Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office announced this week that the first of nine jails on Rikers Island is scheduled to close down by the summer. This would mark the first closure at the violence-plagued jail as part of the mayor’s plan to permanently shutter the complex over a period of 10 years.
The mayor said that, as of Jan. 1, the city Department of Correction’s (DOC) jail population is 8,705. In 2018, the George Motchan Detention Center—which houses approximately 600 men in custody—will be the first to be closed on Rikers Island. De Blasio said that the shuttering of the jail would not result in layoffs or a reduction in DOC staff, but rather help to reduce overtime and enable better training and support of current staff.
The mayor’s plan to close Rikers Island has been met with some opposition. Some communities and their leaders dislike de Blasio’s proposal to place a series of smaller jails throughout the five boroughs. Others complain that the plan to close the jail—which would be completed in 2027—would take too long and that it would run the risk of being deferred until the term of a future mayor, who might not follow through on the plan.
While we agree that residents and community leaders should have a say in the process as to where a new jail might be placed in a neighborhood and also that a 10-year plan is less than ideal, the concept of closing Rikers Island is a good one.
For far too long, Rikers has been characterized by a “deep-seated culture of violence,” in the words of a 2014 report issued by the U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District. That report referred to the jail as a place “where beatings are routine, while accountability is rare, and where a culture of violence endures, even while a code of silence prevails.”
Rikers Island has long been an extremely dangerous place, both for the inmates awaiting their court appearances and correction guards. Regardless of the timeline on closing the jail, we are pleased to see the process begin its initial phase in 2018 and that the mayor is sticking to his commitment to criminal-justice reform.