Mayor wants new plan to close Rikers and continues to blame the court system

August 31, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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Mayor Eric Adams has called for a new proposal to close Rikers Island jail complex after his administration failed to adhere to the current plan, which has been in place since the final year of former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure.

The mayor’s request comes amid a series of missed deadlines and milestones associated with the current plan and a surge in violence and death rates at the facility. Since Adams took office, over two dozen people have died at Rikers Island.

The current plan, which Adams labeled as “flawed from the beginning,” was set to close Rikers by August 2027 and replace it with four borough-based jails, including one in Kew Gardens. However, Adams’ administration has missed several deadlines associated with the plan and has done little to get it back on track.

The mayor called on the City Council to craft a plan that better suits the reality of the criminal justice system under his administration. He emphasized the need to address the approximately 3,000 detainees on Rikers who suffer from mental illness, accounting for about half of the jail complex’s population.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and several council members have publicly supported the current plan and condemned the mayor’s demands for a new one. A council spokesperson stated that the law clearly mandates Rikers’ closure by 2027 and reiterated the council’s commitment to ensuring the city adheres to its legal mandate. They also highlighted that roughly half of those detained at Rikers have a mental health diagnosis and could be better served elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the mayor blamed the city’s courts for contributing to Rikers’ growing population by failing to process cases, a claim rejected by Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration. Chalfen contended that cases are delayed because either the prosecution or the defense is not ready to begin the trial.

Adams’ administration has also been accused of purposefully missing deadlines as an expression of disapproval of the current plan. Advocacy organizations, community groups, and formerly incarcerated individuals, part of the Campaign to Close Rikers coalition, labeled the mayor’s remarks as “disingenuous” and “immoral.” They demanded tangible steps to meet the deadline, save lives, and improve community safety.

The mayor’s reluctance to follow the plan comes as a federal judge considers whether the jail should be stripped from the city and handed over to a federal receiver due to ongoing civil rights violations. Since 2021, 43 people have died at Rikers, indicating the severity of the ongoing crises at the facility.


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