'Rikers Island is an outdated, inhumane and violent massive jail complex that has been ruining lives since the 1930s.'

As the city embarks on the public review and land-use approval process for a new jail system that will eventually replace the outdated facilities on Rikers Island, New Yorkers have an unprecedented opportunity as a city to a take major step forward to creating a humane, community-based correctional system and ending mass incarceration.

It’s time for New York to lose the distinction of operating the second-largest penal colony in the world. We don’t want a jail that operates in the shadows, on an inaccessible island, foisting fear, violence and trauma on some of the most vulnerable segments of society, as well as on correction officers.

Rikers Island is an outdated, inhumane and violent massive jail complex that has been ruining lives since the 1930s. At The Fortune Society, we are witnesses to this damage. We see the trauma inflicted on the thousands of formerly incarcerated people who walk through our doors each year. We also see it in our work on Rikers Island, in person, every day.

Closing Rikers is much more than shuttering an isolated facility. There’s a deeper purpose. It puts into action an important shift in policy that will bring us a step closer to ending mass incarceration and treating substance use disorder and mental illness with health-based solutions, and not incarceration. Like radioactive fallout, the effects of the Rockefeller drug laws and the wholesale closing of mental health facilities still persist. People who should be treated for these disorders are being locked up on Rikers Island, each at a cost of $828 per day. Perhaps even worse, people awaiting court dates are being detained simply because they cannot afford bail.

The de Blasio administration is working hard to close Rikers, and my organization is proud to be part of this effort. New York already is a model for justice reform. We have achieved a 30 percent reduction in the Rikers population over the past several years, while simultaneously bringing down the crime rate. The goal of reducing populations in city jails to 5,000 is laudable, but it’s not enough. Locking up even fewer than 3,500 is attainable. And, if done the right way, through new arrest policies and bail reform, it will not impact our position as the safest city in America.

As we enter the public land-use approval process, New Yorkers will get a chance to look inside Rikers. City residents, political leaders and government officials will find themselves faced with one of the most challenging issues in the pursuit of reducing mass incarceration – where the new jails will be sited.

While the current plan to close Rikers and build smaller, community-based jails is not perfect, we cannot let minor flaws get in the way of doing what is right and good.

Closing Rikers will improve the administration of justice. Those charged with crimes will be closer to courts, and their attorneys will have better and faster access to them. It is also the smart and humane thing to do because it will reduce the detention of people with serious mental health and substance use disorders and offer them therapeutic treatment that will help them break the cycle of arrest and incarceration.

Closing Rikers will help incarcerated people with the transition home. Those charged with crimes will be closer to their families and other support systems — strengthening the reentry process.

An impartial and fair assessment of this process can lead to only one conclusion: Closing Rikers will lead to a more just New York; it will create more vibrant and attractive communities; and it will save thousands of New Yorkers from the nightmare that too many New Yorker have been forced to live through.

JoAnne Page is the president & CEO of the Fortune Society

12 thoughts on “Opinion: Closing Rikers and Building Borough Jails Would Create a More Humane NYC

  1. Lower crime stats due to mayors instructions. Slashing and punching residents on trains and streets has become the norm. Aggressive panhandling. Rapes and murders are up. What’s next decriminalizing assault and robbery? Mentally unstable on the streets belong in the hospital away from general public. City getting worse every day cause De Blasio rewarding criminals and punishing tax payers and law abiding citizens. Are you going to rehabilitate the woman raped and brutally assaulted by 4 men when she was walking home from church? Her life is ruined. Are you going to pay for her bills and years of treatment? Do this rapists deserve humane treatment? How about the killer of Karina Vetrano?!!! He was just angry so he killed an innocent person. How about the fatal stabbing of Jr. Guzman Feliz?! What has this city become? “Oh theyr just kids they deserve humane treatment” it us regular citizens who are the bad ones. MS 13/18 running rampant. Yes spending 10 billion dollars of our money on humane borough jails is what we need (sarcasm)What a JOKE!

