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Rikers shutdown report recommends smaller jails, more transparency

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The report also doubles down on borough-based jails

The city is moving towards closing Rikers, the 400-acre correctional facility located on an island in the East River between Queens and the Bronx.
Max Touhey

The independent commission studying criminal justice reform in New York has released a new report on the progress made towards closing Rikers Island Correctional Facility, and its recommendations on how that best can be achieved.

In addition to policy recommendations that would end cash bail and enact a stronger speedy recovery law, the commission appointed by former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in February 2016 followed up on the recommendation to replace the 400-acre facility with four smaller borough-based jails. The plan has received intense pushback from the communities where the proposed facilities would be located, with community members decrying the city’s lack of transparency in choosing the proposed jail sites.

Despite the objections, the commission has doubled down on the borough-based jail proposal, calling it “a necessary step towards closing Rikers.” The report says the city’s plan reflects many of the commission’s recommendations for design and siting principles, and echoes best practices with respect to facility floorplans, better environments, visitation procedures, and programming space. The city’s plan also aligns, at three of the four proposed locations, with the commission’s recommendation to locate the facilities next to borough courthouses on the footprint of existing jails.

In November the city scrapped a plan to construct a 40-story complex with retail and public space at the building’s base and a jail facility on the upper floors in lower Manhattan at 80 Centre Street. The city is now reportedly considering replacing the existing Manhattan Detention Complex, better known as the Tombs, which is located at 125 White Street.

Another of the concerns reflected in the report is the city’s lack of transparency in its decision-making process for the closure of Rikers. The report recommends that the city “use the next four months for productive engagement with stakeholders and residents as it proceeds with its intention to begin the land use process for borough facilities in March 2019.”

Since the proposed sites for the borough-based jails were announced, community members in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan all protested the proposed locations for their jails, with many complaining that they felt shut out of the process.

The recommendation most likely to win support from concerned community members is one to reduce the size of the proposed facilities from a planned 6,040-bed capacity to a 5,500-bed capacity. The commission also recommends the city seek out other ways to design smaller jails that fit better within the context of their surroundings. How and if the city will respond to the commission’s recommendations are unclear.

Read the report in its entirety here.

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Rikers Island Correctional Facility

1500 Hazen St, East Elmhurst, NY 11370 (212) 266-1500 Visit Website