City officials might have a better grasp of what to do with the infamous Rikers Island jail this spring as a campaign to solicit public input about the facility completes its task.
In the past few years, Rikers Island, the correctional facilities compound that houses about 10,000 of the city’s inmates, has been the subject of a Department of Justice report that accused corrections officers of rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force against male teenagers and a lawsuit filed by 11 former inmates who cited horrific brutality, just to name a few problems. Decay and environmental hazards at Rikers Island, which opened in the 1930s, are also creating safety concerns.
Earlier this year, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform was formed to study the future of jails and what should happen to Rikers Island. It is also examining whether the inmate population can be reduced, as the majority of those in jail are awaiting trial. The commission consists of two dozen experts and advocates from a variety of backgrounds, from law enforcement to academia to former inmates.
As part of the public outreach component of its investigation, the commission has a form at morejustnyc.com/public-input to gauge opinion: Should Rikers Island be maintained as is, rebuilt, reduced in size, or closed? If it is no longer a jail, what should it be? What should the jails of tomorrow look like?
So far more than 100 people have weighed in. Their opinions are among the data that will be compiled during the next few months. The commission’s final recommendations will be determined in the spring.
"Right now we're not prepared to go into detail as to which way people are leaning or what they're saying,” said Anna Durrett, a spokesperson for the commission. “Public engagement is ongoing. We're continuing to solicit feedback. People are passionate about this.”
In addition to the online form, public events are planned in every borough. The next one, a roundtable to discuss how to make the city's criminal justice system more just and humane, is planned at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
“Central to creating a more just criminal justice system is understanding how it impacts everyday New Yorkers, Jonathan Lippman, a retired judge who is the chairman of the commission, said in a statement published on the commission’s website.
“That's why the Commission is assessing the problems at Riker's and throughout the NYC jail system from many angles and perspectives, including the impact of incarceration on defendants, their families, and our communities.”