    • Treating people humanely doesn’t mean not punishing them. So yes, the answer is: Everyone deserves humane treatment. This is not a crazy idea but rather something you will find in the doctrines of all major faiths, in the U.S. Constitution and in any Kindergarten classroom.

      The people responsible for the atrocious rape and two horrific murders you mention–which span two years in a city of more than 8 million people–represent a sliver of a fraction of the people who will be affected by the closure of Rikers and its replacement by borough jails: According to a 2017 report by the Independent Budget Office, of the 50,000 people who spent some time in city jails as pretrial detainees in 2016, 806 (1.6 percent) were accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter and 403 (0.8 percent) were charged with rape or attempted rape.

      And it is simply not true that “Slashing and punching residents on trains and streets has become the norm.” Crime has declined very year since 2012. The last two years, under de Blasio, the city recorded fewer than 300 murders for the first time in modern history. If you don’t want to build new jails, that’s fine; there are are good arguments against them. But I think it’d be better if you based your argument in something factual.

  2. There is no reason jails should be built in boroughs. Nothing wrong in renovating Rikers and create more”humane”conditions for murderers rapists and career criminals on Rikers. All proposed programs can be done at Rikers. Again lower stats due to mayor instructions to decriminalize offenses.
    2016 The NYPD has a new policy to reduce the number of arrests for minor offenses. Beginning March 2016, the NYPD stopped arresting people who commit low-level offenses. As the NYPD loosens its stance on punishing minor crimes, new report shows serious crime on the rails has gone up. According to the MTA, there has been a 14 percent increase in major felonies in the transit system. The biggest spike was in assaults and robberies.

    Here are your facts:
    Just today 04/11/19 two people are wanted by police after a man was slashed in the face during a subway ride in East Harlem, Manhattan.
    In January, a sleeping rider was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver on New York City’s subway.
    A month before that, a police officer fended off five homeless men who attacked him on a train platform.
    And on Sunday afternoon, a man was fatally shot at a subway station in Queens, ms 13.

    Crimes in general
    04/10/2019Man Sentenced To 21 Years In Prison For Fatally Shooting Man During Robbery; Slashing NYC DOC Officer While In Rikers Island
    04/08/2019 Man Who Was On The Run For Two Years Sentenced To 12 Years In Prison For Deadly 2015 Shooting
    04/03/2019Man Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison For Fatally Stabbing Friend
    03/28/2019 Rikers Island Inmate Sentenced To 3 ½ Years In Prison For Assaulting NYC Correction Officer, Breaking His Jaw
    03/27/2019 Three Rikers Island Inmates Sentenced To Prison In Assault Of NYC DOC Officer That Caused Life-Altering Injury
    03/25/2019 Man Sentenced To 25 Years To Life In Prison For Execution-Style Shooting
    03/22/2019 Man Sentenced To 13 Years In Prison For Fatal Shooting
    03/21/2019Man Indicted For Selling 13 Firearms, Including Two Assault Weapons
    03/20/2019Man Sentenced To 16 Years In Prison For Fatally Shooting Girlfriend and Infant
    03/15/2019Man Sentenced To 25 Years To Life In Prison For Murder Of Innocent Father Of Three
    03/14/2019Four People Indicted In 3-Borough Carjacking One Defendant Indicted For Pinning NYPD Officer Between Two Cars
    03/12/2019Man Sentenced To 20 Years In Prison For Strangling Boyfriend To Death
    03/07/2019Caregiver Indicted In Physical Abuse of Woman With Traumatic Brain Injury
    02/25/2019Man Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison For Raping 64-Year-Old Woman
    02/20/2019 Indictment for child trafficking
    02/14/2019 Man Sentenced To 5-10 Years In Prison For Sex Trafficking
    02/14/2019 Indicted For Raping 12-Year-Old Girl In Motel
    02/13/2019 Man Sentenced To 18 Years In Prison For Sexually Assaulting Woman InBuilding Stairwell
    02/13/2019 Man Sentenced To 10 Years In Prison For Stabbing Wife
    02/08/2019 Man Sentenced To 20 Years To Life In Prison For Kidnapping, Sexual Assault And Sex Trafficking
    01/31/2019 70 Pounds Of Heroin And Fentanyl Seized FromDistribution Network
    01/29/2019 Man Sentenced To 12 Years In Prison For Attempted Murder Of Man Over Petty Argument
    01/22/2019Man Sentenced To 25 Years To Life In Prison For Murder Of Man After Petty Argument
    01/11/2019 Man Indicted For Attempted Murder Of Cop, Assault Of Two Bystanders As He Fled After Committing A Robbery

