Shea breaks with de Blasio on decarcerating Rikers Island, says inmates ‘deserve to stay’

Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Photo by Dean Moses

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio seeks to further reduce Rikers Island’s inmate population and eventually shut the facility down for good, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea indicated on Tuesday morning that he’s not a fan of hizzoner’s plan.

During his weekly appearance on NY1 News’ “Mornings on 1,” Shea seemed to indicate opposition to de Blasio’s efforts to further decarcerate Rikers Island amid reports of inhumane conditions within the correctional facility. 

Shea insisted that Rikers Island must be made safe for all inmates and corrections officers, but suggested that those currently detained on Rikers Island had earned their place there — seemingly regardless of whatever crime of which they have been accused or convicted.

“My position would be the people that are in Rikers Island worked awfully hard to get in there, and I’m worried about the people of New York City on the streets,” Shea said in the Sept. 28 interview. “My position would be the people who are in there deserve to stay in there.”

amNewYork Metro reached out to the NYPD for further clarification of the commissioner’s remarks, and is awaiting a response.

Rikers Island’s inmate population includes those convicted of crimes and others who were arreested and are awaiting trial. For the latter group of inmates, the criminal charges against them are considered, by law, as accusations — and they are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.

Mayor de Blasio visited Rikers Island on Monday for the first time in nearly five years. While he didn’t go into specifics as to what he saw during his visit, he indicated that the city had “a lot of work to do” to correct inhumane conditions within the facility.

But de Blasio stressed the long-term goal of further reducing the Rikers Island inmate population, eventually closing the facility on or about 2026 and moving all detainees into community-based jails.

Shea, on the other hand, believes the Rikers population will only grow in the weeks and months ahead, pointing to the more than 5,000 pending court cases related to NYPD gun arrests.

“My detectives are pretty good, too, and this is why it’s so important because they continue make arrests on some of these shootings, not just from this year but last year,” Shea said. “And we still have those 5,000 open gun arrests, too. So my expectation is that a significant amount of those is going to result in jail time.”

Even so, the commissioner acknowledged that “all sides” of city government and law enforcement are working to improve conditions on Rikers Island. 

“You got to have a safe jail for the inmates as well as for the corrections officers,” Shea said.

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