What to Know
- NYC Planning Commission approved a plan on Tuesday to replace the notorious Rikers Island jail complex with four smaller lockups
- The proposal now moves forward to the New York City Council for final approval
- The remake of the city jail system faces criticism from prison reform activists who say the city should close Rikers without new jails
New York City's Planning Commission approved an ambitious plan on Tuesday to replace the notorious Rikers Island jail complex with four smaller lockups located in densely populated neighborhoods.
The 9-3 vote allows the city's proposal to replace Rikers with safer facilities in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens by 2026 to move forward to the New York City Council for final approval.
"That’s one step closer to bringing people back to their communities and families, one step closer to ending the cycle of recidivism and one step closer to ending mass incarceration once and for all," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
BREAKING: The City Planning Commission has voted in favor of #CLOSERikers and new smaller and safer borough-based jails.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) September 3, 2019
The era of mass incarceration didn’t begin in New York City — but it will END here.
The City Planning Commission just decided to OK spending $10billion on jailing our people for another century. pic.twitter.com/gcG3QsBDjX— No New Jails NYC (@nonewjails_nyc) September 3, 2019
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. A proposal for a Bronx facility even calls for rezoning a portion of the site to allow for development of affordable housing.
The plan also calls for the city to reduce jail operating capacity by nearly 60%, city officials said.
The remake of the city jail system still faces an extensive public review process and uncertainty about its ultimate cost. Some estimates have reached well into the billions and prison reform advocates say the money should instead go into investing in communities.
A number of activists protested the vote on Tuesday, chanting "Close Riker now" and "No new jails." They say it's possible to close Rikers without building new facilities.
"The City Planning Commission’s review of the jails plan was riddled with secrecy, lapses in transparency, conflict of interest, and potentially illegal actions," No New Jails NYC, a community organization opposing the proposal, said in a statement.
"By ending broken windows policing, ending pre-trial detention and freeing a majority of people held on Rikers, and decriminalize sex work, poverty, homelessness, substance use, and mental illness — the city would have no need to build new jails," the organization said.
The vote came over a year after officials decided to shut down Rikers by 2027 following 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.
Some residents simply just don't want a lockup in their neighborhoods.
"It is unfortunate that the City Planning Commission has declined to listen to the serious concerns of the people of my borough, and has instead chosen to move forward with a plan to close Rikers Island that builds a new jail in the wrong place," Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement.
The City Council is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposal Thursday at 10 a.m. at City Hall.