Rikers Island is one of New York City’s most notorious jails, but the City Council has voted to close it by 2026. The $8 billion plan intends to open four smaller jails across the city.
Rikers is located on an island in the middle of the East River, and is only accessible by one bridge from Queens. The new smaller jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens will be closer to the city’s courthouses.
Over the years Rikers Island has become infamous for violence and neglect. The majority of the population are individuals awaiting trial, but inmates with short sentences are also housed there. Kalief Browder was a Bronx teen that spent three years at Rikers awaiting trial. He was never charged of a crime and upon his release he actually committed suicide. The case sparked national outrage and became a staple in criminal justice reform. The US attorney's office for the Southern District of New York reached a settlement with the city in 2015 after a multi-year investigation found adolescent inmates were not protected from "the rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by New York City Department of Correction staff and violence inflicted by other inmates."
"The era of mass incarceration is over. It's over," de Blasio said in a press conference after the vote. "This is about valuing our people, no longer condemning people and sending them on a pathway that only made their lives worse and worse."