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Roadmap to a More Just and Humane Era: NYC Changing Official City Map to Make Rikers Island a Public Place by 2026

December 2, 2019

Map change will ensure that a correctional facility will never be allowed on Rikers again

NEW YORK—As part of its ongoing commitment to close the jail facilities at Rikers Island, today the City began the land use process to officially prohibit the incarceration of individuals there after December 31, 2026, when the borough-based jail system is expected to be in operation. The land use application filed today by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the Department of Correction and the Speaker of the City Council is the first step in the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) to change Rikers designation on the official city map to a public place.  

“By guaranteeing that Rikers will never again be used for incarceration, we’re charting a new course forward for the Island and the people of New York City,” said Mayor de Blasio. “We’re making good on our promise to close Rikers once and for all. Though mass incarceration may not have started here, we’ll do all we can to make sure it ends here.”

“This is a major step for New York City, and shows our deep commitment to closing Rikers Island. We are moving away from the failed policies of mass incarceration and showing the world that Rikers days are numbered,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

The application is solely focused on changing the mapping of Rikers to end its use as a jail. The proposed mapping action does not lead to any new development or construction on its own. Any future plans will require a new planning and public review process, including a separate approval for and environmental review process as necessary.

The filing of the ULURP today is the latest step made possible by the City’s successful years-long effort to substantially reduce its levels of incarceration. Today New York City is the safest large city in America and has the lowest incarceration rate of any large city in the nation. The number of people in the city’s jails today is fewer than 7,000, the lowest rate since the late 1970s. The city remains on-course for a population of no more than 3,300 by 2026.

The City has continued to take concrete steps towards to closing Rikers Island since the Council’s vote in October. Last month, the City announced the planned closure of two more jails— Eric M. Taylor Center (EMTC) on Rikers Island and Brooklyn Detention Complex (BKDC)—in March and January respectively. These will be the second and third jails shuttered by the Administration, joining the George Motchan Detention Center, which was closed in 2018.

In addition to the new announced closures, the City recently announced its initial timeline for finding and securing firms to execute the design-build demolition and construction process for the borough-based jails. Requests for Qualifications (RFQs) for early work items were published last month with the remaining RFQs to be issued in the first quarter of 2020.

“This mapping change further solidifies the city’s commitment to creating the modern facilities that both people in custody and DOC employees deserve. We are looking forward to the day when we can begin operations in borough jail facilities designed for safety, with state-of-the-art programming and visitation areas,” said New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann.

“Today’s filing of the land use action to turn Rikers Island into a public place is another step forward in our commitment to build a smaller, safer, and fairer justice system. New Yorkers are witnessing proof of how our city is turning from a model of safety that relied primarily on enforcement and incarceration to one that primarily relies on building on community strength and partnership,” said Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

“Today’s certification demonstrates that our City is wholly committed to closing Rikers Island and redefining our justice system. This map change strengthens the borough-based jail plan and reinforces our collective goal of shrinking our carceral footprint. I applaud Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson for initiating this process and I look forward to the final approval of this application,” said Council Member Diana Ayala.

“From the onset of this effort, everyday New Yorkers and advocates have been united in our belief that in order to truly turn the page on criminal justice reform in New York City, Rikers Island must close. This City map change will bring Rikers back to the public, and no longer be used to incarcerate individuals. The future of Rikers must be decided by the people, and I commend the City for beginning a participatory planning process to ensure that any uses for this space reflect the needs and input of all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin.

“I am gratified that the Administration is moving swiftly to lay the groundwork for making Riker’s Island an asset for all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Karen Koslowitz.

“I am proud to see the land use action to permanently close Rikers Island moving forward. As a Council Member representing one of the proposed borough facilities, I was steadfast in the importance of having a binding guarantee of the Island’s closure. The land use process is our city government’s tool to do so and I applaud the Administration and Council Speaker for today’s certification; establishing the land as a public place after 2026 and never again allowing the isolated detention of our neighbors.” said Council Member Stephen Levin.

“The proposed change to the city map to establish Rikers Island as a public space solidifies the administration’s commitment to end incarceration in this space. The people of New York City deserve to have a meaningful say in the future of the island and I applaud the public participatory planning effort. This is an exciting step forward so that New York City can move toward ending an inhumane and environmentally unsound system of mass incarceration,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams

“Closing Rikers Island is more than a land-use action, but an opportunity to overhaul our criminal justice system. Guaranteeing that this land can never again be used to operate a jail is a significant and binding step in that plan. I thank Speaker Johnson and Mayor de Blasio for their commitment to this work,” said Council Member Keith Powers.

“Rikers Island has been a stain on New York City for nearly a century, with thousands of people subjected to physical and mental anguish under a broken system. As the representative for Rikers Island, I am proud to see the ULURP commence to ensure these 413 acres are never again used for this kind of torture. The future of Rikers Island should get restorative justice for the over-policed and over-polluted communities marginalized for too long. I look forward to continued engagement with key stakeholders -- especially those impacted by Rikers Island -- to making that happen,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides.

“Closing Rikers requires a roadmap to get there and this plan demonstrates our commitment to doing just that. Once it is put into place, the hellhole known as Rikers will never again be used to incarcerate New Yorkers. The people of NYC will decide what is to become of the island. This plan ensures the community will participate in determining its future use. As the first elected official to call for the closure of the jail complex, I look forward to working with Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson to implement this important step of the process,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm.

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