Mayor de Blasio, in a stunning announcement that will remake New York’s criminal justice system, revealed Friday that the city is planning to close Rikers Island.
“It will take many years. It will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen,” de Blasio said at a City Hall press conference.
De Blasio spoke a day after the Daily News reported that an independent commission studying the future of Rikers will recommend shuttering the beleaguered facility.
The 27-member panel, led by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, was expected to tell City Hall on Sunday that it favored replacing Rikers with several smaller facilities spread across the five boroughs.
De Blasio said shutting down the complex will take at least 10 years. The jail’s population will first have to be whittled down to 5,000 inmates from the current 10,000.
“We will need a few more facilities,” he said. “I would argue the fewer, the better.”
Criminal justice reform advocates hailed the announcement.
Legal Aid Society lead attorney Seymour James described Rikers as a “long scourge to this city besetting justice, perpetuating recidivism and destroying black and brown communities.
“We join New Yorkers from every borough today flushed with many emotions that the dream of closing Rikers Island will finally become reality,” James added.
But not everyone was celebrating.
Robert Gangi, a mayoral contender and head of the Police Reform Organizing Project, said the city would be better off devoting the money to more “pressing needs” such as education.
“We oppose allocating hundreds of millions to build new jails,” Gangi said.
The mayor’s announcement marked a stark about-face.
Last year, de Blasio called the idea of closing Rikers, backed strongly by Gov. Cuomo, a “noble concept” but too expensive to pull off.
“It would cost many billions of dollars, and I have to look out for what’s feasible and I have to look out for the taxpayer,” de Blasio said at the time.
Rikers has become a symbol of dysfunction and despair in recent years as harrowing tales of abuse and neglect have piled up.
The movement to shutter Rikers gained steam after the suicide of Kalief Browder, who spent three years there awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit.
Browder, 22, was arrested in May 2010 at age 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack.
The Bronx teen, after spending nearly 800 days in solitary confinement, was finally released in May 2013 when his charges were dropped.
Browder hanged himself inside his bedroom in June 2015.
The Lippman-led commission was also exploring different ways to redevelop the island.
Among the ideas it was studying were using Rikers to expand La Guardia Airport or to house recreational facilities and water and waste treatment centers.
De Blasio, Lippman and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito huddled together at City Hall Thursday night.
They emerged from the pow-wow tight-lipped, with only Lippman making a brief comment.
“I can just tell you that we have our usual process of keeping people informed of what’s going on and taking a lot of feedback,” he said.
Source: Ny Daily News