The proposed plan, approved by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, is to replace Rikers Island with four new jails in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn. According to city officials, closing down and replacing Rikers, which will cost around $8 billion, is feasible given New York’s falling crime rates.
"If we do nothing, we allow this abusive incarceration system to remain in place for the next decade or two or three," Bronx Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson said during the committee vote Thursday. “Who has the kind of time to waste when lives are at stake?”
The number of people incarcerated in New York has decreased from around 22,000 in 1991 to around 7,000 today, AP reported. The number may continue to fall, as some district attorneys no longer prosecute small marijuana possession charges and police officials have refrained from arresting people for minor offenses.
Officials believe that New York City’s jail population could even decrease to 3,300 by 2026 if the downward trend continues.
“Mass incarceration did not begin in New York City, but it will end here,” de Blasio said this week, AP reported. “We are proving you don’t need to arrest your way to safety.”
However, some have criticized the idea of opening up new prison facilities in the boroughs to replace Rikers Island.
“If all you do is break up Rikers and put it into four separate facilities but you don’t deal with the underlying problems that have made Rikers so dangerous, you’re just going to end up with four mini Rikers,” Mark Peters, a former commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigations, is quoted as saying by CBS New York.
The latest development comes months after state legislators voted to eliminate cash bail for many misdemeanor and nonviolent arrests in April, a move which is expected to further reduce the number of people sitting in jail while waiting for their trials. The law goes into effect in January 2020.