    This is just a very very small fraction, never mind the ones who didn’t get caught! Criminals at Rikers belong there.

    • Your evidence undermines your argument.

      “Man Sentenced To 25 Years To Life In Prison For Execution-Style Shooting”? That crime occurred in 2012. A year before de Blasio was mayor. Just because the cases were resolved this year doesn’t mean the crimes occurred recently. The ones you cite span 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 — some earlier. They are in no way an indicator of a city that’s falling apart.

      “Caregiver Indicted In Physical Abuse of Woman With Traumatic Brain Injury”? How would street policing and criminalizing misdemeanors prevent that crime, I wonder.

      And several of the crimes you cite occurred … on Rikers itself!

      You just have to accept that fact that even though the NYPD is arresting far fewer people, crime continues to occur at a very low level. That might be inconvenient to accept. But it is true.

    • I totally agree with you 100%. Jails should not be inserted in any of NYC borough. The city’s dangerous vibe is palpable enough on any NYC street. Riding a train is playing the Russian roulette. My daughter in law got sprayed by a mentally sick old woman, suffered mild neck burns. I can not walk around the streets even in my own neighborhood of Midwood, Brooklyn. I walk the streets always turning all around. If I hear any steps near me I freeze, turn to face it as I move out of their way, but I’m always ready for the most innocent looking person to attack. It won’t be long before I carry and licensed gun in the train. Is this a way to live? The wild wild East? A place where most of my salary goes to pay City, Federal and State taxes? I know that danger lurks anywhere you go: the mountains, the city, the beach, the parks but it is the spraying, slashing, hitting and nonchalant sexual assaults and robbery which appear at its highest level that perpetrates leaving us citizens in distressful awe and a sense of helplessness.

      • I can’t attest to your feelings of safety or danger, but I am not sure the situation in Midwood is quite as perilous as you’ve suggested. While there have been increases so far this year in some crime categories in two precincts that cover parts of Midwood (the 66th and 70th) there have been fewer murders compared with 2018 year-to-date (from 5 to 2) and fewer shooting incidents (11 to 5).

  3. Police are searching for the man who stabbed another man at a subway station in Greenwich Village on 04/10/19. Simply because there are fewer arrests doesn’t mean less crime. Inmates at Rikers are violent offenders and career criminals. Check the facts with the DA office. Even at Rikers officers being attacked. Above is a fraction of the general population at Rikers. Were the victims treated humanely by this criminals? Investing 10 billions in the community is what we need, not new jails in boroughs.

    • I’m afraid that’s all wrong. A single incident doesn’t say anything about the direction of the city. You say cops are looking for.a suspect: At what moment in the history of the city has that not been true? Most people on Rikers are pre-trial detainees, not inmates. Many are not charged with any kind of violence but rather property, drug or disorder crimes. The fact that officers are getting attacked at Riekrs is, in fact, an argument for closing it. The convictions you cited in your earlier post and allude to here are sending people to state prisons, not to Rikers, where no one serves a sentence of more than one year. And come now: Are you really suggesting that how criminals treat their victims is a standard for the behavior of our government? Of course not. You know that common sense, our founding ideals and two centuries of jurisprudence make clear that the justice system does not exist to treat criminals the way they treated their victims.

