Fact Sheet: Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island

June 22, 2017

Under the de Blasio administration, fewer people are going to jail and those who do are getting more support while incarcerated to support successfully re-integrating into society when they leave. New York City is safer than it has ever been thanks to precision policing and better law enforcement strategies. The City has already added more than $1 billion in funding to the Department of Correction’s capital plan to improve conditions inside the jails.

Because of this progress, a long-awaited goal is in sight. For the first time in history, the City has a plan to close Rikers Island. We will do that by making our jails smaller, safer and fairer.

The first step is to continue to reduce the size of the jail population, which today makes closure impossible. The current citywide jail population is around 9,400, and there is capacity to house only 2,300 in existing facilities in the boroughs. By 2021, through implementing new strategies to reduce the number of people who enter jail and how long they stay, the City’s goal is to reduce the average daily jail population by 25% to 7,000 people. With 7,000 individuals in city jails, New York City will be using jail almost exclusively for individuals facing serious charges or who pose a high risk–making further safe reductions difficult. Closing the jails on Rikers Island for good requires a daily jail population of just 5,000, and to get there the City will work with every part of the criminal justice system to develop strategies to further reduce violent crime and address the problem of chronic offending, which to date has been intractable nationwide.

An unjust history

Historically, Rikers Island was neither safe nor just:

  • Too many low-level offenders incarcerated
  • Long case delays causing too many to wait for trial for too long
  • Dilapidated jails with minimal supports in place
  • A culture of violence and neglect that fostered violence

The de Blasio Administration has already made sweeping changes:

  • 18 percent reduction in jail population through lower crime, expanded alternative to jail programs and reducing case delay
  • More than $1 billion added to the Department of Correction’s capital plan to improve the physical conditions in the City’s jails
  • $52.5 million investment in expanded educational, vocational and recreational programming for detainees
  • Crime at record lows – New York continues to be the safest big city in the country
  • Serious injuries to correction officers (down 38%) and use of force resulting in serious injury to incarcerated individuals (down 51%) declined significantly between 2014 and 2016
  • 8 percent decline in number of individuals in jail for longer than one year and 18 day drop in average length of a Supreme Court case, both as result of efforts to reduce case delay and how long people stay in jail

Smaller: Reduce the number of inmates by 25 percent, to around 7,000 a day

By working with courts, defense attorneys, service providers and the state, we will reduce the population to 7,000 by 2021 and then to 5,000.

  • Help people pay bail (bail expeditors and expansion of charitable bail funds)
  • Replace short jail sentences with programs that reduce recidivism
  • Reduce the number of people with mental illness and substance disorders; parole violators; women and young adults in jails
  • Speed up case processing times for felonies and expedite transfers to state custody

Safer: Humane and productive conditions for staff and incarcerated individuals

The long-term plan is to close Rikers Island. But we must ensure that staff and those who are incarcerated are safe by 1) investing in upgraded facilities and 2) making sure that every corrections officer has the tools to do their jobs safely and effectively.

  • Bring all existing jails, both on- and off-Island, to state of good repair within the next five years
  • Improve officer safety by building a new training academy to ensure all corrections officers receive best possible training
  • Triple the number of dedicated housing units designed for individuals with serious mental illness, which have been shown to reduce violence
  • Promote safety by ensuring full camera coverage in all city jails by end of 2017

Fairer: Change the culture inside jails to better support officers and create pathways to stability for detainees

We will support officers to serve the public at the highest levels of integrity by expanding professional development opportunities and supportive services. And we will reduce recidivism by making sure that those who leave City jails are equipped to succeed so they don’t return.

  • Everyone in city custody will be offered five hours per day of education, vocational, and therapeutic programming by end of 2018
  • Help incarcerated individuals serving a city sentence re-enter society with support by trained, formerly incarcerated mentors; transitional employment; higher education
  • Foster connections to families and community by improving visitation
  • Further reduce punitive segregation
  • Better support correctional officers by offering peer mentoring for new recruits to reduce attrition and supportive services for staff to deal with distress and trauma

Visits

  • Pilot new dedicated bus routes
  • Extended visit duration
  • Renovations to visit facilities
  • Increased staffing and training for visit staff

Mental Health

  • Triple the number of dedicated housing units for individuals with serious mental health needs, which have better outcomes for incarcerated people and less violence
  • Expanding diversion for people with mental health needs

Renovations

  • Renovations in all existing city jails will address architectural issues, fire safety, ADA compliance, air conditioning, bathroom fixtures
  • Physical improvements to programming areas and health care clinics

Projected Reductions in Population

  • Population when Mayor de Blasio took office: 11,478
  • Average population in 2017: 9,400
  • Five year population reduction goal: 7,000 (25% reduction from 2017 average)
  • The following reductions in population are anticipated as a result of these strategies:
    • Improved risk assessment: - 710
    • Making it easier to pay bail: - 200
    • Expanded pretrial diversion to allow defendants to wait for trial at home: - 500
    • Replace short jail sentences with programs that reduce recidivism: -300
    • Reduce number of individuals with behavioral health needs in city jails: -50
    • Reduce number of women in city jails: -20
    • Reduce number of state technical parole violators in city jails: -170
    • Speed up case processing time: -450
  • To reduce the population to 5,000 over the next 10 years, City putting together Task Force of experts to identify additional strategies for reducing the population
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      • At 7,000, 94 percent of the pretrial population will be facing felony charges (60 percent facing violent felony charges)
      • City will need to develop strategies to further reduce violence beyond currently historic lows and develop solutions for issues like chronic offending
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