Advocates slam proposed 2031 deadline to complete new jails in Queens, Bronx

A jail on Rikers Island.
A jail on Rikers Island.
File photo by Dean Moses

After the city released a proposed contract for new jails in Queens and in the Bronx that would be completed four years after the 2027 Council-mandated deadline to close Rikers Island, legislators and criminal justice advocates slammed the potential delays as unacceptable.

The City Record released Monday included contracts for almost $7 billion in total to construct the Queens and Bronx borough jails and would allow for construction to stretch into 2031. The Campaign to Close Rikers held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to demand action to advance the closure by the legally mandated deadline.

“The city has a legal and moral obligation to close Rikers by 2027. That deadline is not optional,” said Darren Mack, co-director of Freedom Agenda. 

The notices published in the City Record state that the new Queens jail will cost at least $3.9 billion and the new Bronx facility will cost at least $2.9 billion. This information comes after news that the administration is also planning to increase capacity in each of the four borough jails to accommodate the increases in the population of detainees in recent years, which have brought the total census up to roughly 6,000.

The city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed contract on Thursday, May 16 — before the contract is likely to be finalized.

While Councilmember Sany Nurse conceded that there are real post-Covid construction costs that pose a challenge to the timeline, she did not think that Mayor Adams administration has been committed to drawing down the jail population to the point where closing the facility by the 2027 deadline would be possible. 

“We’ve actually seen this administration from the jump just simply undermine any effort to bring that down. There are strategies and solutions and organizations begging to do this work,” Nurse said.

Megan French-Marcelin, a policy director with the Legal Action Center, said that in the coming city budget, advocates are expecting a $2.1 million cut in alternative to incarceration programs funded through the Office of Criminal Justice, which includes supervised release, reentry and other community-based alternative programs. 

French-Marcelin said that they were expecting even more severe cuts earlier this year, but “it is not what it should be, which should be an expansion of services.”

Tamara Carter, the mother of Brandon Rodriguez who died in 2021 while being held in an isolated area of Rikers Island, warned about the risk of Rikers being allowed to stay open past 2027. Since Adams took office at the start of 2022, 31 incarcerated people have died in city custody.

Asked whether the Close Rikers Coalition would consider a legal challenge to the Adams administration if it went forward with the proposed 2031 timeline, Mack said he didn’t want to “entertain hypothetical situations.”

“Our focus is what this administration needs to do now to bring us closer to get Rikers closed,” he said.