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State officials say Rikers Island should close sooner

The city has as 10-year timeline for closing Rikers Island, but a state report citing violence at the jail says it should shutter sooner.
The isolated Rikers Island jail is to be shut down by 2027. Getty

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to close Rikers Island within 10 years back in June, but a new report from state officials may speed up the shuttering of the city’s main jail.

The Commission of Correction released a report Wednesday on the “most problematic” correctional facilities in New York state and Rikers Island, the 413 acre jail complex that houses about 9,000 inmates, was one of the worst offenders.

The report notes that violent incidents at Rikers have risen between 2016 and 2017, even though city and state officials have given the island more attention.

These violent incidents include “assaults, sex offenses and facility disturbances,” according to the report, and a review of inmate deaths also found “numerous instances where a death was attributable to deficient medical care, substandard mental health services, or inadequate custody and supervision by security staff.”

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“Given the City’s inaction and protracted 10-year proposal,” the report continued, “it is now time for the Commission to examine steps to expeditiously close Rikers and to ensure that the constitutional rights of inmates and staff are protected.”

The report was delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislator on Wednesday. Alphonso David, chief counsel to Cuomo, said in a statement that state officials will demand a resolution to these conditions at Rikers, and criticized de Blasio’s current 10-year timeline as being “wholly unacceptable.”

“The governor, who has been fighting for meaningful criminal justice reform his entire career, has repeatedly said 10 years is too long because 'justice delayed is justice denied,’” his statement continued. “A fair, safe, and humane criminal justice system is essential for our state, and we will make it such."

The city is taking more steps to handle Rikers, with de Blasio announcement on Wednesday an agreement with City Council to create community-based facilities which will move forward the Rikers closing by serving as a replacement to the island’s jail system.

These community facilities will provide off-island space for 5,000 detainees, according to the city. Three existing Department of Correction spaces in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, as well as a new Bronx site in Mott Haven, will be part of the new system.

“This agreement marks a huge step forward on our path to closing Rikers Island,” de Blasio said in a statement. “In partnership with the City Council, we can now move ahead with creating a borough-based jail system that’s smaller, safer and fairer.”

The New York City Department of Correction also announced Wednesday that the de Blasio Administration has allocated $4.5 million for new security measures to address violence against correctional officers.

The measures will be completed by June 2018, the department said, and include adding more emergency response patrol units to serve the most high-violence facilities on Rikers,  to the tune of $3.6 million annually.

Other safety efforts include expanding the number of tasers for select staff and better coordinating gang information between NYPD and corrections facilities.

 
 
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