The New York City Council took a major step toward closing the notorious Rikers Island jail complex.
Today the New York City Council took a major step toward closing the notorious Rikers Island jail complex, voting to approve the construction of four smaller, state-of-the-art facilities in its stead. The battle to close Rikers is not yet over—there is still a long way to go before these outmoded and inhumane facilities are shuttered. Still, it is worth pausing to celebrate today’s milestone.
When I moved to New York in the early 1990s, there were more than 20,000 people in jail. Today, that number stands at a little more than 7,000. New York City has the lowest incarceration rate of any big city in America, by far. And this trend is likely to continue: by 2026, it is estimated that there will be only 3,300 New Yorkers behind bars.
How did we arrive at the brink of such a major change in the administration of justice? Success of this kind has many authors. This includes the activists, journalists, and artists who have exposed the brutal conditions that have long prevailed on Rikers Island. And it includes the reformers within government who have worked to support policy changes and advance new approaches to justice.
The Center for Court Innovation has sought to play its part as well. As is typical for us, we have leveraged our agency’s strengths in a variety of areas—research, operations, and technical assistance—in order to change practice on the ground. For example, we operate a range of alternative-to-incarceration programs that The New York Times has credited with reducing the city’s jail population. We helped to organize the independent commission, chaired by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, that created an actionable plan for closing Rikers Island. We are providing thousands of New Yorkers with an alternative to bail (and Rikers) through our pretrial supervised release programs and investing in programs to prevent people from entering the justice system in the first place through community justice centers, including a new justice center slated for Far Rockaway, Queens. Finally, our research and technical assistance teams have been working with policymakers in New York to launch new jail reduction initiatives.
Today's vote is a landmark that I wouldn't have believed was possible even a few years ago. At the Center for Court Innovation, we are proud to have played a role in helping New York take this major step forward.
Director, Center for Court Innovation
More on Rikers and Jails
- Listen to an NYC activist discuss the connection between ending cash bail and closing jails
- Read our analysis of jail reduction effects of New York's 2020 bail reform
- Hear Rikers' former chief medical officer on our New Thinking podcast
- Watch 'Behind the Scenes of the Lippman Commission'