Where the political will exists, jail populations can be reduced swiftly and humanely. That is the primary lesson to emerge from our study of New York City’s Early Release Program.
Quickly constructed as the pandemic first hit Rikers Island in March 2020, the program helped drive the city's jail population to its lowest level since just after World War II. With the curtailment of those efforts, the population has since seen a 60 percent increase.
The report offers firsthand accounts of the crisis inside Rikers triggered by COVID-19 and gauges the strengths and limitations of the release program. With Rikers Island still engulfed in a humanitarian crisis marked by in-custody deaths, spiraling violence, and widespread absenteeism among staff, the report offers recommendations for replicating the program as an ongoing jail reduction strategy.
A forthcoming report will examine the program's impact on recidivism. Our prior research shows that over the first six months of the program, only 2 of the 296 participants were re-arrested for a violent felony while under supervision following their release.