Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Rikers Island

Rikers Island

  • comm hospital chair

    Council Member Carline Rivera, the author (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


    Like most New Yorkers who lived through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am still reeling from the trauma and chaos we experienced this spring. But until I set foot on Rikers Island last week, I had an incomplete understanding of what the true horrors of COVID-19 were for some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers.

    At the height of the pandemic, Rikers saw an infection ...

  • de Blasio NYPD brass youth

    Mayor de Blasio and top NYPD officials (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


    In mid-April, Mayor Bill de Blasio took a victory lap as the city’s daily jail population fell below 4,000 for the first time in nearly 75 years. It was a marked drop of almost 1,500 since the city went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, and was a result of several factors, including measures the mayor took to release hundreds of detainees whose health was at risk. But the jail population has slowly begun to increase, reaching 4,160 on September 1, as the

    ...
  • 5 justice system public

    Four New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    After a four-month hiatus as the courts struggled to go virtual amid the coronavirus outbreak, New York City's supervised pretrial release program is taking new clients again in all five boroughs.

    Supervised release, established as a middle-ground between bail and release on recognizance, allows defendants to return to their communities before trial, under the watch of a case manager who checks in regularly, and also links the client to social services. The program

    ...
  • dcc pont risland

    Mayor de Blasio on Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


    In his second term in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has worked with the New York City Council to usher through a plan that will close the scandal-ridden Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with four borough-based facilities by 2026. He has repeatedly decried the crumbling infrastructure and the well-documented incidents of violence, by detainees and guards, among the many issues of the sprawling Island facilities. But the mayor has not visited Rikers Island in three

    ...
  • dcc jponte rikers

    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


    The Rikers Island jail complex, a notorious and decrepit institution sitting on 413 acres in the East River, was slated for closure well before New York City became the country’s epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, during which the complex has emerged as a hotspot for infections that have led to the deaths of several detainees and corrections officers.

    But the timeline for shutting down the jail complex and building local jails in four boroughs has been thrust into uncertainty by countervailing

    ...
  • man bx skyline

    New York City building projects are on the chopping block (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


    The coronavirus fallout has created a severe cash crunch for New York City, forcing Mayor Bill de Blasio to slash his proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year by $6 billion, with more cuts likely before adoption. At the same time, the city’s cash flow problems mean that its capital plan, a four-year, $67.2 billion agenda that pays for crucial, long-term infrastructure like schools and roads, will also need modification and could mean some major changes to

    ...
  • dept corr joseph ponte island

    Mayor de Blasio on Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


    In the wake of a series of damning reports showing a rise of violence and use of force in city jails -- even as the inmate population has plummeted and city government has significantly increased its spending on the Department of Correction -- lawmakers are looking at ways to address the problem, beginning with court-mandated reforms, which seem to have fallen by the wayside.

    The City Council’s Committee on Criminal Justice will be holding an oversight

    ...
  • rikers island jails via lippman report25

    Rikers Island (photo via Lippman Commission report)


    After five years of struggle, the New York City Council voted last month to finally shutter the house of horrors that is Rikers Island. Closing this facility, however, is only the first step toward true restorative justice. New York City must invest in the communities that have borne the brunt of the over-policing and under-investment that fueled the mass incarceration machine. These communities are the same ones who are most vulnerable to rising sea levels,

    ...
  • criminal justice related

    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


    For decades, formerly and currently incarcerated New Yorkers -- along with mental health experts, legal advocates, and service providers -- have demanded that city officials find the courage to close Rikers Island jails once and for all, erasing a shameful stain on the legacy of a city that aspires to be the most progressive in the world. Due in part to the sweeping success of the #FREEnewyork campaign securing transformative pretrial reforms in Albany this year, New York City is on track to release over 900 New

    ...
  • Rikers Island inmate detainee

    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


    In an historic vote last month, the New York City Council approved the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with four borough-based jails by 2026. When the Council voted through the plan, estimated at $8.7 billion in new construction costs, it also announced, with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a $391-million package of citywide and community investments in criminal justice reforms and initiatives to responsibly accelerate the reduction of the city’s jail population.

    For city officials, one

    ...
  • attica correct fac

    Attica (photo: Wikimedia Commons)


    As the heated debate over the movement to close the Rikers Island jail complex rages on despite or because of the New York City Council’s vote to build four new jails and close Rikers by 2026, where is the corresponding clarion call to close Attica, Auburn, Clinton Dannemora, or any number of New York State’s brutal and archaic prisons?  

    In 2017, when Mayor de Blasio and the Lippman Commission released reports laying out proposals to close Rikers, there were about 10,000 people in New York City

    ...
  • rikers island jails via lippman report

    Rikers Island (photo via Lippman Commission report)


    Late last week, the New York City Council approved the de Blasio administration’s plan to build four new borough-based jails to replace the detention complex on Rikers Island. The plan hinges on a continued reduction in the city jail population, in large part brought on by state and city criminal justice reforms and changes in city policing. Various aspects of the costs, and potential savings, involved in shuttering the Rikers jails and opening the four new ones – from

    ...
  • costas consta attends

    Council Member Costa Constantinides, the author (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


    Nothing in New York City’s or our country’s history says we’re good at running jails. 

    For hundreds of years, we have cast detainees away to far-flung islands. Out of sight, out of mind. Mostly black and brown men. Overwhelmingly, without having even been convicted of a crime. 

