Agreement reached to close notorious Rikers Island jail
NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s sprawling and notorious Rikers Island jail complex, which has come under scrutiny for corruption, violence and poor management, will close by 2027 under an agreement reached Wednesday between Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council leaders.
The deal between De Blasio and Speaker Corey Johnson, a fellow Democrat, calls for housing 5,000 inmates in smaller jails around the city. De Blasio said incarcerating inmates in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens and at a new facility in the Bronx will create a “safer and fairer” borough-based jail system.
De Blasio announced last March that he planned to close the entire complex within the decade, but the timeline agreed to Wednesday isn’t fast enough for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat who has testy relationship with the mayor.
Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, said de Blasio and the City Council “must go back to the drawing board and develop the political will to treat this as a priority.”
De Blasio announced last month that one of the nine jails at Rikers will close this summer.
Rikers Island, located in the East River between Queens and the Bronx, houses about 7,100 of the city’s inmate population of 9,000.
A string of brutality cases exposed poor supervision, questionable medical care and corruption, prompting calls for Rikers’ closure. The latest came from the state Commission of Correction, which earlier Wednesday released a report that ranked Rikers among the worst local jails in the state.
De Blasio responded to the state report on the worst jails by blasting Albany for not making jail reforms that have been talked about for years.
“If the governor and the Legislature want to help us close Rikers more quickly, they have the power to do so,” he said Wednesday. “And if they don’t, then it’s on them that it’s going to take longer.”
Advocates for prisoners have been pushing for smaller jails located in the city’s neighborhoods, saying such facilities would be better able to provide services and reduce delays getting criminal suspects to and from court.
Problems at Rikers have been emerging since at least 2014, when The Associated Press and other news outlets first exposed jail conditions in a series of reports. Those reports included the suicide of Kalief Browder, who hanged himself after spending three years jailed — mostly in solitary — without trial and a homeless ex-Marine who essentially baked to death in a hot cell.