New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has declared that “the era of mass incarceration is over” with the announcement that New York’s historically mismanaged and neglected Rikers Island jail complex will be closing by 2026. As the New York Times reports, New York City Council voted on the decision on Thursday, and sees the move as part of a movement to amend a complex of mass incarceration that hugely affects black and Latinx people. In place of the 10,000 bed Rikers, four new jails will be built, in Downtown Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan. “For decades, our city was unfair to those who became involved in the justice system,” City Council speaker Corey Johnson said on Thursday, “and the overwhelming majority who were caught up were black and brown men.”
The overhaul of New York’s jail system will cost over $8 billion, and the Times notes that the city could face pushback from the neighbourhoods that will see jails built. “This is about valuing our people, no longer condemning people and sending them on a pathway that only made their lives worse and worse,” de Blasio added. “Today we made history.”
The new jails built will see a total daily capacity of just over 3,000 people, less than half what New York’s jails currently hold; as such, the jail population will have to decline by more than half by 2026 in order for the new model to work. Officials say that the new jails will be safer, smaller and more humane, with facilities for mental health counselling and job training available. New York councilman Carlos Menchaca expressed skepticism that the new legislation does enough to end the cycle of incarceration. “This vote only enriches developers in the short term,” he told the Times. “I do not trust this mayor, do you?” Read the Times’ full report on the proposed jail redevelopment here.