Following the De Blasio administration’s unveiling of a 10-year plan to shut down the prison on Rikers Island, a new report, spearheaded by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, looks at what a Rikers-free New York City might look like.
Justice in Design, as this report is titled, is a collaboration between the Van Alen Institute, and a commission appointed by Mark-Viverito in February 2016, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.
The report acts as a set of guidelines to show how borough-based jails can successfully be created and how they can fast-track the process of permanently closing Rikers. Over the past few months, the Van Alen Institute conducted a host of public meetings in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn to understand people’s experiences with jails. The meetings were open to folks living or working in jails or even those who live in neighborhoods that have jails.
The idea was to conduct workshops and solicit ideas on how to improve the living environment, and to better integrate the surrounding neighborhood. The workshops were conducted by the Justice in Design team which comprises of people from all walks of life including architects, urban planners, criminal justice experts, and psychologists.
Armed with all of that information, the team has come up with the following recommendations:
- To create community-based jails known as Justice Hubs that would be located close to the local courts and offer easier access to lawyers and visits to the jail.
- Revamped interiors that would place an emphasis on daylight and air; improve movement within the jail for inmates and officers; and improve inmate access for rehabilitative programs.
- To provide new spaces for community engagement including libraries, community gardens, public plazas, and exercise facilities.
- Strengthening up post-release services for formerly incarcerated people.
A detailed breakdown of all these salient features can be found in the report, and this latest report builds on the comprehensive report released by the Independent Commission in April. While this is in no way connected to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Rikers shutdown plan, it provides the city with a model on how to equally distribute the responsibilities of running the city’s jails.
“Moving forward, we will continue to look for ways to enact meaningful reforms like these, which will help restore some normalcy and dignity to the lives of incarcerated New Yorkers—the clear majority of whom are young men of color incarcerated solely because they are too poor to afford bail,” said Mark-Viverito, said in a statement.