As part of the movement to reform its criminal justice system, New York City wants to open four, borough-based jails to achieve its long term goal of closing the notoriously violent and dysfunctional Rikers Island.
Residents of Lower Manhattan convened last week at a town hall style meeting, where city officials attempted to justify the proposal, often without being able to finish a sentence. They touted the new plan, arguing that it would bring inmates closer to their families and the courthouses, improving their chances of successful re-entry after release. Other services such as mental health programs, education, and rehab facilities would also be more accessible.
One of the proposed 40-story jails would replace a current government building at 80 Centre Street in Chinatown and would include a ground floor of retail space. The city’s goal is to reduce the current number of incarcerated persons from 9,000 to 5,000.
"They should reform the jail system. Not move it down to our community,” said Mary Wu, a resident of Chinatown. "If they want to be close to their relatives to visit, move it to their community.” She thinks the area would benefit from senior and affordable housing instead of a jail.
Although the intention to close the 86-year-old prison complex is good, expanding the criminal justice footprint by opening other prisons doesn’t seem to address the problems that Rikers had: correctional misconduct, bail, and bad policing. Aside from better lighting and slightly smaller size, the city has failed to address how the prisons will be safer for both inmates and correctional officers.
Brandon Holmes, coordinator of advocacy group Close Rikers Campaign, points out that “the city would also need to undertake a dramatic overhaul of its criminal justice system, enacting radical changes such as ending bail bonds, cutting back on detention for low level offenses, and reevaluating pretrial detention as a whole,” in order to hit the target goal and to avoid overcrowding when and if Rikers is closed.
Article by: Katya Demina