New York City Council approves plan to close Rikers and build new jails

Mayor Bill de Blasio has the backing of local politicians, as he vows to revamp the city's troubled prison complex

Rikers Island
People walk by a sign at the entrance to Rikers Island on March 31, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to revamp the troubled Rikers Island prison complex and on Thursday the New York City Council approved a plan to do so.

READ MORE: NYC Mayor: $130M to revamp jails for mentally ill

In an effort to reduce the prison’s overcrowded population, in the next 10 years, Rikers will be closed and prisoners will be moved to new four smaller borough-based facilities spread across the city under the $9 billion proposal.

The plan released in 2017, involves building new state-of-the-art facilities in Lower Manhattan, the South Bronx, Downtown Brooklyn, and Kew Gardens, according to reports.

“The vote occurs as Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson and Council leadership agree to a wide-range of investments tied to the closure of Rikers totaling $391 million dollars, including $126 million in previously planned investments and $265 million in new programming that will address the root causes of incarceration and help fundamentally reshape New York City’s criminal justice system going forward,” according to a statement from the New York City Council.

“When we pledged to close Riker’s Island, we made a promise to transform a broken criminal justice system and give back to the communities that have experienced the effects of mass incarceration firsthand, said Mayor de Blasio.

“By investing in neighborhoods and putting people on the path to success, we are making good and getting closer to a day where we’re the fairest, big city in America,” he stated.

Since 2014, the prison population at Rikers has steadily declined from 11,000 in 2014 to about 7,000 now. It is expected to be about 3,300 by 2026.

READ MORE: Mentally ill inmate died after 7 days in Rikers Island cell

“For far too long, this city’s answer to every societal problem was to throw people in jail. Because of that, we lost generations to mass incarceration, mostly young men of color,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson

Ahead of the vote, Johnson lauded it as “one of the most significant votes in our careers.”

“We can’t undo all the mistakes of the past, but as a city we must do everything we can to move on from the failed policies of mass incarceration,” Johnson said. “We are on the cusp of a new and more humane era of our city.”