NYC to Swap Rikers Island for Community-Based Jail System

MANHATTAN (CN) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that a system of borough-based jails will replace Rikers Island, once the doors of the notorious prison facility close for good.

This still from 2014 surveillance footage at the New York City prison complex Rikers Island shows guard Rodiny Calypso beating a handcuffed inmate he has put in a headlock. Calypso was acquitted of civil rights violations on Aug. 17, 2017, but convicted of a cover-up. (Image credit: NYC.gov)

In the 14 months since de Blasio first unveiled his “road map” to closing the detention facility, New York City’s daily jail population has dropped 13 percent, the lowest it has been in more than three decades.

Four community-based jails in Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan are the top sites under consideration now to replace Rikers.

De Blasio touted the community-based jail system as “smaller, safer and fairer.”

According to the plans, the four new facilities will be integrated into their neighborhoods, and include parking as well as ground-floor retail stores. The goal is to allow inmates to be closer to their families and provide education and recreational activities to prepare them to reenter their communities.

The de Blasio administration believes these new facilities will be safer both for the inmates and staff.

“These new jails will have improved interior layouts allowing officers more effective ways to supervise people in detention, and also provide space for quality education, health, and therapeutic programming,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Cynthia Brann said in a statement. “As we move forward with this transition, I want the men and women who are currently working on Rikers Island to know that the safer, state-of-the-art facilities you deserve are on the way.”

Each new facility will hold around 1,500 beds, meeting the requirement of at least 6,000 beds to accommodate the 5,000 average daily jail populations.

The city has already held some meetings with political figures and members of the community, many of whom support the plans.

“This is a process of which every New Yorker should be a part as it is for the benefit of every one of us,” Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, co-chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, said in a statement. “We are on the path to building a stronger, fairer, and more equitable city.”

To lower the jail population, the de Blasio administration has also introduced an alternative-to-bail program that allows eligible people with low-level offenses to remain in their homes while they await trial.

The plans will have to go through hearings and recommendations from the borough president, the local community board, the City Council and the city planning commissioner under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. The application for this process will be submitted before the end of the year.

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