March 31, 2017
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm here with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to make what is really a historic announcement. New York City will close the Rikers Island jail facility. It will take many years, it will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen.
Speaker Mark-Viverito and I have reached an agreement on how to proceed, and we look forward to working together in the years to come to make this a reality. I want to make clear, this is the first time in 85 years since Rikers Island opened in 1932 that the official policy of the City of New York will be to end our efforts on Rikers Island and close the jails there. So, it is a historic occasion that for the first time in 85 years, we have an agreement to move off Rikers Island.
Now, I emphasize, this will not happen overnight. This is going to take a lot of work. There is not quick fix here and anyone who says there is a quick fix isn't being honest.
My colleagues standing with me from my administration – Commissioner Joe Ponte from Correction and the Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice Elizabeth Glazer. Both of them have been and will be deeply involved in the efforts going forward. They can certainly attest to how much will have to be done to achieve this goal. But we are devoted to making this change.
Rikers Island is an example and an expression of a major national problem. The mass incarceration crisis did not being in New York City, but it will end here. We are going to end the era of mass incarceration by making this important change. It's very important – before I turn to the Speaker – to acknowledge upfront the crucial role she has played. And everyone knows that Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and I have had a very close working relationship for over three years. We are partners in this work – that doesn't mean we always agree, but it does mean we are in constant dialog and we're working to find solutions together.
The Speaker did something extraordinarily important here by looking constantly for a new solution and pushing hard for a path that would get us to this day. And I will be clear, there were many times I could not see that path – and many attempts we made to find a path off of Rikers Island that we did not find effective – but the Speaker kept not only pushing, but offering more and more ideas and more alternatives to help us get there. Her work has been crucial in bringing us to this day.
I want to thank you, Speaker, for having brought this issue more fully to the attention of the people of this city and having worked so constructively with us to find a solution. I also want to thank Judge Jonathan Lippman, who I've had the honor of working with on many issues over many years, for the great work that he has done and the many conversations that he's had with me and my team that have also been very, very helpful in this process.
Now, let's be clear what this is going to take. This begins with lowering the jail population overall. I reminded people as recently as a couple of days ago when we made another announcement on Corrections – we haven to only Rikers, we have other elements to our jail system. We have to reduce our jail population overall, and that begins and ends with reducing crime.
So, this is how the pieces fit together. Job-one is to reduce crime. Reducing crime means reducing jail population. Any talk of getting off Rikers is meaningless if we don't keep reducing crime. We came to the conclusion in recent weeks as we looked more and more at the trajectories and as we looked at the extraordinary work the NYPD had done that this goal was more attainable than ever before. I want to remind you, since I took office, because of the extraordinaryy work of the NYPD and our community partners, overall crime in this city is down nine percent. So, in just three years, overall crime is down nine percent. If we can continue on that trajectory, it will allow us to get off of Rikers Island. So, job-one is to continue the work of reducing crime.
The neighborhood policing model is absolutely essential to this, and then there's other pieces of the equation that my colleagues have worked on and the Speaker has been a champion of, such as alternative sentencing and bail reform. These have been crucial pillars of reducing jail population the right way while still protecting public safety. And all of this has had an extraordinary impact on the number of people in the jail system. On Rikers Island alone, the population is down 23 percent over the last three years. So, again, a reduction in crime, alternative sentencing bail reform – a number of measures have come together to reduce the Rikers population already by 23 percent in just three-years time. That's another reason we have confidence that this can be done.
We're proud to already have the lowest incarceration rate of any major city in the United States. In our jails, 161 for every 100,000 New Yorkers compared to just 100 miles away in Philadelphia – and I say this with sorrow and with great respect for Philadelphia – but in Philadelphia, 810 people incarcerated per 100,000 residents. So, our city has already shown we can reduce mass incarceration. Now, we're going to have to go a lot farther.
Today, we've got about 9,500 people in custody in our entire jail system. That number must get down to 5,000 people to allow us to get off of Rikers Island. That's the goal in this whole process – to get our jail population – overall – all of our jails combined – down to 5,000 people. We believe that can be achieved in the next 10 years. That is the goal that the Speaker and I have agreed to – a 10-year timeline. Again, it will take a lot of work and a lot of things have to go right in that 10-year timeline to reduce the overall jail population to 5,000 – and that allows us to get to a point of complete departure of all inmates from Rikers Island.
Now, it's a very important thing that the Speaker and I see eye-to-eye on how we're going to get this process underway, and there'll be a lot of work ahead with the City Council, but our other partners have to be a part of this as well. The State of New York – we're going to see both the will and the resources because the State of New York plays a crucial role, of course, through our court system and our Office of Court Administration. We need our courts to work to be evermore efficient to reduce processing time, to move people in and out of jail more effectively – because one of the problems on Rikers is how long people stay. We want to reduce those times constantly. We also need cooperation from our prosecutors, who have been our close partners in the work reducing crime – they also are important to this equation to continue moving along the judicial process as efficiently as possible.
We talked a couple of days ago – and another crucial piece of the puzzle will be reducing recidivism. So, if you think about – all of these pieces are about bringing down that population constantly. Reducing recidivism is a big piece of the puzzle. And we talked earlier in the week about the five hours of programming a day that we'll be proving to every inmate. Education and training, the re-entry planning – every inmate will get it from literally the day they arrive on Rikers [inaudible] ready to get off and stay off of Rikers, and all of our jails. And the Jails to Jobs initiative, guaranteeing that anyone who is sentences and serves time in our jail system will leave to a transitional job that will help to get them back on their feet, into long-term employment and away from ay trouble with law enforcement and any further encounter with incarceration. All of these pieces need to work, and we plan on continuing full bore on all of them to achieve our overall goal.
Now, this is not easy. Before I turn to the Speaker, I want to make this point – this will not be easy. We're talking about a decade – a decade is a long time. There will be a lot tough choices, there will be a lot of challenges. Some have said to me, can't you close Rikers right this minute? It would be both impossible and irresponsible to pander to those kind of demands. I want to be very clear, I'm not in the name of political expedience going to tell some people what they want to hear. Closing Rikers – it will happen, but it'll be a difficult path and it will take us a decade.
This problem was created over many decades and it will take time to solve, but we fundamentally believe it can be solved. And, for New York City, this is both about continuing the work of ensuring that more and more people in this city can live their lives the right way and stay out with any encounter with law enforcement, stay out of jail have a better life, but it's also New York's way of contributing to the larger national effort to end the scourge of mass incarceration once and for all.
Just a few words in Spanish –
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that – and with my profound appreciation for the leadership she has shown and her persistence, her focus, her creativity in helping us get to this day – it's my pleasure to introduce the Speaker of the City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Mayor: We are now ready for your questions. Yes?
Question: [Inaudible] share specifically what the Speaker, or Judge Lippman, or any of the other research into bringing around this moment?
Mayor: Yes, absolutely. So let me say from the beginning – the Speaker raised this issue with me – and I have to say – dozens of times over the last few years. And again, in a collegial manner. We – for a long time, I've said publicly – you've heard me say – I think it was a noble idea from the beginning. But I didn't see how it was attainable under the conditions we were facing. We had to do a lot of work to figure out a path that actually could achieve this goal. And my feeling in the beginning was – if I didn't believe it could be done, I wasn't going to say it could be done. I had to honestly go through all the paces to say – what would it look like, how long would it take?
