Six months before Covid-19 devastated New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council approved a plan to spend nearly $9 billion to build four jails — one each in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens — and close Rikers Island. The city would better serve inmates and taxpayers by building new jails at Rikers — cheaper, faster and better.
Rikers’ nine jails are deficient. They lack provisions for public health, forcing inmates to share toilets. Detainees — most awaiting trial — endure heat and noise.
But building four new jails in dense urban neighborhoods from Chinatown to the South Bronx does not guarantee inmates better care.
To drop four new jails into heavily populated neighborhoods — downtown Brooklyn and Forest Hills round out the four — the city must reduce its inmate population from 6,000 (pre-corona) to 3,300, a 42 percent decrease. But even as Covid has spurred emergency releases, the city has gotten its inmate population down to just under 4,000 — still above this target. And, as The Post reports, police have re-arrested 110 released detainees for new alleged crimes — including serial burglaries and robberies that make it harder for New Yorkers to recover from the pandemic.
Is it wise to build jails that must operate at near 100 percent of capacity all the time, even if crime never goes up?
Nicole Gelinas is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. Follow her on Twitter here. This piece was adapted from her recent report,“Reimagining Rikers Island: A Better Alternative to NYC’s Four-Borough Jail Plan.”
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