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Rikers Island shutdown moves forward with plan to house inmates in 4 boroughs

Existing jails adjacent to criminal courts in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens will be remodeled to house more inmates.

The Rikers Island shutdown plans, outlined in more

The Rikers Island shutdown plans, outlined in more detail on Feb. 14, 2018, by Mayor Bill de Blasio, include a new lockup in Bronx's Mott Haven neighborhood. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday the city is preparing to house inmates at borough-based jails near courthouses and at a new lockup planned for the Bronx, under a plan to stop using scandal-plagued Rikers Island by 2027.

Existing jails adjacent to criminal courts in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens will be remodeled to house more inmates.

De Blasio discussed the jail changes at a news conference on the same day a state panel overseeing incarcerations criticized the city for an increase in jail violence despite extra scrutiny from the public, overseers and a court-ordered monitor.

The Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood will be the site of the new jail. Staten Island, where de Blasio said last year he had “no intention” of opening a jail, has too few arrestees to warrant one.

The new Bronx jail will be at 320 Concord Ave., the current site of an NYPD tow impound.

The courthouse-adjacent jails to be remodeled are:

  • Manhattan Detention Center, 125 White St., in downtown, known as The Tombs
  • Brooklyn Detention Center, 275 Atlantic Ave., known as Brooklyn House
  • Queens Detention Center, 126-01 82nd Ave., Kew Gardens, which stopped housing inmates more than 15 years ago and needs extensive remodeling

Construction at the sites is expected to start in the next several years at a cost in the “billions,” de Blasio said.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) said the chamber and the administration struck an agreement to house inmates at the four locations. He said he wants Rikers to close before 2027.

“We are doing it quicker than 10 years,” Johnson said.

The city wouldn’t wait until all four jails are finished before housing inmates at each facility if one is ready sooner, Natalie Grybauskas, de Blasio’s spokeswoman, said. The U.S. Justice Department has said Rikers is beset by a “deep-seated culture of violence.”

The state’s former chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, wrote in amNewYork last fall that de Blasio’s plan for closing Rikers was too slow.

But on Wednesday, Lippman — who headed a blue-ribbon panel last year recommending the closure — said the plan to build the Bronx jail and expand the other borough facilities now puts the city on the right track.

But some said they were blindsided by the announcement of a new jail in the Bronx.

“We understand the need to close Rikers, but it would put another strain in our community,” said Mychal Johnson, a Mott Haven resident of 15 years and founding member of the resident coalition South Bronx Unite.

The Bronx is already home to two jails, the Vernon C. Bain Center and the Horizon Juvenile Center.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. criticized the lack of outreach by the mayor, and called for more transparency as the detention center plans develop.

“I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” he said in a statement. “Any new site for a jail in this borough must be thoroughly vetted, and the people of The Bronx must have a meaningful say.”

Speaker Johnson acknowledged Diaz's criticism at the news conference Wednesday: “We have to do a better job at keeping him in the loop and the local community boards, so we’re going to ensure that it’s a robust, meaningful, community engagement process,” he said.

The state Commission of Correction said Wednesday it may seek to close Rikers ahead of de Blasio’s timeline.

Asked about the commission’s report, de Blasio said local officials are in charge of fixing correction issues, but he welcomed Albany’s help.

“Our hand is not being forced. We determine our own destiny here in New York City. God bless the state of New York,” de Blasio said. “. . . if the governor and the legislature want to help us close Rikers more quickly, they have the power to do so. And if they don’t, then it’s on them, and it’s going to take longer.”

De Blasio’s plan calls for the closure only when the daily inmate census declines to 5,000, compared with the current average of about 9,000. The number of people arrested and jailed in New York City has fallen for more than a decade.

He said the state could speed up Rikers’ closure by helping to drive down how many people are in city custody. He wants more people eligible for bail, speedier trials, and the state to take custody of more parolees now housed in city jails — all of which require state action.

Officials at the news conference announcing the closure plan say Rikers’ isolated location in the East River complicates visits crucial to rehabilitation, necessitates expensive bus trips to shuttle inmates to and from court, and endangers inmates and staff alike because of aging infrastructure.

With Ivan Pereira

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