I think in the beginning – again, I understood the feeling a lot of people had, they want the immediate results, they wanted instant gratification. I don't blame anyone who felt that. But one of the things that I ended up – as a result of the conversations with the Speaker – went back with Tony Shorris, with Dean Fuleihan, with Commissioner Ponte, and Director Glazer, kept going back to the discussion of – what would it take, how long would it take?
And what became clear was we had to adjust the timeline if we were going to be honest about it – that a decade was the minimum in which it could be done. That was a breakthrough – to stop asking ourselves to sort of put the round peg in the square hole or the other way around – that to try and figure out, to ask ourselves previously to do something that could not be done in a realistic timeline, versus saying well wait a minute, go the other way – what would be a realistic timeline?
And that got us to the feeling that 10 years was the minimum in which it could be achieved. The second piece of the equation was when we started the discussion – really was not even last year, but earlier through our decisions on our capital budget. In every year of this administration, we've asked ourselves internally the question of where are we going on Rikers?
And we not yet, in the beginning, confident enough that the most important piece of the equation would happen in enough of a manner to make this change – that was the reduction of crime. When we started out, we were very hopeful there would be not only reduction, but sustained reduction. But we had to prove it to ourselves. We can say, after three years and a nine percent reduction in overall crime – obviously the 2,000 more officers thanks to our collaboration with the Council as well. We believe we are on a long-term trajectory. And you've heard Commissioner Bratton say it when he was in, and now you've heard Commissioner O'Neill say they both are predicting substantial drops in crime going forward. That was the door opener that wasn't so evident a year or two ago. And so, as we puzzled at it over and over again – and again, conversations with Speaker, conversations with Judge Lippman – we said wait, this is the combination of factors that could actually make this work. And that's what got us there.
In conversations with the Speaker in the last few days, we increasingly found that we were agreeing on the broad outlines and we thought it was time and go ahead and make the announcement – that we had an agreement on how this would work.
Question: Last year, we reported that a new prison was being built on Rikers Island. Does this new plan – will you be going forward with the new prison on Rikers or will that be shelved?
Mayor: Let me open up that point, and then I want to to say – I'm going to keep offering my thoughts and the Speaker will jump in anytime she wants obviously.
Another piece of the equation because it follows on the previous question – the other piece of the equation is we had to decide – what would it look like if we didn't have Rikers? So you had to get down to 5,000 inmates. At 5,000 inmates, you would still need additional capacity if you left Rikers entirely. We are working under the assumption, we will need at least a few new facilities somewhere in New York City. We do not have any assumption at this point as to how many or where they will be. The Commission is going to offer its own views. I want to say in advance that's the Commission's work and we respect it, but I'm reserving my rights and I'm giving you my definition, which is that we will need at least a few new facilities, but we do not have any specific assumption about how many, where, etcetera. That process, by definition, would require work with the City Council. Any new facility would have to through ULURP and vote of the City Council. So I'm not ruling in or ruling out anything. The next piece of the work will be to get with the City Council to determine how and when we can find the right locations, over time – by the way, this is stuff we need 10 years from now – to appropriately handle a population of 5,000. So the answer to your question is – I'm not ruling in or ruling out anything. We're going to start a process with the City Council to follow up.
Yes, I'm going to you guys. Don't worry.
Question: Mr. Mayor –
Mayor: It's going to be a long press conference.
Question: If you're moving toward – you talk about moving towards the 5,000 population. Are there any specific benchmarks that you can commit to going forward if you need to conserve [inaudible] –
Mayor: Yes. 7,000 is the crucial gateway. Having a population of an entire jail system of 7,000. We need to hit that in five years for the rest of this to work. So around 9,500 a day. Again, when you look at the reduction in crime, the success on bail reform, the success on alternatives to incarceration, the great work the Council has done on summons reform –
Mayor: Warrants. All the things that have been worked on. We believe that number now lines up. That's when – when you get to 7,000, you really have to at that point lock down any additional facilities. That's when they all have to start to be in motion to be ready to receive folks when you hit the 5,000 mark.
Question: Does that mean that the citing process for looking at where you would locate these erroneous facilities begins now?
Mayor: I want to just caution your choice of words – perfectly innocent, I know. My choice of words is very distinct. I can't speak for the Speaker or the Commission. I have not seen the Commission report by the way. I have only the broadest hints about it. I have not gotten a summary. I have not seen it. No one on my team has seen it. It's going to be released on Sunday.
I – some out there have said words like borough-based. I'm not buying into that. I am working from a neutral position of saying I only this – we will need a few more facilities. I would argue the fewer, the better. And we're going to make that determination. But the only way those facilities end up happening is through the City Council. So, it's kind of a chicken and egg dynamic. We're going to work out with the City Council what they believe is right, and we're going to move ahead with that process. So I just want to be very clear, there is no assumption on the number, or the location, or how many.
What was the other piece of your question? I'm sorry.
Question: So does that mean [inaudible] given to the Council now?
Mayor: You want to speak to that?
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito: We – you know, Sunday, the report will be issued. I have not had a chance to read all of the – to read the report. So on Sunday, I can speak directly to that.
But obviously, as the Mayor has alluded to, this is a process that would have to have the City Council weigh in. Obviously, it is a long-term plan. I will not be the Speaker at the time that these serious decisions would have to be made. But yes, the conversation could begin. We obviously want to engage in a conversation with our colleagues once the report is issued and start getting feedback from members with regards to that. So I respect greatly all the Commission members, the leadership of Judge Lippman. They have spent a lot of time, brought in stakeholders, they've had community conversations. This is a truly – a community plan with community input. So I definitely look forward to being able to express myself more directly as to the recommendations on Sunday. When the report is released, I'll be there at that press conference.
Question: Mr. Mayor, why not wait until the Commission releases [inaudible]?
Mayor: Because – let's be clear, I want to say this with real respect for the Commission. A lot of great people on the Commission – Judge Lippman – again, I have tremendous respect for. But the Commission is a voluntary group looking at the issue. We're the deciders. We have to see this through. The Speaker and I came to the point of realizing we had an agreement on the key elements. It was time to say that – there's been lot of concern, a lot of speculation. It was time because we got to agreement. Bluntly, you could all say – this is very big and important news – why are we doing it on a Friday afternoon? Because that's when we got to an agreement. And I also think you would agree – once you've come to an agreement, letting it sit around is not a good thing in the modern media age. So we knew what we believed. It was time to say it.
The Commission will come to – will offer its conclusions. We're certainly going to look at it. We're not obliged to follow them by any stretch of the imagination. But we're going to look at them as very serious and thoughtful suggestions and advice. And we'll certainly take that into account.
But the decisions going forward have to be made by the Mayor and the City Council – whoever those people are. That's the way this stuff actually has to work because every single – if you're going to cite a facility, that's going to go through ULURP, that's going to be a vote of the City Council.
Question: Your predecessor at best will be in the second term for he or she – if she [inaudible]. How will you make sure this actually happens? What's the guarantee of it moving forward?
