Mayor Bill de Blasio officially began the process of shuttering Rikers Island on Thursday by issuing a request for proposal to develop an action plan to close the controversial jail complex and find alternate solutions.
“We have a moral obligation to close down Rikers Island and transition to a smaller, safer and fairer jail system,” the mayor said. “To make that a reality, we’ll be looking at where we can create more off-island space by expanding existing buildings or finding new sites and maintaining an honest dialogue with communities and elected officials.
“We’re moving aggressively on the long road to closing Rikers Island, and this is a crucial step forward,” he added.
According to the request, the selected consultant will be tasked with evaluating capacity and possible expansion of three existing Department of Correction prisons in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan as well as give location suggestions for new sites and develop a plan to phase out operations on Rikers, which opened in 1932 and consists of 10 jails.
De Blasio first announced his intent to close the jail within 10 years back in June and replace it with smaller, safer and more modern and humane institutions to halve New York City’s inmate populate to 5,000 from its current 9,200.
The consultant will work with the city’s goal to operate detention facilities that go beyond confinement by providing behavioral, health, developmental and re-entry support for inmates, as well as offer improved access for service providers, lawyers, visitation and transportation to court.
Proposals will be due in mid-December with the consultant chosen in early January, the mayor’s office said, adding that “there will be robust community consultation workshops and engagement with neighborhood residents.”
For #CloseRikers founder Glenn Martin, this inaugural step in shuttering Rikers Island is encouraging, “but one step in what could be a 10-year journey is not good enough,” he told the New York Daily News. “We cannot wait 10 years to close Rikers.”
Rikers has historically been plagued by violence and neglect against inmates. A recent study from city Comptroller Scott Stringer found that assaults at the complex increased to 1,332 this year from 470 in 2007, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Public calls to close the troubled complex increased after former inmate Kalief Browder committed suicide in 2015 after being incarcerated for three years without trial for allegedly stealing a backpack when he was 16. He was released after the robbery charges were dropped.