Image courtesy, Jim. Henderson

The New York City Council in agreement with its Committee on Land Use has finally decided to sink the ship. They passed a ruling that will forever change Rikers Island as we know it. By the year 2026, Rikers Island, which has kept incarcerated men and women, mostly of color, in jail since 1932, will no longer be used to jail people. 

It isn’t new in history that a prison yard  is re-purposed. The now Roosevelt Island in Queens used to be known as Welfare Island which housed a prison and psychiatric institutions. At the time, the incarcerated folks at these institutions were simply relocated to other prisons. What’s new and so unprecedented about the Rikers Island planned closure is that instead of  relocating the offenders to other prisons around the State, they all may be heading home to live in their local communities. 

Air View of Rikers Island. Image courtesy: Cdogsimmons, Wikimedia Commons

Purchased for $180,000 from a John Wilson of the Abraham Rykers Family, Rikers Island has been a destination  for NYC detainees and convicted felons. The institution taints NYC image for years due to several founded allegations of abuse, neglect and unnecessary loss of lives.

Rikers Island, as claimed by the proponents of its closure, does no good in achieving any penitentiary goals, instead a too familiar channel that vehicles underprivileged people into the ship of modern slavery. Click To Tweet Systemic racial and economic injustice, failed and unfair criminal justice policies - all driven from left and right paranoia angles, filtered into what has become known as the prison pipeline and mass incarceration. Click To Tweet

Reentry after incarceration -which for sure will happen for many -is hard, and also for the society. The City is launching a neighborhood based jail that will keep detainees around their communities while awaiting trials instead sending them to Rikers. It’s for sure one of  the City’s boldest attempts to circumvent the hardship around reentry: “what if they never left?.” 

The criminal justice reformers have for years been calling NYC leaders’ attention to the  issues surrounding mass incarceration, and reentry in particular. Their positions are supported by many facts including the numbers. The costs to the City of  New York is huge. It takes almost 900 million a year, 9000 correction officers, and about 2000 civilian staff to run Rikers. 

In the United States of America, unlike in many under-developed or developing countries, convicted persons living in jail or prisons have rights, and its government can be sued for huge monetary damages if these rights are violated. Click To Tweet

The Mayor of New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio, who has promised the criminal justice advocates and the public that he’ll do something, said this yesterday:

“We promised to Rikers Island, and we’re making good on that promise, ……we’re making our commitment ironclad and ensuring no future administration can reverse all the progress we’ve made. Mass incarceration did not begin in New York City, but it will end here.”

NYC Mayor, Bill De Blasio

This ruling is definitely a good news for advocates like Glenn  E. Martin who founded Just Leadership USA (JLUSA) in 2014 with a bold vision to cut  the US prison population in half by the year 2030, and who, along with others, would report to the Island almost every other week campaigning that Rikers Island be closed. 

It’s also a victory for many other criminal justice reform practitioners and institutions in New York City  like Jeremy Travis, former President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice who authored But They All Come Back in 2005, The Fortune Society, The Osborne Association, Exodus Transitional Community, and many more. 


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