NYC To Replace Infamous Rikers Island Jail Complex With Small “Community-Based” Jails In Four Boroughs

CBS News reports:

New York City unveiled an ambitious plan on Wednesday to replace the notorious Rikers Island jail complex with four smaller lockups located in densely populated neighborhoods, including turning an Art Deco government building that went up in lower Manhattan in 1930 into a tower for up to 1,500 inmates.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials said they envision more humane settings that would feature community space, ground-floor retail outlets and offices for inmate support services. “We’re taking a big step forward in the process of closing Rikers Island and creating a modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer and fairer,” De Blasio said in a statement announcing details of the plan.

The announcement comes six months after officials decided to shut down Rikers by 2027 after years of complaints about violence by guards and gang members, mistreatment of the mentally ill and juveniles and unjustly long detention for minor offenders. Advocates for the closure also have argued that the island facility near La Guardia Airport — accessible only by a narrow bridge — is too isolated, cutting off inmates from the outside world in a way that hinders oversight and rehabilitation.

AM New York reports:

Under the city’s vision, every borough would have a roughly 1,510-bed jail, except Staten Island. Inmates from that borough — currently about 250 — would be sheltered at the new Brooklyn jail, at 275 Atlantic Ave., the administration said.

The housing cells would be designed to get more sunlight, offer guards better observation angles and provide space for programming, which would limit how often correctional staff must bring inmates through the halls to reach activities in other locations, according to Jeff Thamkittikasem, chief of staff at the city Department of Correction.

“If you compare that to some of the older models that exist now — you have long tiers, with a not very good line of sight, some blind spots, you have to have officers walking down the tiers, as opposed to from a central location, looking around, being able to kind of monitor and have better engagement,” Thamkittikasem said.

Via New York City press release:

“These new jails will enable this city to close Rikers Island, which I know will help make this city a better place. The new facilities are designed to be safer for both the people incarcerated as well as the staff. The next chapter of criminal justice in New York City is beginning, and I couldn’t be prouder,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Progress on these strategies is underway with the partnership of New Yorkers, the City Council, the courts, district attorneys, defenders, service providers, and others within the justice system. When New York City released its roadmap in June 2017, the City’s jails held an average of 9,400 people on any given day. One year later, the jail population has dropped by almost 13 percent to around 8,200, the lowest level in more than three decades.