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 facilitiescompound that houses about 10,000 of the city’s inmates, has been thesubject of a Department of Justice report that accused correctionsofficers of rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force against maleteenagers and a lawsuit filed by 11 former inmates who cited horrificbrutality, just to name a few problems. Decay and environmental hazardsat Rikers Island, which opened in the 1930s, are also creating safetyconcerns.
Earlier this year, the Independent Commission on New York City CriminalJustice and Incarceration Reform was formed to study the future of jailsand what should happen to Rikers Island. It is also examining whetherthe inmate population can be reduced, as the majority of those in jailare 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, thecommission has a form at morejustnyc.com/public-input to gauge opinion:Should Rikers Island be maintained as is, rebuilt, reduced in size, orclosed? If it is no longer a jail, what should it be? What should thejails of tomorrow look like?
So far more than 100 people have weighed in. Their opinions are amongthe data that will be compiled during the next few months. Thecommission’s final recommendationswill be determined in the spring.
"Right now we're not prepared to go into detail as to which way peopleare leaning or what they're saying,” said Anna Durrett, a spokespersonfor the commission. “Public engagement is ongoing. We're continuing tosolicit 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'scriminal 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.”