New plans proposed to close down Rikers Island jail


It's one of the most notorious correctional facilities. Now, the New York City Council is expected to vote in favor of shutting down Rikers Island Thursday.

The Independent Commission outlined its report to phase out the facility, but its recommendation to open several smaller jails across the five boroughs isn't sitting well with some local officials and many New Yorkers.

They call it a new blueprint for criminal justice in New York- buildings like the Tombs Detention Facility in Manhattan will be getting a lot more focus as the 10-year plan to close Rikers Island moves forward, which is a place that is an affront to humanity and decency and a stain on our city's reputation.

“It is now the policy of the city to close Rikers down formally. Finally,” said Judge Johnathan Lippman, Commission Chair.

The plan is backed by both the mayor and the governor, and members of the commission said it will save the city money and make communities safer.

“Our present system creates hardened criminals and undermines the health of our families and our communities,” said Lippman.

The opposition says it’s not that simple.

How does closing Rikers island fix the issues we have in the criminal justice system?” said Councilman Andy King at a rally outside City Hall Wednesday. 

Rikers currently holds about 10,000 inmates, and in order to make this new plan work, it would require slashing that number in half

For years, Rikers has been the subject of scrutiny - with instances of violence and corruption routinely making headlines.

“I'm so excited about getting it closed. Finally,” said Herbert Murray, a former inmate who spent 29 years at Rikers for a crime he did not commit.

“When I got to Rikers Island, just the conditions of it- being in a cell block with 90 individuals with 8 showers, 2 televisions, and 2 telephones - just generated the ongoing violence and attitude of corruption that Rikers Island represents,” he said.

Right now, one of the primary concerns for officials is space.

As Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer pointed out, 1600 Rikers inmates would be eligible to come to the Manhattan Detention Complex, but the numbers don't add up, “So the question is there are about 900 people in the Tombs. How do we make sure we have fewer people in the years coming up in detention, or how do we make sure that we have other beds if necessary?”

Another big part of this whole debate is the cost. The commission reported it would cost the city up to $247,000 per year per inmate by moving to facilities that are closer to the courts and cutting the larger prison population number as a whole. The hope is that they can bring that cost way down.