New York City Mayor Eric Adams has expressed support for Rikers Island’s closure, but his views on his predecessor’s plans to create four borough-based facilities in place of the notoriously loaded prison complex in the East River are less clear. This week, those plans began to materialize. Construction crews began work on the old Manhattan detention complex in Chinatown known as the Tombs, where one of the new prisons is expected to be located, sparking protests and leading to the arrest of some protesters, including Evelyn Yang, wife of the former president and mayor. candidate Andrew Yang.
The infamous prison complex, which opened in 1932, has a long history of abuse and neglect of inmates. The facility was heavily criticized in the 1970s and 1980s for overcrowding, unsafe conditions, and unhealthy practices towards teenage inmates. Under then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch, the public began to demand the island be closed.
In recent years, these calls have grown louder amid similar concerns about the violent and inhumane nature of Rikers Island, which has been plagued by understaffing, gang violence, collapsing infrastructure, an influx of contraband and the death of inmates.
Eventually, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came out in support of the island’s closure and outlined plans to start the process. Getting there was not without its share of complications. Here is a brief timeline of recent calls to close the prison complex and the actions taken so far.
The U.S. Department of Justice released a report after a Rikers Island investigation uncovered “a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates.” The department learned that there was a “deep-seated culture of violence” that was pervasive among young teens and that staff members frequently used force “not as a last resort, but…as a means of control.”
Following heightened calls for action, de Blasio and then-city commissioner of corrections Joseph Ponte announced a 14-point plan to create a safe environment for inmates at Rikers Island.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced his support for closing Rikers Island.
In her State of the City address, then New York City Council President Melissa Mark-Viverito called for reforms to reduce Rikers Island’s prison population and ultimately shut down the island. . Mark-Viverito’s call for the island to be closed won support from Governor Andrew Cuomo, while de Blasio rejected the proposal.
De Blasio pledged to close Rikers Island alongside Mark-Viverito in an announcement at City Hall.
De Blasio released a roadmap for closing the prison complex, including security protocols, reduced capacity and reduced isolation for inmates.
Along with New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, de Blasio announced four prisons based in every borough except Staten Island to replace Rikers Island and introduce a fairer, smaller criminal justice system.
De Blasio and Johnson agreed to close the prison complex by 2026 and open four new prisons at a total cost of $8.7 billion. A week later, the city council approved the deal.
Gothamist acquired planning documents that showed delays would extend Rikers Island’s closure until 2027.
The city has officially delayed plans to close Rikers Island and build new prisons until 2027.
New York City Department of Corrections officials announced that the city would close the Manhattan Detention Complex, commonly known as “The Tombs,” in Lower Manhattan and the Otis Bantum Correctional Center on Rikers Island.
The New York City Board of Correction has approved new rules aimed at reducing the use of solitary confinement in city jails. The rules require inmates in punitive segregation to spend at least 10 hours a day outside their cells and limit the length of stay in the most restrictive level of punitive segregation to 15 days in most cases. Lawyers said the rules failed to deliver on de Blasio’s promise to outlaw the practice altogether.
New York City congressional Democrats have called on President Joe Biden to launch a civil rights inquiry into the humanitarian crisis in Rikers.
Then-mayoral candidate Eric Adams voiced his support for closing Rikers Island, telling NY1 that he believes it should be closed and replaced with borough-based prisons. “Yes, I do,” he said when asked by presenter Errol Louis if he agreed with de Blasio’s promised plan. “And I believe we need to change the ecosystem of our incarceration system.”
Governors Hochul and de Blasio announced that nearly all women and trans people incarcerated at Rikers Island would be transferred to state custody, amid security and personnel issues.
Advocates and community leaders have expressed concern that Adams’ plans for Rikers Island are unclear. He had repeatedly said he supported closing the island’s prison complex, but his comments on how the city would go about it – and whether borough jails would be part of its plan – were described as “intentionally ambiguous,” Tracie Gardner of the Legal Action Center told Politico.
Inmate William Brown was found dead at the Anna M. Cross Center, marking the 16th death at Rikers Island in 2021 – more deaths than the past two years combined and the most since 2016.
Adams appointed Louis Molina, head of the Las Vegas Department of Public Safety, to lead the New York prison system as commissioner of the Department of Correction.
Hundreds of inmates have gone on a multi-day hunger strike to protest the abhorrent conditions at the island’s prison complex, including lack of heating and hot water in some units, inconsistent medical care, fighting endemic and safety and sanitation issues.
More than 8,400 inmates missed medical appointments at city jails in February alone, according to city data released in April. That’s up from 1,600 missed appointments in January 2022, which advocates called “further evidence that the DOC continues to be unwilling to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers in its care,” they said. said the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services and the Milbank law firm. statement “We once again call on the courts, prosecutors and elected officials to use all means to effect an immediate decarceration.”