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New Report: The Problem with NYC’s Borough-Based Jails Plan

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press release

New Report: The Problem with NYC’s Borough-Based Jails Plan

December 1, 2022

NEW YORK, NY — Plans to close the jail complex on Rikers Island and replace it with four jails in the five boroughs have been the object of much scrutiny, with much of the debate involving the problem of scale. These smaller jails would mean a sharp reduction in system capacity, but for many in the communities they will be built in, they are still too big. But as crime in the city continues to rise, leaders from Mayor Adams down are beginning to ask: what if the planned borough-based jails aren’t big enough? 

In a new Manhattan Institute report, fellow Charles Fain Lehman argues that replacing a system with a maximum capacity of nearly 15,000 beds with one that can hold just 3,300 detainees on a given day is not possible without creating a serious public safety issue or humanitarian crisis or, most likely, both. Even after more than half a decade of deliberate decarceration—enacted by a series of reforms including bail reform, discovery reform, and “Raise the Age”—today's daily population sits between 5,500 and 6,000, well in excess of the borough-based jails’ allotment. 

To understand how we got here, Lehman chronicles the history of the 3,300 figure, arguing it is grounded more in politics than in any reasonable projection; details the research on the effects of pre-trial detention; investigates who’s currently on Rikers and who could safely be released; and estimates the relationship between crime rates and jail population.  

An interactive tool created by Lehman—and designed to update daily to reflect real-time jail population—allows readers to visualize Department of Correction data, revealing how hard it is to cut current population below 3,300. Given the city’s commitment to closing Rikers, Lehman concludes by looking at potential sources of alternative capacity, including refurbishing or repurchasing closed jails; constructing additional, small borough jails; and “boarding out” detainees to Long Island and Westchester County. Since neither of these solutions will provide enough adequate and safe housing, Lehman briefly revisits the case for keeping some of Rikers open. 

Click here to view the full report. 

Contact:Leah ThomasSenior Press Officer(419) 266-5959lthomas@manhattan-institute.org

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