The Independent Commission Studying Rikers Island Outlines Plan to Close Jail Facilities on Rikers Island

For Immediate Release: April 2nd, 2017

Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications,, (212) 739-7513, (917) 673-9095

NEW YORK, NY - The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which included LatinoJustice President and General Counsel Juan Cartagena, joined by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito – who convened the Commission in early 2016 – Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, advocates, and formerly incarcerated individuals and family members, outlined a detailed, achievable plan to permanently close Rikers Island and establish of five state-of-the-art borough-based jail facilities. The Commission’s recommendation to close Rikers were detailed in its final report released on Friday, following more than a year of in-depth research and extensive community outreach.

The 146-page report details how to safely reduce the jail population by instituting reforms at multiple stages of the criminal justice process, how to replace the mass incarceration model at Rikers Island with smaller, safer, and more humane facilities located closer to court systems in the civic centers of each borough, and how closing the jail facilities on Rikers could free up the space needed to house city infrastructure crucial to New York City’s future.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, "For too long, Rikers Island has been a symbol of dysfunction and violence and a stain on our criminal justice system," said Speaker Mark-Viverito. "That's why, a little over a year ago, I tasked an Independent Commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, with exploring how to make necessary improvements to bring more justice to all New Yorkers. The release of today's report is a landmark day for our City, for New Yorkers, and for anyone who has ever been ensnared by the criminal justice system. With the dedicated efforts of this Commission, along with support from Mayor de Blasio, today, we can say that the dream of closing Rikers Island will finally become a reality. I thank former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform for their critical work on this important issue and look forward to continuing to work with all of my colleagues as we continue to reimagine the future of jails and support a more humane, effective community-based justice system."

Judge and Chairman of the Independent Commission Jonathan Lippman said, “With the facts as our guide and input from a wide range of elected officials, community leaders, and everyday New Yorkers, we have determined, in no uncertain terms, the time has come for us to close Rikers. Closing Rikers Island is an essential step toward a more effective and more humane criminal justice system and our Commission’s charge was to develop a blueprint for how we can achieve just that. Our report builds from a solid foundation of progress in which New York City has successfully driven down crime and incarceration rates, illustrating that more jail in no way leads to greater public safety.

“We know that transforming these recommendations into real actions will take time, resources, and, most of all, political will to enact. However, with the courageous support from our city and state leaders, chiefly Speaker Mark-Viverito who has led the way on criminal justice reform and convened this Commission, from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who supports closing Rikers and will be integral to making this plan a reality, and from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has proactively advocated for the closure of Rikers, we are optimistic that we will be able to, indeed, build a more just New York City. I am deeply appreciative to the members of our Commission, staff members, organizations who offered their expertise and pro-bono services, the philanthropic support we received, and to each and every person who shared their experiences and perspectives with us over the past year.”

Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said, "I believe in approaching criminal justice in the 21st Century with bold, new ideas, and this includes reforming jails from 19th century models to places of actual rehabilitation, bail reform and alternatives to incarceration. Judge Lippman and the Commission have suggested thoughtful initiatives, and I commend their hard work. We are the greatest city in the greatest nation in the world, and our jails must not be brutal, corrupt, inhumane or filled with despair, either for those who have to be there because they await trial, are serving a sentence, or work there. The recommendation to create jails in each of the boroughs will take years to become a reality. In the meantime, I vow to continue my Office's attack upon the violence and corruption that have victimized inmates, officers and staff on Rikers Island. All New Yorkers look forward to the day when the current conditions at Rikers Island exist only in our collective memory.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said, “For too long, Rikers' Island has been plagued by substandard conditions and a culture of violence. Profoundly isolated from the rest of the city, it has far outlived its utility. Recognizing the need for better and safer alternatives to jail, as well as a path to success for those returning to their communities, my Office has invested $25 million in diversion – including $14 million for supervised release for defendants citywide, and $30 million in reentry programming. I want to thank the Speaker for convening this important Commission, and the members for making many thoughtful and achievable recommendations. Closing Rikers is our moral and civic obligation."

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “This report should give new life to our ongoing conversations about how to make the criminal justice system not only more just and humane, but also safer for everyone, including corrections officers. I agree that public safety can be achieved without relying on incarceration alone. In Brooklyn, we have long embraced innovative strategies that provide fair and effective alternatives to imprisonment. These include our Mental Health Court, our Young Adult Court, and soon, our plan to offer certain drug offenders the option of engaging in treatment without ever going to court. I commend the Commission members and Judge Lippman for their thoughtful and visionary work, and I look forward to doing my part."

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said, “When too many feel the scales of justice are unbalanced, it is clear that our City's criminal justice system is in need of desperate reform. The recommendations from the Lippman Commission are an opportunity for true, top-to-bottom reconstruction of our system: from emphasizing crime prevention programs to utilizing more alternatives to incarceration to reducing reliance on cash bail to ultimately closing Rikers Island. We must do everything in our power to ensure that our criminal justice system is fair, transparent, and accountable and these recommendations are a critical step towards that goal.”

