By Julia Lucivero
At a press conference held on Friday afternoon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he endorses a plan to shut down Rikers Island within the next 10 years. The mayor came to the decision after meeting with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Judge Jonathan Lippman, the head of an independent commission that was appointed by the New York City Council to study Rikers. Findings from an in-depth report produced by the commission are slated to be announced on Sunday by Speaker Mark-Viverito and Judge Lippman.
According to the New York Times, the report outlines a step-by-step plan to confront mass incarceration in New York City, it’s top recommendation being to close the notoriously troubled Rikers Island, known for brutal violence and even resulting in a federal court settlement.
As an early phase of the plan, the report recommends first reducing Rikers’ population to 5,000 through various criminal justice reforms. Those remaining at Rikers would eventually be transferred to safer and more modern facilities—located in each of the five boroughs—with better working conditions and more services available. These new locations would allow for families to visit more easily, speed up the criminal justice process with quicker travel time to court appearances and save New York money in the long run.
As a member of the Campaign to Close Rikers, the Innocence Project is deeply grateful to the commission for making these recommendations and values that Mayor de Blasio has recognized the critical human rights offenses and overall negative effect that Rikers has had on the people of New York City, disproportionately people of color.
The Innocence Project hopes that this process will serve as an opportunity to identify the thousands of individuals unnecessarily held at Rikers who are presumed innocent, including some awaiting trial for years. With a dramatic decrease of pretrial detention in New York City, we hope to see fewer people pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit just to avoid time in jail. There is much work to do between this commitment by the city and full implementation. This is an important first step.