Mayor: Look, that's always a question with anything that requires a follow-through by your successors. I think it's fair to say that this is day New Yorkers have been waiting for. I think it's fair to say that a lot of people in this city have hoped the day could come when we could close Rikers. We had to believe it was real. It would have been irresponsible for me to say we have plan if we didn't think we had a plan. We now have a real plan. I think that's going to create a certain amount of momentum. I think it would be tough for a successor in either of our roles to turn against this vision unless they had damn could reason. So, there's no guarantee. If you say that we have a guarantee – no. It will require decisions of our successors to finish.
But, I can tell you this much – we're going to drive the numbers now. If the people choose me, and I'm back here, we're going to drive the numbers down. I said we have five years to get to that 7,000 number. If I am so lucky to be here, I'd like to be in office when we get to that office and move the remainder of the trajectory into place. So, not guarantees, but a lot of momentum that I think is being started here today.
Mayor: We're coming around.
Question: So Ms. Speaker, if within five years, the prisons or the jail population does not go below 7,000, there will be no closure of Rikers?
Mayor: No, it will take longer. The vision is to close Rikers – have no inmates on Rikers anymore. First, you've got to get to seven. Then at the point you get to seven, you have to be moving the alternative facilities – if not sooner, but certainly by then. When you get to five, you're out.
We believe 10 years is the soonest in which it can be done. We believe 10 years is the optimal model. If it's 11 years, then you move when it's 11 years. But you have to get to 5,000. This is part of what we didn't have – to the previous questions about how did we get here? We didn't have the jumpoff point previously. We really struggled at this. And again, I want to give Tony, and Dean, and Joe, and Liz a lot of credit because they went over this what feels like hundreds of times trying to get the formula right. 5,000 was the jumpoff point. For a long time, 5,000 was one of those numbers that no one – like if you said to people, could you get to 5,000 inmates? No one actually believed we could. We came to the conclusion we could. Tough road, but a doable road. So it's the moment that happens. I'd like that to be 10 years, but if it's 11 years, I'll do it in 11 years.
Question: Can you explain why 5,000 [inaudible]?
Mayor: Because it allows you with the existing facilities that are not Rikers in addition to, as I say, a few new facilities to accommodate your full population. It's a manageable enough number.
Question: Mayor de Blasio, it was reported in DNA Info that this was a plan the City was looking at, looking to house inmates in various jails around the city. Your office vehemently denied it and even went so far as to tell a resident who asked about it at a town hall that he shouldn't believe the report – that's not going to happen. Can you explain what changed? And going to the question of the alternative sites around the boroughs, when you will address the communities because a lot of residents feel it's not being discussed about –
Mayor: Again, I think you just answered your first question. A year ago, we did not believe it could be done. It's as simple as that. It would have been again, very politically convenient a year ago to say – yep, let's do this, it's going to be great. We didn't believe it could be done. We had to really work to find a formula we could believe in. It took a lot of work. And also, we had an objective input we didn't have before – the level of crime kept going down. There was no guarantee that was going to happen when we started out. It's now happened three years in a row when we have confidence it's going to keep happening. And the other pieces, the alternative sentencing, and the bail reform – all those pieces started to click in and they were working. We gained confidence in that process that we didn't have a year ago. SO I think the answer a year ago was 100 percent accurate, as today's is.
To your second point, I want to be clear – 10 years from now. So there is going to be a long process to determine how many facilities we need, where they will be. I have – and there is no stipulation here. If anyone says – is there a guarantee there will be a facility in a certain borough, a certain neighborhood – no. I want – my view – it may not be the same as the Speaker's, or the Council's, or the Commission – my view is the fewer, the better. But they are not going to be in place for years and they all have to go through a ULURP process and a vote of the full City Council. And this is the only way they could even happen.
So, I think community residents should feel comfortable that this is something that will be exceedingly carefully thought through, debated, very full, open public process. Nothing happens unless the City Council votes out in the open for it. And that alone is going to take a long time. So I'd say people should not have any preconceived notions.
Josh – I gave you two. Josh?
Question: Mayor, to those who are going to inevitably say that you're just kicking the can down the road to another administration, to another Council, and not making those hard decisions now, what would you say? And I also would wonder – would we be here to today if it weren't for the death of Kalief Browder?
Mayor: Look, I think the death of Kalief Browder was a wakeup call to this city. And I want to remind you, and I want to give Joe Ponte, and Liz Glazer, and all their colleagues a lot of credit. The number one reason we lost Kalief Browder was because he was held in solitary confinement. That was the thing that hurt him the most, and that does not exist for young people on Rikers Island any more. And I respect all the other commentary out there, and I respect all the other analysis. But I sure hope people put front and center – if you want to say Kalief Browder, then talk about the fact that these guys ended punitive segregation and solitary confinement for young people once and for all.
But unquestionably his death shook the whole city, and opened everyone's eyes, and make people think twice. I also have said very publicly many times – for all of us, we did not have any idea of how bad the situation was – not just Rikers, the entire jail system – until we walked in the door and really looked under the hood. And bluntly, I was appalled. And that's why we moved a whole series of reforms, which must continue. Melissa made the point – they have to continue. There are going to be people in our jail system, and there are going to people on Rikers for a period of time. We have to keep making the situation better for them. So, if anyone only in interested in building new facilities and doesn't care about the people who are in the jails now, I think that's hypocritical. We care about the people there now – both the inmates and officers now. Joe has worked tirelessly with his team to improve conditions, improve safety. We're going to keep doing that. Both have to happen simultaneously. We're going to keep investing in that because it has to happen.
The second question –
Question: You said that this is going to be exceedingly thought through – there is no guarantee what [inaudible] possible. I guess, just respectfully, it's going to be your successors who are going to be the ones who really are going to have to do this. Selling – no one wants a jail in their neighborhood. They don't want a homeless shelter either. That's your admission.
Mayor: I think I – that didn't stop me on the homeless shelters because we've obviously announced plans to create 90. There's a chicken and egg here that's different from the homeless situation because we've got to get the jail population down to be able to do this. We're at 9,500 now. You can't get off Rikers – say you stayed at 9,500 – you could not get off Rikers anytime soon even if you wanted to if you stayed at 9,500. So we've got to keep driving down the population for this plan to work. Again, we're going to engage the City Council and I'm going to own this plan whether I'm here for nine more months, or fours years and nine more months. So, it's not kicking the can down the road. We want to move it as quickly as we can.
Speaker Mark-Viverito: You know, true leadership is about making hard decisions. The reality of Rikers Island – I'll speak to you about a couple of things. These are individuals that have been accused, not convicted. They are waiting their day in trial, they are waiting their day in their court and see what the disposition is on their cases. That's another aspect of reforms that we need to fight for – speedy trials. Kalief Browder didn't have a hearing. That's an aspect of the work. We're implementing these reforms which we've implemented some changes, which we haven't seen the results of it yet, but will drive the population down further of the warrant clearances, obviously the issues of summons reform – that we were going to try them at civil. They were going to be civil summons, as opposed to criminal summons. All of those things combined are going to continue to help reduce.
