Safely Reducing the New York City Jail Population

New York City oversees America’s second largest jail population, which has dropped by more than 50% since 1991, when the average daily population of Rikers stood at 21,688. Safely reducing the Rikers population further will improve conditions in the jails, increase fairness, and more effectively address behavioral health needs of defendants.

  • Case delays experienced by defendants play a major role in driving the population. Detainees held for over 270 days account for 5% of admissions, but 44% of the average daily population.
  • While the Rikers population has steeply dropped over the past two decades, the number of individuals on Rikers with behavioral health needs has remained constant.
  • The number of low-risk individuals held on Rikers Island is small, but there are opportunities to make the system fairer and more efficient. Through more effective risk assessment and expansions to programs like supervised release, these low-risk individuals can be more fairly diverted from jail time.



The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice is partnering with the courts, prosecutors, defense bar, law enforcement, and other leaders in the criminal justice system to address these problems to drive down the jail population on Rikers Island safely. Key strategies include:

  • Justice Reboot, a case processing initiative that seeks to identify and address causes of case delay. An inter-agency coordinating committee is identifying reasons for case delay at all points of the criminal justice system, and convening leaders from across the system to track cases of long-stayers and resolve persistent procedural issues causing delay.
  • Identifying individuals that can be safely released to the community through improved risk assessment tools and alternatives to jail time. In July, the de Blasio administration allocated $17.8 million to expand supervised release, which allows judges to release eligible defendants to a supervisory program that allows them to remain at home to wait for trial, rather than go to jail.
  • Improved programming and discharge services will ensure that individuals are supported in reentry and will be less likely to return to jail. As part of the Behavioral Health Task Force, for example, New York City will provide in-jail discharge planning teams to connect people to services, and will create 267 supportive, permanent housing slots to support inmate reentry.