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Mayor de Blasio changes course to call for closure of Rikers Island

The Close Rikers movement, which led a march through Astoria last September, gets what they want as Mayor Bill de Blasio announces Riker’s Island will close at a future date.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday he will back a plan to close down Rikers Island just days before a blue-ribbon panel is set to make its report public. The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform proposal is expected recommend phasing out the notorious prison complex within the decade in favor of five smaller community jails located across the city.

“New York City has always been better than Rikers Island,” de Blasio said. “I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to reality.”

Last year, the mayor called to notion of closing Rikers Island a “noble idea” but one too expensive to consider, but a grassroots Close Rikers movement has grown rapidly since the suicide of Kalief Browder in 2015. Arrested as a 16-year-old for stealing a backpack, Browder spent the next three years on Rikers Island where he suffered frequent beatings by guards and inmates and spent nearly 300 days in solitary confinement, without ever being charged, all because his family couldn’t afford the $3,000 bail.

While the de Blasio administration has instituted numerous reforms and reduced the Rikers Island population by 23 percent from an average of 11,478 in December 2013 to an average of 9,362 this month, the “culture of violence” among prisoners and guards has remained undiminished. The prison complex is considered to too dilapidated and too costly to renovate, experts say.

“Our success in reducing crime and reforming our criminal justice system has paved the path off Rikers Island and toward community-based facilities capable of meeting our criminal justice goals,” de Blasio said. “There is no doubt that the road to Rikers Islands’ closure will be long and arduous. It will require that local officials and stakeholders stand up and support facilities that meet our moral obligation to thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we will never turn our backs on. It will require that our state government, and each component of our criminal justice system, contribute to the reform efforts critical to reducing our jail population and improving re-entry services and educational programming. The length of this process will also require continued investment in the facilities and conditions on Rikers Island that remain key to rehabilitation efforts for thousands of New Yorkers in the years ahead.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer became the first citywide elected official to demand the closure of Rikers Island in November 2015, calling it an “urban shame” in a speech at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.

“For decades, society built bigger jails instead of bigger schools, as America tried to be ‘tough on crime’ instead of smart on crime. The result of our backward approach relegated communities of color -- often poor -- to an unrelenting cycle of crime and poverty. It’s affected a generation of Americans and New Yorkers,” Stringer said. “Rikers is an example of an antiquated approach. Today’s announcement is an important one, because we must be a society that gives people a second chances. To do that, Rikers must shut down. The mayor has done the right thing -- and we celebrate it.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Updated 3:34 pm, March 31, 2017
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Reader feedback

not the point idiot from queens says:
The problem with Rikers is that 80% of its population are awaiting trials. Don't close Rikers, just speed up trials so that the 80% are out or convicted. Not rocket science comrade DeBlasio.
March 31, 3:33 pm
Bob Friedrich from President of Queens, NYC says:
If I was the mayor, I will work with private developers to building more affordable housings and chase away single and double family home owners. I want NYC to be all buildings with poor people stuffed around and train them to vote. I don't want middle class in NYC. I am a poor class living in Queens just like 80% of of them living on hand-outs.
March 31, 3:40 pm
Chicklet from Bayside says:
This poor manot can't even pander properly. Just 2 years ago, when redesigning LaGuardia was in the planning stages, bozo said he'd never close the jail.

He missed the opportunity to truly improve air transportation for generations, using the island for terminals, moving the runways and giving Manhattan and the Bronx rail access.

Now, with Cuomo's idiotic plan well underway he changes his mind. This is just another statement his consultants told him to say; he couldn't find Rikers on a map! Bah!
March 31, 4:37 pm
Tom from bayside says:
What does the impotent mayor want---a "smart" prison? And if so the slob will take our tax dollars to do it just as he used our money to fund his corrupt campaigns. Not a wonder he and the equally corrupt cuomo can't stand each other. They're both cut from the same underhanded cloth.
April 1, 3:36 am

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