But this constant conversation when it comes to community facilities about somehow – that the people that need access to these services are an other that we should shun is just to me, unacceptable. And you know, as a leader we have to make decisions that we are here to represent to everybody. And those that are in a situation where they are awaiting their court dates, and need support and services too. And right now, Rikers is an abomination because people are literally warehoused very far away from their sources of network. And that does not help anyone on a path of rehabilitation. So the idea of a community-based approach is laudable I think. And it will have to lead to tough conversations and tough decisions. But that is the responsibility of a leader.
So we're laying the groundwork now, understanding that yes, it will be future administrations that have to deal with this. But believe me – to me, this is a legacy project. I am committed to this wholeheart. I will be advocating this once I'm out of office. And I will be holding whoever is in office accountable – that they need to fulfill the vision that has been laid out by this Mayor now and myself with the Commission. I'm committed to it. So those conversations have to happen and understanding people always have this idea that oh, it's not going to be in my backyard. These are our neighbors. These are our family members. And we cannot forget that. So, it's always – that conversation always gets me very frustrated. But we have to rise above that. And I think we stand here united and are taking this position, we're rising above that rhetoric.
Question: Two questions. For both of you, are you guys contemplating or would you commit to opening new jails in the interim on Rikers Island? And then as a second point, given that the Chief Judge has spent a year with some bright lights in the criminal justice world, thinking about these issues, and come up with a pretty detailed plan. It has 97 pages. I've seen it. I'm surprised that you guys haven't seen it. Why not invite the Judge here? Have the respect for the work that he did? To at least read it before you come out here and talk about what you're doing?
Mayor: David, I always know you will ask the question about who was invited to the press conference. And respectfully, I find it to be the least interesting and least important about what we're doing here today.
Judge Lippman led a commission that will issue its findings on Sunday. I'm glad you have them. I don't have those findings. You must be very important. But the fact is he will offer the findings with the Commission that the Speaker put together. It was her commission, and I commend her. It's not my commission. The Judge, as I have said, is someone I respect greatly, and I've had a good dialogue with, as has my team. He will be the first to say they're going to offer, as I understand, a number of suggestions that we're going to reserve our rights on – each and every one. We will tell you after we review it and analyze it – we like this one, we don't like this one, we agree, disagree, need to think more, or whatever it is. So I think there's a separation here that's not a separation. The Commission has a job to do – particularly advising the City Council. We respect the Commission. That doesn't mean we're going to agree with each and every one of their recommendations. And this was not therefore appropriate in my view because we're talking about what we agree on and what we're committed to working for together. The Commission has a different role to play.
Question – okay. Yes?
Question: [Inaudible] whether you would foresee any new jails on Rikers Island?
Mayor: It's the same question I was asked earlier. We're not ruling in or ruling out anything for this simple reason. We now have to begin the work with the Council to determine where facilities can be cited, how many, etcetera. I have no preconceived notions. Literally none. The Council is the crucial piece of the equation. I'm not the person who has the power to say there's going to be one more jail, or two more jails, or whatever it is. That's for them to do through the ULURP process. So we'll start that dialogue and that's going to really determine the pace of things, and the quantity, etcetera.
Question: Speaker, you agree that there could be new jails on Rikers?
Speaker Mark-Viverito: Again, I do not know all the recommendations of the Commission. So on Sunday, I speak specifically to that, but obviously they've begun a thorough analysis, had conversations in the community, brought in people. I mean they have really looked at this in way that obviously we have never looked at it in this city. So I'm going to wait to respond directly to their recommendations, first. And if that's included in it, then I will speak directly at that time.
Mayor: We will get to everyone. Rosa?
Question: So two questions. One, so this press conference wasn't on the original morning schedule. It seems like it was put on –
Mayor: That is correct. Yes.
Question: – last minute. And for such a huge, historic announcement –
Question: To be a big part of your legacy as Mayor – usually you print up something with the words.
Mayor: Are you asking me a process question?
Question: Yes. I'm wondering why –
Mayor: I think you should have been more interested in the substance of this historic announcement. But you can ask your process question. Go ahead.
Question: Well why? As reporters, should we be reporting that this is a total coincidence with the Sunday –
Mayor: It's literally. I'm going to go over it again. You can write whatever you want. But I'm going to go over it again. It's been an ongoing conversation. In the last days, conversations have intensified. We increasingly believed there was path. We did not believe that a year ago. We did not even believe that a few months ago. We increasingly believed there was a path. We had to see if we agreed. If the Speaker has said, for example, I'm convinced we can be off of Rikers in one year, we would not have had an agreement. We had to agree on a path, a timeline, the basic parameters of what was going to happen. We got there. And then once we got there, it was time to say it. There was no reason to hold it. And those conversations continued through yesterday evening, which is why we're standing here today. It's as simple as that.
Question: Is there any kind of claim? So you said now there's a plan? Is there a plan on paper? Did people in your office work on a plan?
Mayor: There's been all sorts of back and forth that it's not a publishable plan because it really was about trying to figure out the different pieces. When I say we have a plan, we have the outline of what we're going to do. It's enough for me to call it a plan because we have timelines, we understand what's it's going to take, we believe it is real, we actually have the analysis to back it up. It's not in a formal report. At some point, we might be able to package as a formal report. But it really came down to – could we agree on what a path forward looked like, specifically, and that's what we got to.
Question: That's only my first question.
Mayor: No, no, no, I'll come back to you. Let me get people who haven't had a chance. Haven't had a chance?
Question: Chelsia Marcius from the Daily News. I know you talked about the report on Sunday. Can you give us a little bit of an idea of anything the report will address – the mentally ill population that makes up a lot of the inmates at Rikers because I know their need for these facilities are going to be different than perhaps other inmates.
Mayor: I'll give a pass to the Speaker because I haven't seen the report, and I certainly have not heard about a specific mention of that. I assume there will be. I will say – because I'm glad you raise it – I didn't say, and I should – that another piece of the equation is ThriveNYC. If we are able to address mental health needs earlier in people's lives and better, that is also going to reduce the population on Rikers. Everyone knows that tragic statistic – about 40 percent of folks on Rikers have a mental health condition. A lot of them could be reached before they even become involved in the criminal justice system at all. That's another way to reduce population.
Speaker? You good?
Speaker Mark-Viverito: No, nothing to say.
Question: Yes, Mr. Mayor. Many of the advocates, people who have worked on Rikers Island, people who have served time on Rikers Island [inaudible] have said that the jail is beyond repair and that it is in some ways, uniquely inhumane. The jail was named after a family of prominent New Yorkers [inaudible] had sent hundreds of blacks back to the South without due trial into slavery. Do you buy the argument that there is specifically symbolic about Rikers Island in general? I mean, we're talking about potentially setting up new jails, but what is it about Rikers Island itself? Is it culture, is it just a symbol – can you talk about that a little?
Mayor: I'll start. And Joe or Liz if you want to join in at any point, I welcome it. First of all, exactly. It's a facility that is an old facility to begin with and in so many ways, outmoded. That doesn't mean that every day Commissioner Ponte and the people who work there don't try and make it work. And they've done a lot to improve it – let's be clear, compared to just three years ago. But I think it's a great question to say how much of this is substance? How much of this is symbolism? I think where the pieces come together is we've got to reduce our jail population. The mass incarceration question is much – respectful, the history, I don't know the history of the name. You do, I don't. That's not in my mind, obviously.
