Rikers Island, the largest jail in the country notorious for violence within its walls and described by some as “the worst place on Earth,” will be closed, city leaders announced Friday.
“It will take many years. It will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
The mayor said he and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an outspoken proponent of closing the jail, have agreed on a 10-year timeline to shut down the facility.
As of 2016, Rikers’ population was its lowest to date, with just over 10,000 inmates being held at the 85-year-old jail complex where individuals are held on charges as they wait for a trial.
Still, despite record-low population, violence continued to climb. In 2015, there were 9,424 assaults at the jail, the highest in five years. In 2016, there were nearly 12,000 instances of violence.
The closing was primarily prompted by the memory of Kalief Browder, who at 16 was arrested and held for three years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime. His tragic story was highlighted in a Spike TV seven part series, which is executive produced by Sean “Jay-Z” Carter. Browder spent more than 800 days in solitary confinment, often thrown into violent fights with correction officers and other inmates which were caught on camera. He died by suicide at age 22.
“The death of Kalief Browder was a wake-up call to this city,” de Blasio said. “The No. 1 reason we lost Kalief Browder was because he was held in solitary confinement … and that doesn’t exist anymore” for young inmates.
As of Friday, there are 9,500 individuals in custody in city jails. That number must be reduced to 5,000 before Rikers can be closed, de Blasio said.
“Rikers Island is an example and an expression of a major national problem. the mass incarceration crisis did not begin in New York City, but it will end here,” the mayor said.
“We are going to end the era of mass incarceration by making this important change.”
The next step is to determine how the city can hold thousands of inmates without the use of Rikers, de Blasio said. A report on the jail’s future by a panel commissioned by Mark-Viverito will be revealed on Sunday.