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Independent Commission Behind Push To Close Rikers Island Jail Complex Issues Formal Report

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio came out for closing the Rikers Island jail complex, the independent commission backing that plan issued its formal report Sunday.

The 148-page report outlines plans for replacing the city's main jail with smaller community jails in the city's five boroughs. The five new facilities would be near county courthouses and the city said they would be smaller, safer and more humane.

Retired New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman chairs the Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform that released the report.

"We know what modern jails should look like, and they look nothing like Rikers Island," he said at a Sunday press conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

CLICK HERE to read the commission's full report.

As 1010 WINS' Roger Stern reports, closing the infamous penitentiary requires cutting the city's prison population almost in half -- to around 5,000 inmates -- using bail reform, new sentencing procedures, and other strategies.

"Criminal Justice and incarceration in New York City needs dramatic change," Lippman added.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joined the commission to discuss the proposal on closing Rikers. She said it would benefit the city's coffers too.

"The Department of Corrections spends almost $35 million a year to transport people from Rikers Island to go to their court dates, so it's a very, very well-thought-out, you know, report and finding," Mark-Viverito said.

Mark-Viverito said the island location of the current jail complex has hampered rehabilitation efforts, cutting off inmates' connection with family and friends.

"Community-based justice is what we need to look at -- keeping people closer to their neighborhoods; closer to the courthouses," she said.

As CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported, residents have mixed feelings about the idea of smaller jails in their neighborhoods.

"Me personally, it wouldn't bother me," one man said.

"It's sort of the not in my backyard mentality. You don't really want it to be here," a woman added. "Plus, Rikers Island is sort of separated from everything."

Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio said shuttering Rikers would first require reducing the entire jail population from 9,500 to 5,000.

Some New Yorkers such as Jennifer Merin worry that could mean early release for inmates. The man who stole the deed to Merin's home and damaged her property could be released four months early for good behavior.

"Letting the law slide for the city's convenience; for the administrations convenience; for the convenience of the bureaucrats, is a big mistake," Merin said.

But the city is hoping people can envision the bigger picture, starting with the savings.

"As the report says up to $247,000 per year per individual. It's crazy," Mark-Viverito said. "This is money that could instead be going to our schools, our businesses, and our infrastructure."

Some residents said that incentive is not worth having convicted criminals as neighbors.

"They escape," one woman said.

"If they escape, they're going to be on the streets with regular people, and they could commit crime again," a man added.

But commission member Glenn Martin saw it differently. He was once incarcerated on Rikers Island, and says he was stabbed four times when he was 16 years old.

"I look forward to a facility that's not just smaller," he said, "but in terms of the number of beds and the number of people that are there, but a facility that offers opportunity."

As WCBS 880's Myles Miller reports, the smaller, more community based jails are expected to cost the city more than $10 billion.

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