To me, first and foremost is the question of reducing mass incarceration. Once we believed we could actually reduce our jail population to 5,000 – that's an astounding number. When you think about 20 years ago, we were over 20,000 in our jail system. To actually believe we could get to five is a whole different world in New York City could ever have conceived in [inaudible] decades. We actually believe that now. And I could not have believed that my first day on the job. I couldn't have even have believed that a year ago. I had to see more and more evidence that we could reach it. So the real question to me is – if you're going to address mass incarceration, then you're getting the fewest people in jail. If you have the fewest people in jail, then you don't need a mass facility anymore of the nature of Rikers. And you can reduce the number of facilities you have.
And then I think the symbolism does matter – get out of something that unfortunately has been historically dysfunctional. Get out of something that was built for a mass level. Why would you use something that was built for a mass level if you're trying to constantly compress? I think a lot of factors came into play.
I also want to note – we fully intend to reutilize Rikers Island for non – for purposes other than jailing people. We fully intend that Rikers Island would be become a part – important part of either different kinds of government facilities or private sector enterprises – whatever it may be, there's going to be a new life for Rikers Island when it is no longer a jail facility. And that's part of the equation, but I would answer your question to say we have come to the conclusion that we can end the era of mass incarceration in New York City, and that's what this is really about. If we couldn't do that, then we'd be having a different discussion.
Question: [inaudible] see it as a symbol of mass incarceration –
Mayor: Yes, of course. Yes, but again would that – are we doing it just for symbolism? No. if we couldn't reduce the population, we wouldn't be having this same conversation.
Question: Mr. Mayor, anybody can answer this, what is the current capacity, when you take out the roof of Rikers [inaudible], what is the current capacity of the prison system? I think the question after the Commissioner answers, come back to you would've been a part of the smaller victory to be able to say we're going to reduce incarceration but we're going to wait until we get to that number and not have to build new prisons or was that something [inaudible].
Mayor: You want to speak to the first?
Commissioner Joseph Ponte, Department of Correction: Current capacity – current capacity of what?
Speaker Mark-Viverito: The prison system, the jail system.
Question: If you remove Rikers from your equation, what is the current capacity –
Mayor: Of the rest of the jails?
Commissioner Ponte: For the rest? Got it.
Just over 2,000 – 2,400, thereabouts, in the boroughs.
Mayor: Well in three facilities.
Commissioner Ponte: Right.
Mayor: In three facilities.
Let's go to the people who have not had a chance.
Question: Would it have been more of a symbolic victory [inaudible]given your goal of reducing crime in the city, to try to get closer to that number so you would not have to build new prisons in the new neighborhoods.
Mayor: Let me – let me make sure I understand the question. What – when you – play that out. What you say – would have been a bigger victory to do what?
Question: What I'm saying is – [inaudible] based on the hopes of being able to continue your crime reduction results, would it – was it something that was considered that you can actually wait instead of doing it at 5,000 wait until it got lower and not require new prisons to be built in order to –
Mayor: No. I'm going to be honest with you, that's a really easy answer. No. Look, we're talking about a decade, and it's a very aggressive goal to do this in a decade – could take longer. But, no I think that that you'd be talking about a lot longer. We're still talking about city of eight and half million people and an amazingly low level of crime already. You're talking about an astoundingly low level of crime to be in a situation where you could just have, you know, 2,400 people in jail. That's a really real stretch goal. So I think we felt – the starts aligned, and this is a little bit the nature to the original question sort of how do people come to an agreement. The stars aligned on the notion that we couldn't buy into something that we thought was faster than was honest. The council and the Speaker obviously wanted to see a definitive zero people on Rikers ultimately. You know, I shared that goal, but needed to believe I could get there. We went back at it, back at it, back at it and came to a decision this was actually the realistic way to do it. But the assumption all along was, you know, 5,000 is a real tough goal. I don't think we have a projection of getting below 5,000, I'm not sure we believe that is possible yet.
Question: Mr. Mayor, just generally speaking because we honestly don't where these facilities will be cited, but what would you say to the New Yorkers who have concerns about living near a new jail facility? And also on your other point about how the continued reduction of crime and in the Rikers' population helped you come to this point –
Question: Given that that has been a been a trend that has been going on for more than a decade, why wouldn't – just one additional year of a trend moving in exactly the same direction, why would that make such a big difference for –
Mayor: The amount is – that's a simple, simple answer. The sheer amount. Nine percent reduction over three years puts you on a mathematical basis to actually get to 5,000. If that had leveled off and you know, you've watched history, there are years when things trend back up for a while and then trend back down. This had been so steady and it's been a very serious conversation with the folks on our team who are the real experts on law enforcement and incarceration. That we had to believe we were in striking range of an unknown, you know, never before seen level of low crime. That's what we're banking on here. I honestly did not feel that a year ago we could say something quite that ambitious, I felt good but you know, and you're going to all see us on the next week to hear about the month of March and we're very – we still have a few hours left in March – but we're very pleased by what we seen, even the most up to date information from the last month continuing to tell us that these things are going even better than we hoped, because of the neighborhood policing, because of the 2,000 more officers et cetera, so we had to have that confidence. You all will do your due diligence, 5,000 people jail is astoundingly low for a city this size. We had to actually believe that could be done, and we came to that conclusion.
Who has not had one? Did you have one?
Mayor: I'm sorry.
Question: [inaudible] tell the people who –
Mayor: I would tell people to recognize this is – no specific decision has been made here. There's going to be a very long and public and transparent process – anyone who's spent any time around ULURP knows it goes on for a year or more with endless hearings and requires multiple votes by multiple boards, and the ultimately a vote of the city council in the cool light of day. So, you know – so I think if anyone is concerned first of all they should know there is no specific plan in place for any specific neighborhood or any specific size facility. And that if anything even started to be considered it will trigger a very open, public process. The result of which are not a forgone conclusion.
Question: [inaudible] about transparency, what about the actual facilities –
Mayor: I think it's just – I think people – the problem with that question – fair question but the problem is that people then start jumping ahead and jumping ahead. You're talking about years before any of this actually takes shape.
Speaker Mark-Viverito: Those of us that are in this battle have a responsibly to challenge every individual in this city to look at the incarcerated people with humanity. This is just, you know, bottom line do we believe, and what we're doing here is a whole philosophy shift and this is important, this is why it's so significant. You know after decades of having a system that what it wants to do is strip away the dignity of individuals that have had some level of interaction with the criminal justice system; we're trying to bring some humanity back, right. People want to succeed and we have to invest in people and their ability to reintegrate successfully. That is that way we – that we are going to succeed in what we're doing. And so this is about, you know, one of the things I want to commend the mayor – the prior administration did everything possible to strip the dignity away from those people that were living in Rikers Island. It was almost absolutely no programming in place for people that were at Rikers, no job training, no GED, nothing to try to help people to gain skills and abilities to be able to reintegrate successfully.