    So, the recent skepticism to build a jail in the heart of my beloved Queens is justifiable. After countless meetings with criminal justice advocates, many among them previously jailed

    ...
  • mmv red cross

    Melissa Mark-Viverito, the author (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


    For decades, Rikers Island has served as a clear illustration of our nation’s willingness to turn a blind eye in the face of injustice. Home to decades of violence, corruption, and cruelty, the continued operation of Rikers Island jails has been a striking reminder that our justice system is anything but just. 

    Activists, grassroots organizers, impacted individuals, elected officials, and many other New Yorkers have been demanding the closure of Rikers jails for decades,

    ...
  • Rikers jails de Blasio

    On Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


    The narrow bridge to Rikers Island still puts a knot in my stomach. In the late 1980s, I spent two years behind bars in one of the eight active jails on Rikers. Back then, crossing that bridge meant disappearing from society and entering a world defined by violence and inhumanity.

    Little has changed. These days, I visit Rikers regularly as vice chair of the Board of Correction, the independent oversight body for New York City jails, and as executive vice president of the Fortune Society, an

    ...
  • De Blasio close Rikers

    De Blasio, Johnson, Ayala & others at Rikers announcement (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    The plan to close the Rikers Island jails and replace them with four borough-based facilities has sped through the city’s land use process and is awaiting approval from the New York City Council, prompting both support and rebukes from criminal justice reform activists and those who prefer to keep most city detainees on the island. If it passes at the scheduled October 17 vote, full implementation of the plan will fall in the hands of a future mayor, perhaps two,

    ...
  • cm mar chin

    (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


    “To be clear is to be kind, to be unclear is to be unkind.” – Brené Brown

    On August 2, 2018, I attended a meeting at Chung Pak, the affordable senior housing complex on Baxter Street, where the city presented its plans to build a huge new jail in Chinatown. I and other highly-vetted attendees watched a slideshow of what 80 Centre Street would become after it is converted from the county courthouse and district attorney’s office to a 50-story jail with coffee shops and retail trinket stores on the ground floor.

    ...
  • comm ublic hearings

    (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    While not surprising from a political perspective given Mayor de Blasio's support for the plan, the City Planning Commission's recent vote to approve the very costly (about $9 billion current estimate) construction of new jails for the worthy purpose of closing the deeply inhumane facilities on Rikers Island was wrong and wrong-headed.

    As the City Council now considers the four-jail plan, one in each borough but Staten Island, it should recognize that the city can take the much smarter and cheaper course:

    ...
  • rikers island google3

    (photo: imagery ©2019 Bluesky, Maxar Technologies, Sanborn, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2019 via Google Maps fair use policy)


    As an organizer directly impacted by incarceration, I often ask fellow New Yorkers that have been previously incarcerated to imagine what it would feel and look like for our communities to have the resources we need to remain in our neighborhoods and thrive.

    Our work will solidify New York City as the most decarcerated big city in the U.S. We have done the difficult work of significantly decarcerating New York

    ...
  • m bdb dcc joseph ponte

    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


    Not long ago, closing the Rikers Island jails was a radical idea. Today, however, less than four years after we launched the #CLOSErikers campaign, New Yorkers have reached political and popular consensus that closing the jail complex is morally imperative. Yet, they are increasingly opposed to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s visionless approach to executing this important mission. Today I write to join that opposition.

    The purpose of the #CLOSErikers campaign was not only to shut down a horrific penal colony,

    ...
  • jail construction

    (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


    “Life in the fairest big city in America should never feel impossible,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, touting his agenda for the coming year during his annual State of the City speech this past January.

    But just a few blocks from where de Blasio works every day at City Hall, a health crisis brought on by the mayor’s own jails proposal could soon make life increasingly unfair,

    ...
  • bk jail rendering mocj

    (image: mayor's office rendering of new Brooklyn jail)


    July 17, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead

    Tyler Nims, executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, also known as the Lippman Commission, joined the show to discuss the city's plan to close the Rikers Island jails and replace some of the inmate and detainee capacity with four local jails, one in each borough other than Staten Island. He

    ...
  • cuomo bdb amazon

    Cuomo & de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


    Governor Andrew Cuomo believes in action, rather than rhetoric, and rarely shies away from criticizing those who he believes fail to live up to their promises, including his fellow Democrats. He’s also appeared particularly irritated by the ascendent progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has challenged him, unfairly he argues, and offers what he says are pie-in-the-sky talking points over the types of achievable results he’s delivered.

    Cuomo brought the

    ...
  • council comm cj

    Elizabeth Ford of Health + Hospitals, left, & Becky Scott of DOC (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    City Council members on Monday held an oversight hearing to examine how New York prevents formerly incarcerated mentally ill persons from returning to jail. The hearing made clear that the de Blasio administration, Health + Hospitals public hospital system, and City Council members all want to reduce the number of mentally ill persons who rely on the jail system for their mental health care and keep those with serious mental illness out of jail

    ...
  • Lippman Rikers

    Jonathan Lippman (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    As the city eyes sites for the four borough-based jails that will replace the Rikers Island jail complex, some residents have sounded off concerns about negative impacts they believe local facilities may have on their neighborhoods. A new analysis may assuage some of those worries, finding that detention facilities in New York City have not, historically, had observable impacts on neighborhood property values or crime rates.

    ...