New York mayor says violence-torn jail
complex to close
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[April 01, 2017]
By Peter Szekely
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's
massive Rikers Island jail complex will close in as little as 10 years,
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday, saying falling crime levels
had paved the way toward shuttering the troubled facility.
The decision by the Democratic mayor follows a 9 percent drop in the
city's overall crime rate over three years, and an even larger drop in
the inmate population.
"If we can continue on that trajectory, it will allow us to get off
Rikers Island," de Blasio told a City Hall press conference. "So Job 1
is to continue the work of reducing crime."
The mayor's announcement came as a 27-member panel that has been
studying Rikers Island for more than a year prepared to unveil its
findings on Sunday.
The panel will recommend a $10.6 billion plan to close Rikers and
replace it with smaller jails in each of the city's five boroughs, the
New York Times reported.
New York's inmate population, most of which is held on Rikers Island in
the East River between the Bronx and Queens, has fallen to 9,300 from
more than 11,000 three years ago, according the Elizabeth Glazer, who
heads the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice.
De Blasio said it would have to drop to 5,000 to close Rikers, which has
been marred by widely reported cases of violence, including charges that
prison guards brutally abused inmates.
Officials believe the city can reach the goal of an inmate population
totaling 5,000 in 10 years. But the mayor said the timetable could be
extended if the number of inmates fails to shrink quickly enough.
De Blasio's announcement was welcomed by Seymour James, chief attorney
of the Legal Aid Society. The group provides free legal services to the
city's indigent defendants, many of whom are awaiting trial at Rikers
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New York City Mayor Bill
de Blasio speaks at the City Hall in New York, U.S., March 16, 2017.
"From our daily interactions with clients at Rikers and their
stories about rampant violence and abuse, we know first-hand the
destructive consequences this facility has for the families its
touched," he said.
De Blasio said he was not "buying into" the 27-member panel's
reported borough-based proposal for replacement jails, but added
that he wants as few new facilities as possible.
Although it will be left to his successor to complete the task, de
Blasio said his agreement with City Council President Council
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a relentless advocate for closing the
facility, was unlikely to change.
"I think it would be tough for a successor in either of our roles to
turn against this decision unless they had a damn good reason," the
(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen;
Editing by Tom Brown)
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