The Mayor has changed that. We're doing video visitation. We're trying to keep people confectioned to their networks, to their families, to their neighbors, to their friends. We're trying to facilitate them being able to get trainings so that they have skills they bring back to their communities and that they can get a job. You know, we're trying to – so this is a whole philosophy shift about how do we see incarcerated people, right. With humanity? Or believing that we absolutely – a flaw and we forget about them. That's not the – so we have to challenge ourselves as a city and as communities that we have a role to play in the successful reintegration of people into our communities. And giving a people – and allowing people a second chance. Again, people that are at Rikers are there because they are awaiting their trial date, they have not been convicted of a crime. Are we going to give people a second chance or are we going to write them off? That's the role that we have as leaders and the struggle is that we're going to have to go into neighborhoods and communities and challenge each other that we're – same conversations that we've had to have on the homeless front – shelter front. What I've seen some communities do to families in need is really deplorable and again, these are our neighbors and our friends who have found themselves on hard times, right. Because the cost of living in this city is so high, so you know, we have to bring some humanity back into the conversation and that's going to be one of the challenges and one of the roles that we in this battle, in this struggle are going to have to – and I'm going to be part of that because in nine months front now I won't be in public office. So I'll be one of those challenging communities to think about this in a different way.
Mayor: Okay who has not gone yet?
Question: Follow up to an earlier question [inaudible] so is the – is there an underlying assumption to this plan that crime in the city will just always continue to go down, some leveling off point at some point but that this trend is just simply going to continue?
Mayor: I've think I've said that pretty clearly. If you like I'll say it clearly again. Yes, of course. That's the number one element of what makes this possible is we have to believe that the reduction in crime will get us to a point of only 5,000 inmates. The number one driver is still crime, right? If people don't commit crimes, they're not arrested, and they don't go to jail. So, you keep driving down crime, there's just many fewer people to have to treat through the jail system. The other things matter – the bail reform, the alternative sentencing, the mental health work, all of these pieces but yes, we had to feel that we could consistently drive down crime at the similar levels to what we're doing now.
Question: I apologize for asking, [inaudible] I guess after this is implemented that – are you going to build into this plan any, any sort of wiggle room for, you know there could be years trends of upward –
Mayor: So this is the – if there is any genius here it is this point, we didn't – I'm telling you, we stared at this thing for a long time and didn't see that it came down to some very simple numbers. And sometimes - and I've been a part of these kind of things before you puzzle over something, and argue over something and then suddenly the solution is staring you in the face. We recognized that there was an end point. Five thousand was an actual living, breathing end point where you could legitimately close Rikers once and for all. For a period I think we just couldn't find a way to get to it.
Then, increasingly we saw ways that would actually– all of these reforms that the Speaker referenced and that the council played such an important role bringing in, like they all passed, they all started to move. The things we put in place started to work, even what we talked about the other day, we know we'll reduced recidivism. All of this stuff started to work and synergize in a way we did not anticipate previously but most importantly we have real confidence – now that we've seen neighborhood policing for a year plus now that we've seen the impact over just even these last few months of 2,000 more cops and what that means, that only started in January that we got up to full strength. We believe this will be steady decrease. Now, you're right what if – what if for some reason things go up for a while? That delays the action. So that's why I said to the earlier question, the goal is a ten year plan. It could be an 11 year plan but we want it to be a ten year plan and we're going to push to make it a ten year plan. But if organically crime went up for a period of time and therefor pushed more people into the jail system that would affect our timeline.
Question: Just quickly for the Speaker, at this point do you have any members who you've – who have ready to say we're going to go to battle and we're going to say we're open to facilities in our districts?
Speaker Mark-Viverito: When we've – when we've convened it was very clear what the goal of the commission was, you know, and the concept as I had stated in my State of the City about shrinking the population to a point where we could close Rikers. The goal of the commission was clear, so at this point there is support from my members of what it is the commission is studying and what they're looking to do. And obviously I have not had conversations with every single member; I believe we'll have some members standing with us on Sunday. But obviously – now the process is to engage in a deeper conversation with embers once we can look at and really study the solid recommendations and the rational for those recommendations. Again these decisions aren't being made in a vacuum right, so there's been a lot of thought process and communities have been brought into the conversation so that's the steps that I'm going to be doing. I'm going to be very aggressive in engaging members in this conversation. Again, it's a ten year plan, but we can start laying the foundation now to facilitate this being able to move forward so that it is harder for anybody to try to think about going backwards. This is very significant and it cannot be overstated at all. I mean, this is very significant not only for New York City but for the country. And I'm really proud that we have the support from the mayor in the overall vision of what we're trying to achieve here, and the reason that this makes us a better city in implementing it this way.
Mayor: Up on this side, who has not gone? We're doing first-timers first. First-timer? First-timer?
Question: There's no clear justification on what you've said so far for the timeline that you've laid out. And what I mean by that is – I don't see you couldn't also say we're going to work in parallel here as we bring down the total jail population, we're going to start building the new facilities that will over time bring people off of Rikers Island. So, you could say [inaudible] I'm going to open a new jail every year for the next five years and being that process now. And one thing [inaudible] –
Mayor: I disagree with your statement. So, part of why you don't hear it is I fundamentally don't agree with what you just said. So, you can editorialize in your question, but I'm going to tell you that's not what I'm saying. I want the fewest possible new facilities. I've said it [inaudible] times in this press conference – I want the fewest possible new facilities and I want to make sure we are living by these goals – that's why it sets up the way it sets up.
Question: [Inaudible] because the appearance here is that you want the political benefit of saying you're going to close Rikers but not the political problems –
Mayor: That's your interpretation, that's not what I feel. I feel that we have honestly told the people of New York City that this what it's going to take to get this done. Now, political benefit would be saying, I'm closing Rikers next year, and the Mexicans will pay for it, you know? I mean, again, maybe you think you know pandering – I know what real pandering looks like. I could have gotten up here and said, guess what, everyone, we're closing Rikers next year and it won't affect you at all. No – I'm being honest with people. It's going to take 10 years. There's a lot of people that are not going to like that it takes 10 years. I guarantee there will be plenty of critics that say that's too long, but it's the truth. There will be critics who say, to the previous question, what if, you know, the 10 years turns into 11 years – then you lied. I'm going to say, no, we laid out criteria and we have to match those criteria. There are going to be people who say we should have 20 jails. I'm like, no, we should have as few as possible. So, I'm taking my view, and I think this is the right way to lay it out. I'm not going to care about what critics say or what other people's interpretations are.
Question: [Inaudible] more than the 2,400 beds –
Mayor: I said there's going to have to be at least a few more facilities.
Question: More facilities –
Question: So why not gradually begin next year or the year after? I'm going to build a new jail with 500 beds –
Mayor: Because –
Mayor: That is the very conversation we're going to have with the City Council. What I said was to give everyone a sense of a trajectory that must be met. You must at the point of 7,000 – which again, we believe could be achieved even if I am lucky enough to come here again – even in the time I was still in office. By that point, you have to have new facilities starting to be constructed in time to receive the folks who would move by the time you hit 5,000. We're going to get ready, starting with the Council, in the coming days and weeks. If there's a vision that resolves these issues more quickly, that's great. But I'm trying to be honest with people that you're not getting off Rikers unless you get down to 5,000. You have to site facilities no later than the point that you're at 7,000. There's any number of scenarios that could go differently, but even the most ambitious scenarios would require the year or two of ULURP, and everything else, and all the public process.