  4. Single incident? Man slashed form year to chin at NYC subway station 04/11, Man stabbed another man on subway station 04/10. Woman attacked and robbed on a Bronx subway platform, man punched her in the face, kicked her and took her purse 04/04.Man punched a woman breaking her nose as she was walking off Brooklyn subway station, suspect followed her off the train, insulting her the whole way in March. Suspect is in custody after an elderly woman was brutally attacked on a Bronx subway train in March. A small boy was randomly punched in head on subway in Lower Manhattan in March.Police are searching for two suspects after a male was stabbed in the abdomen on a subway train in the Bronx. Just to name a few.
    Yes, inmates were detainees at Rikers first, general population at Rikers are people in pre trial for: assault, aggravated assault, rape, robbery, murder and majority were convicted of such. Are you suggesting that violence against correctional officers is because the correction facility is located on Rikers Island and it’s a valid argument for it to be closed?! Detainees at Rikers are not known for their civil behavior. Are you suggesting these detainees, including gang members be placed in highly populated residential areas and near schools?!It means housing over 1000 hard criminals visited daily by their fellow gang members and it doesn’t matter if neighborhoods are destroyed. How about revitalizing the neighborhood instead of building jails. De Blasio is a corrupt mayor, punishing law abiding residents raising prices on transit, rents are astronomically high, instead of having more affordable housing he wants to build new jails. Will be interesting to see who will get the contract as it seems that the mayor can get away with everything from ethics violations, shady deals with real estate developers and stealing millions from public.

    • I can only say it so many times — in a city of 8 million people, it proves nothing to rattle off five violent incidents over two months’ time. The issue isn’t whether crime exists and is harmful: No argument there. But you have suggested that crime has gotten measurably worse under this mayor because of his policy of reducing arrests and detention, a policy in part motivated by the desire to reduce Rikers’ population enough to close it. And there is simply no evidence of such a spike in crime. I could have looked back at clips from 2011, the height of Bloomberg’s stop and frisk, and found violent incidents. Or from 1997, the golden era of Giuliani’s Street Crimes Unit. Your evidence is simply not persuasive because you are generalizing from the particular.

      And yes, the physical problems on Rikers endanger COs and inmates alike. That is a big part of the case for closing it.

      The idea that secure facilities are going to be a public-safety threat to their surrounding neighborhoods is bizarre. These “hardened criminals” you describe (more on that later) are brought to police precincts spread throughout the city every hour of every day. They are transported to courthouses regularly. Is downtown Brooklyn awash in crime? Are you scared to walk past your police precinct?

      Next, you have to come to grips with the fact that MOST people who pass through Rikers are pre-trial detainees and that a huge chunk of them are not charged with a violent crime.

      And finally, the notion that the people visiting folks detained in city jails are all gang members is both fictional and pretty hateful. You should try harder.

  5. De Blasio wants teens charged with robbery, assault freed without bail.
    It primarily covers “high-risk” teens charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies but will be expanded to include first- and second-degree robbery, assault and burglary. Those offenses generally involve using a deadly weapon or inflicting physical injury on a victim.
    Read at:
    Finally Yes making NYC safer! safer for criminals, all this groups advocating for closings Rikers and wanting jails in boroughs are the funded by city administration as the mayors office and de Blasio keeps destroying NYC.

  6. This mayor has decriminalized more crimes and made police handicapped in enforcing the law. He had the talk with his son dante not to trust police. de blasio created an environment were its Ok to throw buckets and water (never know it could be gasoline) at police. Not a big deal if a mob of teenagers robs you and beats you. Resisting arrest? Cops can’t enforce laws, now they have to be psychiatrists, teachers, community counselors. We are seeing more crimes on street (less on paper) due to lawless behavior encouraged by this mayor and his administration and cooked books about crime statistics.

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