NYC Council expected to vote to shutter Rikers Island

The New York City Council will vote on Thursday over whether to pass Mayor Bill de Blasio’s controversial jail plan, which proposes shuttering Rikers Island and moving inmates to jails throughout the city.

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Council members are expected to vote in favor of the mayor and failed Democratic presidential candidate’s $8.7 billion bid to shut down Rikers – an eight-jail complex located on an island in the middle of the East River – and replace it with smaller jails in four of the five New York City boroughs by 2026, the New York Post reported. Staten Island is excluded from the proposal.

FILE - This June 20, 2014 file photo shows the Rikers Island jail complex in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background. New York City lawmakers are considering a plan to close the notorious Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with f

Of the City Council’s 51 members, only 10 are expected to vote no, according to the Post.

If so, the regional jails will have significantly less capacity than the island complex, decreasing the combined number of beds available for inmates to just over 3,500. Rikers can accommodate as many as 15,000 inmates, though the jail system as a whole currently houses only about 7,000.

That’s a sharp decrease from 11,000 when de Blasio became mayor in 2014, according to the report, which attributes the drop to “a push by lawmakers and judges to reduce the number of pretrial suspects by giving low or no bail.”

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Front page of New York Post Late City Final, October 17, 2019

A Post opinion piece released Wednesday night, titled “Closing Rikers Island will leave thousands of criminals free to roam the streets,” keeps its message clear:

“There is simply no way to cut the average daily jail population — which the city itself has described as ‘more violent and difficult to manage’ — that much more without leaving dangerous criminals on the street, where you can be sure they will continue to diminish the quality of life in their neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board took a much different stance, pointing out that the jail plan was compiled by a commission led by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, “who notes that New York still has many people in jail who pose no threat to public safety.”

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“The commission expects the jail population to fall to 3,300 by 2026, partly because of New York’s anti-crime success and partly because of changes in state laws regarding, for example, cash bail,” according to the piece, which is titled “Good Riddance to Rikers Island.”

“Some may see this as coddling criminals, but the vast majority of those at Rikers have not been convicted of a crime and its isolation contributes to a lack of accountability. By providing a more humane environment, the hope is to prevent people arrested for minor offenses from coming out as hardened criminals. More modern facilities would also better accommodate the realities of jail life, including visits from families and attorneys.”