Question: I can't understand why the 2013 jail that Bloomberg [inaudible] half-a-billion-dollar jail on Rikers under this plan wouldn't be off the table. Again, we're not going to spend half-a-billion dollars to build a jail somewhere that we're saying –
Mayor: I'm sorry you can't understand it, but it's pretty clear, because we actually need alternatives. And so, once we get alternatives, then it can be off the table. But, until we have the, nothing is off the table – it's just as simple as that.
Question: But that sounds like you might not get off Rikers.
Mayor: I just said – it's very clear – nothing's off the table. I don't know how more clearly I could say, we're getting off Rikers Island when we get to 5,000 people. Now comes the part with the City Council to find those locations, and I've given you the outer limit by which that must happen – it's as simple as that.
Mayor: You want an answer that you're not going to get, respectfully, because we have to now begin a process with the Council to determine how we answer the question about the at least few facilities we will need.
Mayor: I'm not doing theoretical anymore. I've answered your question.
Question: If you want to build as few jails as possible [inaudible] possibility of the same problems that existed on Rikers [inaudible] the horrible –
Mayor: Why do you say that?
Question: Because you're warehousing a whole bunch of people in one area.
Mayor: No, I would argue that Rikers – to the point the Speaker made earlier – Rikers – you know, these facilities began being built in 1932. So, one of the problems we have was, you know, old, and, in too many cases, physically troubled facilities – facilities that were built – and Joe and Liz can speak to this – with an entirely different philosophy. I think it's fair to say as we build new facilities they conform to a phialsophy of rehabilitation that's entirely different. So, I would argue that if you had severe larger facilities, you're going to achieve something very, very different than what you can achieve on Rikers.
Mayor: We're not doing that. We are having a process with the City Council. The only way you get even a single new jail facility is if the City Council agrees to it. So, it's a horse before the cart point. We're going to start a conversation with the Council about how to proceed. They have to be willing to proceed and they have to be willing to proceed in a certain number of instances – that's how this is going to go. Everything else is speculation. But to your original question a moment ago, I am convinced – I think the fewer the better, that's my view. I don't want to speak for the Speaker, I don't want to speak for the Commissioner – I would say the fewer the better. The fewer will still be better facilities than what we have today.
Mayor: Because I think to get the job done, and not be hung up forever in endless processes, because, you know – again, if I hadn't made that clear I apologize – these are not easy to do. ULURP isn't easy for anything. ULURP isn't easy when you're trying to do something everyone wants. Putting a jail in a community, of course, there's naturally going to be a lot of resistance and concern. So, I don't assume anything. And the Council has to – I'm not going to go down the road if the Council's not going to support it, right? If they tell us, we don't want it here, we don't want it there – okay. But let's be real, and I think the Speaker made a very powerful point – it's time for the Council members to decide who they are at some point in this process if they're going to buy into the notion that we would need at least a few more jails.
Unknown: Last two.
Mayor: Hold on, hold on – I'm enjoying the experience.
Question: You were saying before that the way criminal justice is going is that you want to keep people in their communities [inaudible] no resources, it's very hard for –
Mayor: The Speaker said the point about the things we're already doing to try and improve that. Go ahead.
Question: Do you agree [inaudible] as soon as possible or would you want more –
Mayor: I want as few as possible. Read my lips – as few as possible.
Question: [Inaudible] the Speaker.
Speaker Mark-Viverito: Meet me on Sunday.
Mayor: Okay, my answer is read my lips, your answer is meet me on Sunday – I like that.
I'm coming around – you haven't had one in a while, go ahead.
Mayor: Look, the key thing I said earlier, the State has to help us improve the way the courts handle cases because – you know, the Speaker made the point before – a big piece of the population on Rikers is folks awaiting trial. Obviously, another piece is folks sentenced to terms up to one year. But that number of folks awaiting trial – every day you reduce that for any individual reduces obviously the jail population. We know – and again, I've spoken for a while, if Liz or Joe want to jump in, feel free – we know we can do better, but the State has to be devoted to that too. The State has to want to get that done and, if necessary, put the resources to get that done. Any of you want to comment? You want to flesh that out for a moment?
Director Elizabeth Glazer, Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice: So, the two things that drive the jail population are who go in and how long they stay. Who goes in has to do with crime – as the Mayor has already pointed to a number of times. How long they stay has to do with how long the cases take to get through the system, and that has to do with everything from judges, prosecutors, defenders, New Yorkers themselves who may not show up as witnesses and jurors and therefore delay cases. So, there are a lot of pieces here and a lot of people who have to come together in order to shrink that population.
Director Glazer: I'm not talking about speedy-trial reform. I'm talking about the simple functioning about how our cases go through the justice system that now take quite a long time and could take a shorter time, and there are a lot of people working on that right now across the entire system.
Mayor: We'll finish with this one and we'll give other people a chance.
Question: [Inaudible] Commissioner Ponte.
Mayor: Well, he's standing right here.
Question: You seem to have a really difficult task here, Commissioner. Here you are, the Mayor said we're going to close Rikers Island [inaudible]. How [inaudible]? What's your plan on that?
Commissioner Ponte: I think our efforts with the City is to have a safer, more humane criminal justice system. I can't see how anybody could be opposed to that. As the Mayor said, this is a 10-year plan. Most of our officers have a 20-year retirement, or 22-year retirement [inaudible]. I think everybody understand in a long-term view where they sit. But I don't know anybody – officer, inmates, unions, or anybody that could argue a safe, humane criminal justice system.
Question: [Inaudible] you're saying you expect your officers to support the plan.
Commissioner Ponte: I expect my officers – who are residents of the City of New York – that they would like to have a safe, humane correctional system, yes.
Question: Should voters have the right to know the list of proposed locations before election day?
Mayor: If we had them, sure. They don't exist.
Question: Should they be ready by election day? We have several months.
Mayor: It's an organic question. If we had such a thing, we would tell people. But – and again, the commission may have their views, the Speaker may have her views, it could be different [inaudible]. I'm going to have my own views. Everyone is going to work it through. But here's what I say – every single voter will have an opportunity, if even there was a discussion in their own community to go through a very extensive, painfully extensive land-use process. And remember, it can only move if the City Council votes for it. You've seen these things – they're very, very intensive. People can participate in all sorts of ways. So, I would answer honestly – if there was an agreement on where it should be, of course we should say it at the point we have it. If there is no such agreement, we can't tell people something we don't know.
Question: What was the jail population when you took office?
Mayor: So, we're down 23 percent on Rikers and 18 percent overall. Can someone fill in the blank? What was the number when we came in?
Director Glazer: So, it was 11,000. Today, it's just about at 9,300.
Mayor: 9,300 – I said 9,500 – 9,300?
Director Glazer: 9,300 today.
Mayor: It fluctuates by day.
Mayor: That's overall?
Director Glazer: That's the entire population.
