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City Council Approves Controversial Plan To Replace Rikers With Borough-Based Jails

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The New York City Council has approved a controversial plan to replace the Rikers Island jail with four smaller, borough-based facilities.

Protesters repeatedly disrupted the City Council hearing and vote.

After it passed, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson spoke.

"I think the today is the day when Rikers Island was demolished. Today is a day the history books will look back on as a good day for the future of New York City, as getting rid of a profound and painful symbol of inhumanity and brutality that was allowed to fester and be in the East River for far too long," Johnson said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union released a statement supporting the council's vote:

Today's vote marks the start of the long-overdue process to close Rikers Island and put an end to the culture of official lawlessness and abuse which it represents. Too many New Yorkers have died or suffered enormous and irreversible physical and psychological harm as a result of their mistreatment at Rikers -- Kalief Browder, Layleen Polanco, and far too many others.

As the City moves forward to close Rikers, it must ensure that any new jails be built and operated on the principles of dignity and respect, as well as safety and security. The City must end the overuse of solitary confinement and provide robust physical and mental health services, rehabilitation, and re-entry programs. As the City commits to building new jails, it is essential that it also continues every effort to reduce the jail population. 

When Rikers eventually shutters and the last person leaves the island, the abhorrent culture that has always plagued the facility must not follow it. We plan to hold the City accountable to ensure that its culture of violence and over-reliance of inhumane isolation are not perpetuated.

Yesterday, a subcommittee voted 5-1 to close the prison by 2026.

Advocates of the $8.7 billion plan say the smaller jails will encourage rehabilitation by moving inmates closer to their families and attorneys.

"I got real sentimental hearing the votes, knowing that justice is being served," former inmate Harvey Murphy told CBS2.

Web Extra: Corey Johnson On Vote To Close Rikers 

Others, however, say they support the closure but not borough-based jails.

"Something is wrong that we're pushing this through and disregarding the voices of New Yorkers when it comes to building borough-based jails," Councilman Andy King said during a rally Wednesday. "If we want to correct the criminal justice system, then let's fix the criminal justice system and be honest and true of us correcting that system and not blame it on the brick and mortar of Rikers Island."

Councilwoman Inez Barron cast the only "no" vote Wednesday, and community boards in the four neighborhoods where the new jails would be located are also against it.

Web Extra: Marcia Kramer On What Political Leaders Told Her About Closing Rikers

"It's still a jail. It's not identifying or correcting the issue of blacks and Latinos being incarcerated and detained at a rate far greater than any others," said Barron.

Even those who voted "yes" acknowledged it wouldn't come without consequence.

"There are people in my community that I've worked very hard for for many years that are very angry with me because I'm voting 'yes' on this, but I feel that I'm doing the right thing, the most humane thing, that I can possibly do," Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to replace the Rikers Island jail complex with four smaller jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. (Credit: CBSN New York)

The new jails would only contain a total of 3,300 beds – compared to a current population of roughly 7,200 inmates.

"What do you do if crime – already at historic lows – doesn't drop by 50% again? Such that you only need 3,300 beds in a city with 8.5 million people," said CBS2's urban affairs expert Mark Peters.

The city says the inmate population has gone down from 11,000 since 2014, and it's projected to be 3,300 when the borough-based system begins.

"I think the public should be very concerned that there won't be enough beds for inmates," Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen told CBS2's Reena Roy. "Who's doing the numbers? Where are they coming from?"

"We have 8.5 million New Yorkers," he added. "It doesn't add up."

WATCH: Queens Community Board 9 Opposes Kew Gardens Jail

Under the plan, the new facilities would be located at the Manhattan Detention Center, known as "The Tombs," in Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Detention Complex in Boerum Hill, the Queens Detention Facility in Kew Gardens and the NYPD tow yard in Mott Haven.

"You have 413 acres at Rikers Island. We have no outdoor facilities in any of the four jails," Sylvia Hack, co-chair of the Queens Community Board 9 land-use committee, said in an interview with CBSN New York. "At Rikers Island, you could build training centers, you could do all kinds of incredible things."

Mayor Bill de Blasio promises to tackle the root cause of incarceration with nearly $400 million being put into new programming, like the expansion of pre-trial and re-entry services, plus more mental health resources.

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