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Rikers Island plan outlined by de Blasio lets City Council pick jail locations

Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined his 10-year plan

Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined his 10-year plan for Rikers Island on Thursday, June 22, 2017. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Emmanuel Dunand

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday released his administration’s 10-year plan to shut down Rikers Island — the city’s scandal plagued correctional complex — in favor of a network of smaller more “humane” jails.

But the mayor’s plan outsources, to the City Council, the fraught duty of picking where those jails go. Those decisions, like where to put homeless shelters or garbage dumps, tend to evoke Nimby-fueled anger.

The mayor’s plan aims to reduce the city’s inmate population to 5,000 detainees from its current size of about 9,400. The city will spend $30 million in the next three years on programs focused on reducing the overall jail population, including increased access to jail diversion programs for those charged with low-level crimes, and directing inmates with mental health issues to treatment facilities instead.

“We are building a correctional system that is smaller, safer and fairer — one in which jails are safe and humane,” de Blasio said in a statement. Rikers has long grappled with reports of widespread misconduct among inmates and officers alike.

De Blasio has called on the City Council to take the lead in proposing possible sites for the borough-based jails.

“We need to figure out which specific places, which council members are ready to come forward and work with us to get that done,” de Blasio said during a Thursday morning radio interview on WNYC.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who last year empaneled a special commission that focused on shuttering Rikers, said she was briefed on de Blasio’s plan but hadn’t read it. She said it was “unfortunate” that de Blasio did not offer specifics on where the replacement jails would go — a politically fraught topic.

“It’s unfortunate, because I believe that that’s critical to closing Rikers,” she told reporters outside City Hall. “We need the community-based facilities.”

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) called de Blasio’s plan a “cop out” for punting to the council the job of suggesting potential locations — which is atypical in New York City government. Generally, the executive proposes a location in municipal land use and the council approves or vetoes it.

“What he produced today, I think, was a political document rather than a real plan,” Lancman said.


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