Mayor: Can we start again? Hi, Brigid – the 11,000-plus when we came in the door, right?
Director Glazer: Correct.
Mayor: 9,300 today, although you can have variations by day, obviously.
Director Glazer: Correct.
Mayor: And then Rikers – do we have the same thing for Rikers – number when we came in?
Director Glazer: So, there are about 2,400 consistently off the island – so you can just subtract.
Mayor: So, the 2,400 is pretty static. We could do math? Okay.
Question: [Inaudible] do you have any vision for what could be on [inaudible] could be on Rikers [inaudible]?
Mayor: No, I don't assume that – I don't assume that. There'll be no inmates, then it becomes interesting. You have a really big piece of real estate. I would agree with Mara – could use a name change for a lot of reasons. Then we can think about public-sector uses, we could think about private-sector uses, we could think about a combination. So, you know, I think it's wide open. We are going to certainly look – in the meantime, there's some underutilized areas of Rikers right now where we could put some governmental facilities that could be appropriate to it because we should use the land we have in the meantime.
Mayor: I think it's referencing that 2,400 beds that we have already and trying to figure out what was a reasonable number that we could get to to match that. And again, my worldview with a few new facilities – and the fewer the better – that was an attainable number. So, it's not a magic number, but that's the logic to it.
Question: I hear the Speaker saying she'll do everything she can to make this happen, and I hear you saying ULURP's really hard, the City Council's going to have to take care of this. So, are you basically saying this is – we're going to come to a plan, but you're not necessarily going to fight for it very hard – it's going to be up to the City Council?
Mayor: You really have a lurid imagination. No – I just committed myself to the outcome and I want the outcome. I am, in a polite way, saying the Council has to own its piece of the equation. I know the Speaker does 110 percent, and I think her moral suasion will help a lot. We don't know who her successor will be, but I think it's just saying if you believe in this vision, help us by owning up to it. It's as simple as that.
Question: Could you just explain a little bit about [inaudible] you will do to make this happen and what you expect from the Mayor?
Speaker Mark-Viverito: I continue to be an activist, even as an elected official, but I – I'm always an activist. I joined advocacy organizations, I'm interested in seeing this fulfilled, this is something that I've laid out and I don't like things half done so I'm going to just commit myself to working with colleagues and being able to meet around this issue and lend my voice to whatever chelation is built to make this a reality. So I am going to be working on this, definitely.
Mayor: Okay we're going to do – we're going to speed it up to see if we have anything truly different and just run through from right to left and then we'll be done. Okay, you.
Question: Just for other interests, criminal justice [inaudible] could you just speak to whatever smaller facilities could possibly mean in terms of investment in [inaudible] facility, any thoughts about that Sir.
Commissioner Ponte: Yes. So the physical designs by jails we operate today in New York City were build some time ago. We've add as the Speaker and the Mayor have said programs and work opportunities inside facilities that really weren't built for that. So the smaller jails designed for the treatment and vocational education, educational opportunities – it's going to allow us to provide services to inmates in a much smaller group and hopefully closer to home where their family support is so important to this.
Speaker Mark-Viverito: It is a hellhole [inaudible] abomination [inaudible]
Question: I understand your opinion but I'm just curious [inaudible]
Commissioner Ponte: We've done a lot to – and we worked real hard, our staff worked real hard to make Rikers Island function in a more modern way. We struggled with the physical plans that we have to live within but we're doing the best we can in the meantime. As the Mayor said, there's going to be that period of time between now and ten years that we still have to operate the jail system.
Mayor: You're on lightning round.
Question: Mr. Mayor the – under the plan even assuming that the ratio of guards to inmates stays at roughly one to one, you're going to be cutting the union in half over ten years. What do you have to say about that job loss [inaudible]
Mayor: I'd say right now to the union and the people of New York City, we are actually increasing the number the number of officers as we speak to fill, as you know, there's been vacancies that have not been filled, and that been one of the problems on Rikers. So, we're going to continue to hire correction officers and we've got a plan that will take us out over ten years. I ask so far in the future there's plenty of time to work things out and you know the way we've approached labor in general.
Question: I mean but that's 5,000 –
Mayor: Again, first we're hiring more right now. Second, we're talking about ten years in the future. Third, you've seen our approach to labor relations, once we hire people we keep them. And so I think anything that's trying to guess where we're going to be in ten years is premature.
Okay, going around. Yes.
Question: For either Mr. Mayor or the Commissioner, is this going to require some reforms within the department itself – the Department of Corrections, how you guys operate, you know, the officers and the – just because this is a big change, I feel like it might change the way they do things.
Commissioner Ponte: Absolutely, and again we're doing all of those things in our current situations as the Speaker mentioned a lot of our programs. So the role of the officer has changed a lot, talking about mental health. No officer signed up to be in corrections to be in the mental health units but that's what we do. So the role of the officers in the last few years has changed a lot, we'll assume that will continue and progress.
Question: [inaudible] trajectory of –
Commissioner Ponte: Yes
Question: It's been changing and now it's going to continue on that path –
Commissioner Ponte: Absolutely
Commissioner Ponte: correct
Mayor: Okay wait a minute; you've had a lot a lot. Let me just – Let me go to only people on their second round – you only get two rounds. Go.
Question: This is real easy, you're going to love it. [laughter] After hearing the numbers –
Mayor: [laughter] I'm going to love it – that's great
Question: I'm a little confused, I just want to be very, very clear the 5,000 – the goal of 5,000, that's the goal of the entire –
Commissioner Ponte: Yes
Mayor: The whole jail system
Question: The whole system?
Question: Not Rikers –
Mayor: Correct. The whole jail system. That was great, thank you David.
Question: For the Speaker, would you accept the jail being built in your district?
Speaker Mark-Viverito: I will see where the conversation leads. Again, you know, let's see what the recommendations are and the conversations that would happen. I want to first would respond to whatever the recommendations that the commission has, because they probably will have some direct recommendations, and then I think that's the first level of engagement.
Speaker Mark-Viverito: [inaudible] open to it.
Question: I apologize if this is the third time this has been asked but I still don't understand why 5,000 is the magic number.
Mayor: Again we – there's – the process of policymaking works not from stone tablets handed down by someone. It's a human process where we do our best to determine what are numbers that are meaningful. We believe 5,000 is the goal at which you no longer Rikers Island under any scenario. Remember, once you leave, you're never coming back so this is a very serious, sober, forever decision. And we believe if we can get down to 5,000 it indicates there is no longer a need, that we can safely shut it down, we have the capacity to create the few additional facilities needed. That's – and we also had to believe we could reach that number. That's how we got to it.
Question: I think [inaudible] it seems a bit conclusory; I'm wondering why you believe that. Perhaps Ms. Glazer?
Mayor: I think it's not Ms. Glazer or anyone, it's all of us. It's a sum total of all of our judgments having looked at everything. Look we are also aware you couldn't say, you know, get off and then a month later say oh jeez, we have to go back. Once you're off, you're off. So we set an aggressive number to ensure that we would have the alternative facilities, that we believed it was a viable amount of alternative facilities, and that when it's gone – shut it down, throw away the key. And on that note, thank you everyone.