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City Council Votes To Close Rikers Island, NYPD Commissioner Responds

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill warned that the city's criminal justice reforms will place citizens at risk.

New York, NY – The New York City Council has voted to shutter the Rikers Island jail complex.

On Oct. 17, the council voted 36-13 in favor of closing the complex and approved a plan to funnel $8 billion into opening or expanding jail facilities in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, NPR reported.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his fellow Democrats have long declared that closing Rikers would signify a massive leap in their quest to end mass incarceration.

“What we are doing today will reshape the city for generations to come and impact the lives of every New Yorker,” City Council speaker Corey Johnson said, according to NPR. “For decades, our city was unfair to those who became involved in the justice system, and the overwhelmingly majority who were caught up were black and brown men.”

Rikers currently houses approximately 7,000 inmates, NPR reported.

Under the new plan, that population is expected to be reduced to just 3,300 inmates over the course of the next six years.

The 10,000-bed Rikers Island complex is slated to close down completely by 2026.

“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 said, according to The New York Times. “Today we made history: The era of mass incarceration is over.”

The combined jail capacity would max out at just 3,300 inmates – a population so low that New York City hasn’t seen it in nearly 100 years, The New York Times reported.

Manhattan Institute fellow Rafael Mangual blasted the plan, which will greatly reduce the city’s jail capacity, and said that the move will place law-abiding citizens at risk.

“There is simply no way to cut the average daily jail population — which the city itself has described as ‘more violent and difficult to manage’ — that much more without leaving dangerous criminals on the street,” Mangual argued, according to NPR.

New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner James O’Neill said he is very concerned about the ramifications of the city council’s new plan.

“I’m really concerned, going forward with the reduced capacity, that we’ll be able to keep the city as safe as possible,” Commissioner O’Neill said during an interview with WCBS.

“Look at where we are now in 2019 – look at the crime rate, the murder rate, the shooting rate,” the commissioner noted. “If you commit those crimes, there should be consequences. And if you have a significant criminal history, you should be held in pretrial.”

Commissioner O’Neill said that the department will need to work with city leaders to ensure there will be enough capacity “to hold people that are committing serious crimes.”

Johnson has argued that new jail reforms – including a no-bail provision set to begin in January of 2020 – will result in less people being held in custody prior to their trials, WCBS reported.

“We feel pretty good about where these numbers are,” the city council speaker declared.

But those are the very reforms that Commissioner O’Neill said he believes will place citizens at risk.

“Come January first, there are going to be very few people that are bail eligible,” he said. “So, you’re going to see people that have significant criminal histories, significant firearm histories, and they’re not going to be held.”

“That’s going to put people at risk,” the commissioner warned. “It’s going to put New Yorkers at risk, it’s going to put victims at risk.”

Holly Matkin - October Tue, 2019

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