Jan. 2, 2018 By Christian Murray
The city will close one of nine Rikers Island jails this summer as part of its goal to shut down the controversial jail complex by 2027, the mayor announced today.
The Department of Correction will close the George Motchan Detention Center that currently houses about 600 men, according to city officials. The inmates will be transferred to other facilities and the prison staff will be transferred to other jails.
The announcement follows the Mayor’s pledge in March to close Rikers Island over 10 years, and to house inmates in neighborhood-based facilities, preferably close to courthouses. At the time, he noted that it would not be an easy process, and that crime would have to continue to decline and that changes to the criminal justice system would need to be made.
Rikers Island, which currently houses nine facilities on a 400-acre island off Astoria, has been subject to strong criticism in recent years, with well-documented reports of abuse, inmate neglect and the use of excessive force.
“This announcement is an important step in our plan to close Rikers Island and create more community-based facilities,” De Blasio said in a statement. “Every day we are making New York City’s jail system smaller and safer.”
The dramatic reduction of the city’s prison population has made the Rikers Island closure feasible. In 2017, the average number of inmates was at 9,500, down from 14,000 in 2007.
In order to close Rikers, however, the inmate population needs to decline further, to about 5,000.
The city plans to reduce the prison population by providing alternatives to incarceration as well offering specialized services to reduce reoffending. For example, the city has introduced an alternative to the bail process, where low-risk defendants are part of a supervised release program.
The city’s neighborhood-based facilities have the capacity to house about 2,300 people at present. In order to house all of the city’s inmates, the de Blasio administration is looking to identify sites for additional prisons.
“We still have a long way to get to the target of 5,000 and planning for new, state-of-the art facilities,” said Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice, a non-profit organization that focuses on criminal justice. “Both the city and the state will need to lean into this massively this year and in years to come. However, this is a productive and concrete step, and the Mayor should be applauded for taking it.”