Brooklyn’s replacement for Rikers is already larger than expected

July 24, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The City is still at least four years away from closing Rikers Island and replacing it with four smaller jails, but those jails are already going to be larger than was planned.

Brooklyn’s borough-based jail facility is set to increase by an unexpected 154 beds, a plan disclosed last week by the city that has drawn a flurry of criticism from criminal justice advocates. The facility is one of four designed to replace the controversial Rikers Island jail by 2027.

During a neighborhood advisory meeting on Wednesday, the city’s Department of Correction, Department of Design and Construction, and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice announced the revised blueprint for the borough-based jail facility. Initially intended to accommodate 886 detainees, the revised plans now include provisions for 1,040 beds.

However, the city’s decision to accommodate this influx by eliminating “therapeutic beds” for detainees with mental illnesses or substance abuse issues has sparked controversy. With nearly half the population of Rikers Island diagnosed with mental health conditions, the city’s decision to forego these critical spaces has drawn significant criticism.

Further changes to the plan include slashing the proposed parking spaces for the facility by half, from the initial 200 spots to the revised 100 spots.

These modifications to the jail’s blueprint underscore the city’s straying from the initial plan for the borough-based jails to hold a maximum of 3,300 detainees. With over 6,000 New Yorkers currently detained on Rikers Island per day, the city’s criminal justice system appears strained beyond its anticipated capacity.

This is not the first time that the borough-based jail in Brooklyn, the most advanced in the planning process among the four, has seen significant, unanticipated alterations. In March, despite the public’s and lawmakers’ criticism, the city’s Department of Design and Construction suggested the $2.9 billion project would overrun the city’s 2027 deadline to close Rikers by two years. The mayor’s office later approved this contract.

Defending the borough-based jail expansion, a spokesperson for the mayor held former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration accountable for what they described as an “unworkable plan.” The spokesperson stated that the increase in the number of beds represents “an honest accounting of the realities of the criminal justice system and public safety in our city.”

Mayor Eric Adams, since taking office, has frequently voiced his reservations about the plan to close Rikers by 2027. This new expansion, and the elimination of the therapeutic beds, draws fresh criticism from lawmakers and advocates who are frustrated with the mayor’s lack of effort to reduce the population currently on Rikers Island.

Critics, including Darren Mack of Freedom Agenda and Megan French-Marcelin of the Legal Action Center, have criticized the mayor for expanding the jail facility while decreasing the therapeutic units. Amid rising inmate populations and continued deaths at Rikers, they argue that these measures only perpetuate the criminal legal system’s existing problems.

There are increasing questions about the city’s commitment to close Rikers Island. In order to close Rikers and replace it with four smaller jails, the average daily population of Rikers must be lowered. However, since 2020, the Rikers population has been on an upward trend.


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