Oct. 11, 2019. By Shane O’Brien
The City Council, backed by the mayor, took action yesterday to make sure that Rikers Island will be shut permanently.
The council is expected to file an application with Dept. of City Planning to remap Rikers Island so that it can no longer be used as a prison after 2026. The council’s Land Use Committee passed a resolution yesterday authorizing the City Council to move forward with the application.
Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the move and said that the change would make sure that his policy to shut the infamous island prison down would be iron-clad. The resolution is part of the mayor’s plan to shut down Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails by 2026.
“We promised to close Riker’s Island, and we’re making good on that promise,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We’re making our commitment ironclad and ensuring no future administration can reverse all the progress we’ve made. Mass incarceration did not begin in New York City, but it will end here.”
Johnson also said that the decision was a step towards ending mass imprisonment in New York City.
“This process will require Rikers Island to close as a correctional facility by 2026, and shows our deep commitment to moving away from the failed policies of mass incarceration,” Johnson said.
The map change would be done through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and the city will attempt to have Rikers Island designated as a public place on the city map. It would mean that any future development on the island would have to be solely for the benefit of the public.
The application will be co-filed with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Department of Correction.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and advocacy group No New Jails had recently raised concerns that the mayor’s plan to build four new jails included no guarantee that Rikers Island would be closed down.
Council Member Robert Holden slammed the council’s Land Use Committee for what he described as a “blatant overreach of power.”
Holden criticized the Committee for turning the ULURP process on its head. His office said that the City Council vote was normally the last stage of the ULURP process. In this instance, however, the City Council’s vote was the first step in the process, something that Holden’s office described as unprecedented.
Holden previously called for the creation of a commission to study the cost of rebuilding Rikers, before going ahead with the borough-based jail proposal. The cost of rebuilding Rikers Island could then be compared with the cost of the mayor’s plan, which has been estimated to be $11 billion.
Holden issued a statement criticizing his fellow Council Members in the wake of the Land Use committee’s decision.
“It is clear that my colleagues have made up their minds on Rikers Island without giving any
consideration to alternative plans, despite the fact that none of us have seen any detailed design
for the borough-based jails,” Holden said in a statement.
“My bill to simply study the cost of rebuilding the island to create a cost comparison has been brushed aside when it could have given our constituents a more complete picture of how their tax dollars will be spent.”