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said, “For a generation, America tried to be ‘tough on crime’ instead of smart on crime. The result of our backward, mass incarceration approach meant that communities of color – often poor – were trapped in an unrelenting cycle of crime and poverty. It’s affected so many Americans and so many New Yorkers. We cannot jail people just because they’re poor, and we cannot put them in facilities – like Rikers Island – that don’t help them succeed. Rikers is a symbol of antiquated policies, and closing it is the right thing to do. We have to be a city that gives people inside our jails the tools to thrive outside those prison walls, and we have to give people second chances. That’s why the work of this Commission is so important, and I would like to thank Judge Lippman and all its members for their extraordinary contributions.”

‎Nicholas Turner, President of the Vera Institute of Justice and Chair of the Independent Commission’s Rethinking Incarceration subcommittee said, “Achieving a criminal justice system that is fair, safe, humane, and effective for all New Yorkers requires a different approach than our status quo. Such a system is better for our entire city – and wholly within our reach. This report serves as an evidence-based roadmap for what must be done to close the door on Rikers Island and replace it with jails across New York City that are safer, closer to courts and communities, and that align with our common values. I am proud to have played a role in this effort, and am grateful for the dedication of my fellow commission members and staff in our year-long effort to reimagine the future of our jails and our justice system.”

Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the City University of New York Institute for State & Local Governance, Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Chair of the Independent Commission’s Future of Jails subcommittee said, “Riker's Island has, since its inception as a jail complex that houses pre-trial detainees and those serving very short sentences, been an exceptionally poor place to locate a jail. The infrastructure has been in a state of constant disrepair for decades and its isolation makes it an alienating environment for both inmates and staff. This isolation also impacts family visiting, a crucial part of successful community integration. Put simply, keeping Riker's Island as the City's main detention complex is not sustainable. Over the past year, the Commission has worked diligently to create not just recommendations for transitioning off of Rikers Island, but a real blueprint for how we can make it a reality. Establishing borough-based facilities that promote the safety and well-being of both corrections officers and the individuals they supervise will ultimately help us create a smaller, more efficient and just system, allow for better communications amongst staff, incarcerated persons, and local communities, and ultimately provide significant cost savings to New Yorkers. I appreciate the comprehensive, thoughtful work of the Commission and am honored to have taken part.”

MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner Companies and Chair of the Independent Commission’s Reimagining the Island subcommittee said, “Rikers Island is an international symbol of despair and damage, leaving a permanent mark on everyone it touches and creating an out of sight, out of mind mentality for New Yorkers. Over the past year, the Commission crafted a comprehensive plan for transitioning jail facilities off Rikers Island, something that represents not only a moral imperative, but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to situate transportation and energy infrastructure projects crucial to the future of our great City. This reimagined Rikers Island would also include a memorial to acknowledge the injustices that have occurred there and ultimately seek to bring new, vital purpose to this space. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners and I am grateful to the Commission members, staff, and stakeholders who have allowed us to create a roadmap towards a more just New York City.”

Key Recommendations in the Commission’s Report Include:

  • Reducing the Inmate Population: In order to help create a more fair and more effective justice system, reforms must be instituted at multiple stages of the criminal justice process, from arrest through sentencing. These include:
    - Creating off-ramps at arrest with diversion of low-level misdemeanor cases and those in need of mental health services;
    - Reducing pretrial detention by moving toward a more just bail system that relies decreasingly on money bail and more on supervision and risk assessment tools;
    - Reducing case processing delays by enforcing reasonable timeframes to resolve all cases through adherence to court standards and through legislative action; and
    - Expanding sentencing alternatives to bring judicial discretion, community justice, and evidence-based alternatives to incarceration to the table.
  • Replacing the mass incarceration model at Rikers Island with five, smaller state-of-the-art facilities located closer to where the courts are operated in civic centers in each borough: Rikers severs connections with families and communities, with harmful consequences for anyone who spends even a few days on the Island. In addition to the human costs, facilities construction on the island costs 10 -15 percent more than in the boroughs and carries massive operational costs of transporting inmates to and from Rikers each day for court appearances. New jail facilities should:
    - Reflect the latest in rehabilitative best practices that strengthen communications between staff and inmates, provide room for programming, and take into account special needs for women;
    - Incorporate proven practices such as the direct supervision design and management model and exterior design that can be incorporated into the city streetscape and help integrate these borough-based facilities into local neighborhoods from the inside out; and
    - Have capacity for 5,500 beds to accommodate the reduced jail population.
  • The Commission’s analysis of the cost of transitioning to a community jail model ultimately means billions in cost savings to the City:
    - Transitioning to community jails, funding a new staff training facility, and enhancing inmate programming is projected to cost $11.4 - $13.9 billion, or $742 - $800 million over a twenty year term;
    - With the safety enhancements from the new jails and reduced population, the staff-to-inmate ratio can be reduced, resulting in projected annual savings of $1.4 billion; 
    -Taken together, the City would ultimately be saving millions during construction of these facilities and ultimately save $1.4 billion annually, assuming current staffing levels in perpetuity.
  • Investing in the improvement of jail culture: In addition to improving the physical state of our jails, the Commission wants to invest in corrections training. This would include:
    - Investing in a state-of-the-art training academy; and
    - Doubling the length of the current training of Corrections staff so that jail staff gets the preparation and support needed to effectively and safely perform their job.
  • Providing a unique opportunity to house infrastructure projects crucial to the future of New York City: Rikers Island is uniquely positioned to accommodate an expanded LaGuardia Airport, reducing delays and serving millions more passengers annually. This is desperately needed as delays at New York metropolitan airports are projected to continue to grow without additional runway capacity. The island could also serve vital infrastructure needs such as hosting sustainable energy production, reducing landfill waste, and diverting untreated water from our rivers.
  • Freeing up much-needed space in local neighborhoods for community redevelopment: By relocating existing public facilities to the island, neighborhoods historically burdened with unwanted infrastructure facilities, would be available for community redevelopment, generating more public benefits in the form of new jobs, affordable housing, open space, and other public uses.
  • Acknowledging the past injustices at Rikers is vital to any redevelopment at Rikers: Given Rikers Island’s symbol as a place of violence and injustice, redevelopment should include plans for a memorial to explain to future generations the history of the island. Additionally, the Commission also recommends include special job training and employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, along with contracting opportunities for minority business owners, in the redevelopment of Rikers. As the island is reimagined, the Commission believes it is appropriate to rename it as well.

