New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has planned to shutter the first jail at the infamous Rikers Island complex by the summer, officials said Tuesday. The closure of The George Motchan Detention Center, currently home to nearly 600 men, will be the first of Rikers’ nine jails to shut down, with its inmates moved elsewhere, the New York Daily News reported. Closing the facility is part of a decade-long plan to close the complex, notoriously known as a cesspool for corruption and rampant violence.
A significant decrease in the city’s prisoner population has allowed for the Rikers jail to shut its doors, officials noted. “There’s a seismic change underway in New York City,” Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said Tuesday. “It’s not just crime is going down. We have the lowest incarceration rate of any big city.”
December was noted as the first month in three decades that the average daily jail population was below 9,000 — a statistic that perhaps sheds light on efforts to curb mass incarceration. There were 8,705 prisoners in city jails, with 6,793 of them on Rikers as of Monday. New York City reached an incarceration rate of 167 per 100,000 people in 2016, praised as “the lowest of any major city in the country,” officials in the city’s office of criminal justice explained.
Though the incarceration rate has decreased, the 10-year plan to close Rikers is problematic for many activists. Criminal justice reform advocates and former Rikers inmates have said the city can’t wait 10 years before fixing the horrifying problems at the jail complex, which was opened in 1971. Colin Kaepernick, who visited Rikers inmates in December, and Kalief Browder, a young man who committed suicide after being housed at Rikers, have brought attention to the violence and abuse there. However, de Blasio said the complex can’t close completely until the citywide jail population dips below 5,000, AM New York reported.
Also, The George Motchan Detention Center, selected to close due to “structural issues” that include broken cell doors and sewage problems, will only close its doors, not be demolished or torn down. That decision has raised suspicions that the jail could later reopen if its population spikes, a pattern that has played out in New York City over the years, jail insiders said.
Closing Rikers would also require that new, smaller jails be opened in other New York City boroughs. Officials were looking for a consultant to help with that process, according to the Daily News.