to under 10,000 from a high of 15,000 just a few years ago, according to city figures. Most of the NYC’s jail population is at Rikers, with around 2,400 inmates in other jail locations. De Blasio says the jail population would have to be at 5,000 in order to shut Rikers completely.
De Blasio credited the drop in housed inmates partly to changes in how law enforcement handles lower level crimes, like smoking marijuana in public.
Violence, mismanagement and corruption within the jail and prison system have become the subject of intense scrutiny by media and federal prosecutors in recent years.
A 2015 settlement over brutality and corruption within Rikers led to the installation of a monitor responsible for overseeing the city’s progress in adding thousands of surveillance cameras and stricter policies on use of force.
This is most definitely a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.