‘Close Rikers’ Commission: Transparency needed

Under Mayor de Blasio and the City Council, the city is determined to close Rikers Island, above, and replace it with new jails in the individual boroughs. Photo from the report “A More Just New York City”

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | The independent commission that originally spearheaded a plan to close Rikers Island released a progress report late last month. The update details how the city can meet its goals to reduce the city’s jail population by more than 3,000 people.

The report comes just a few months before the city is expected to begin the public review process known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, for its plans to site a community-based jail in each borough, except for Staten Island.

The project is a part of a larger plan to close Rikers Island’s facilities by 2027, reduce the city’s jail population to around 5,000 people, and create a more humane jail system.

The commission’s report says the city has not been transparent enough with the community, and recommends reducing the jail system’s total bed capacity from 6,040 to 5,500, as originally recommended by the commission. The report recommends designing smaller facilities and re-examining siting a fifth one in Staten Island to reduce each jail’s size.

“Reducing the number of beds will also help achieve the goal of smaller facilities that fit better with the neighborhoods,” said Tyler Nims, the executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. “[That] is something that many of the communities have expressed concerns about.”

The shift to neighborhood-based jails has sparked intense community pushback in recent months. This recently led the city to change the planned location of the Lower Manhattan jail, which is now expected to be at 125 White St. at the Manhattan Detention Complex a.k.a. “The Tombs.”

However, Nims added, “it’s much more than moving the real estate of jails in Rikers Island to other places.”

“The next year is really going to be a decisive one both in Albany and here in the city as the land-use process goes forward,” he said.

The report recommends passing state legislation to end cash bail, implementing stronger laws for speedy trials and discovery, and limiting jail time for alleged parole violations, all of which Nims said appears more likely with the new Democratic majority in the state Senate.

The commission estimates these reforms could reduce the city’s jail population by more than 3,000 people.

Already, the city has managed to reduce the jail population by more than 1,500 persons in the past two years.

“In the big picture,” Nims said, “there’s been a lot of positive change that has happened over the past couple of years, and I think that we are really getting closer and closer to being in a position where the Rikers jails can be shut down.”