To read the full report, please visit:

About the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform:

The Independent Commission is comprised of more than two dozen leaders from a variety of backgrounds, including law enforcement, academia, advocacy groups, business, and those who have spent time behind bars. It had started its work with no specific conclusion in mind and explored all possible actions to addressing the challenges. The Commission has remained a fully independent body, relying on philanthropic support and pro bono services, taking no money from governmental or political entities.

The Commission was formed at the request of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who called for its creation during her 2016 State of the City Address and appointed former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to lead it. The Commission’s work began in April 2016 and included in-depth research and robust public engagement. The Commission evaluated model programs and practices from across the country and around the world and conducted independent analysis of the available data. Commission members met with a broad array of stakeholders, including prosecutors, clergy, public defenders, correction officers, civil rights leaders, victim advocates, elected officials, business leaders, community leaders, the formerly incarcerated, and their families. The Commission also held public roundtables in each of the five boroughs, held meetings with the faith community, hosted design workshops, and gathered input from New York residents through its website.

To address the systemic issues at Rikers, the Commission divided the challenges into into three subcommittees: Rethinking Incarceration, The Future of Jails, and Reimagining the Island.

Commission members include:

  • Judge Jonathan Lippman (chair) — former Chief Judge of the State of New York and Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, and Of Counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP.
  • Richard M. Aborn — President of the Citizen’s Crime Commission of New York City.
  • Juan Cartagena — President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
  • Hon. Matthew J. D’Emic — Presiding Judge of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court.
  • Mylan L. Denerstein — Partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
  • Robert B. Fiske, Jr. — Senior Counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
  • MaryAnne Gilmartin — President and Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner Companies.
  • Colvin W. Grannum — President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp.
  • Dr. Michael P. Jacobson — Executive Director of the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance and Chairman of the Board of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency.
  • Seymour W. James, Jr. — Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society of New York.
  • Hon. Judy Harris Kluger — Executive Director of Sanctuary For Families.
  • Peter Madonia — Chief Operating Officer of the Rockefeller Foundation
  • Glenn E. Martin — President of JustLeadershipUSA.
  • Julio Medina — Executive Director and Chief Execuive Officer of Exodus Transitional Community, Inc.
  • Ana L. Oliveira — President and Chief Executive Officer of The New York Women’s Foundation.
  • Rocco A. Pozzi — Probation Commissioner, Westchester County Department of Probation and former Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Correction.
  • Laurie Robinson — Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
  • Stanley Richards — Board Member of the New York City Board of Correction and Senior Vice President at The Fortune Society, Inc.
  • Hon. Jeanette Ruiz — Administrate Judge of the New York Family Court.
  • Peter G. Samuels — Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP.
  • Dr. Alethea Simon — President and Executive Director of Greenhope Services for Women, Inc.
  • Herb Sturz — Board Chair of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods.
  • Jeremy Travis — President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the former Director of the National Institute of Justice.
  • Nicholas Turner — President and Director of the Vera Institute for Justice.
  • Darren Walker — President of the Ford Foundation.
  • Kathryn Wylde — President and Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership for New York City.
  • Kenneth H. Zimmerman — Director of U.S. Programs of the Open Society Foundations.

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