Advocacy Update: Mayor Announces Next Steps in Plan to Close Rikers
Last March, we were excited to celebrate the power of advocacy when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city's intention to close the Rikers Island detention complex by 2027. As a seed funder of the #CloseRikers campaign through a multi-year Invest in Youth grant to JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), and as a funder of the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, we believe that closing Rikers will have a tremendous impact on youth and families across Brooklyn. (In 2016, approximately 1,300 young people ages 16-21 lived on Rikers daily.)
In a surprise announcement this week the Mayor indicated that the projected 10-year timeline may be shortened as he and newly appointed City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced a public review process of four alternate detention facility sites near local courthouses. Here in Brooklyn, the city plans to renovate the existing Brooklyn House of Detention and expand its capacity. The city has engaged a firm to redesign the complex and approval will be done through a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process.
"It is essential that we close Rikers as quickly as possible," said Council Member Stephen Levin. "We must ensure our justice system reflects our commitment to safety, justice, and fairness for all—a standard we cannot in good conscious say we currently meet. We understand that the boroughs, including Brooklyn, will be an important part of the solution, and I look forward to engaging with the community on what form that may take."
#CloseRikers campaign coordinator Brandon J. Holmes and #FreeNewYork campaign coordinator Erin L. George say that these steps reflect the work of advocates but that they hope to see more community engagement moving forward.
“This is the result of pressure from directly impacted communities, advocates, and the #CloseRikers campaign who have continued to demand an end to the devastation caused by our criminal justice system,” Holmes and George said in a statement.
“Going forward, we hope—and impacted communities deserve to see—Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo actually work together to achieve real criminal justice reform. They are both responsible for the safety, health, and well being of New Yorkers, and must address the demands of low-income communities and communities of color who are incessantly targeted and trapped by our broken criminal justice system.”
In fact, 89% of those held at Rikers are Black or Latino, and nearly 80% of those detained are awaiting trial—almost half of whom are there only because they cannot afford bail.
In addition to choosing the sites, the city is introducing programs aimed at decreasing the number of people on Rikers Island—currently averaging 9,000 people per day. The average length of stay at Rikers is 176 days, excluding people who are brought in and released on the same day. Short jail sentences for minor offenses will be replaced with programs to prevent recidivism, and re-entry services will be provided to every person in the Department of Correction’s custody, including services and programming to address vocational, educational, and therapeutic needs.