'It will happen:' Mayor Bill de Blasio vows to close Rikers Island

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Saturday, April 1, 2017
Mayor de Blasio vows to close Rikers Island jail
Josh Einiger has more from Rikers Island.

RIKERS ISLAND, New York (WABC) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday announced hopes that his administration will eventually be able to close the Rikers Island jail facility.

A report by an independent commission set to be released this weekend is expected to recommend the complex be phased out over the next decade, and in its place, smaller jails based in each individual borough.

"New York City will close the Rikers Island jail facility," he said. "It will take many years. It will take many tough decisions along the way. But it will happen."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces plan to close Rikers Island

The 10-year plan will continue only if the crime rate, which has gone down over the last three years, remains low, and also only if the jail population drops from the current 10,000 to around 5,000.

"A year ago, we did not believe it could be done, it's as simple as that," de Blasio said. "It would have been politically convenient a year ago to say, yep, let's do this, it's going to be great. We didn't believe it could be done."

The goal is to provide better services to inmates and safer conditions for guards, and de Blasio voiced his support for a potential plan after reportedly reaching a deal with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

"We look forward in working together in the years to come to make this a reality," he said. "This is the first time in 85 years, since Rikers Island open in 1932, that the official policy of New York City will be to close. It is a historic occasion."

De Blasio stressed that the closure will not happen overnight and will take a lot of work, without any quick fixes, but he said he is devoted to making the change.

"The mass incarceration era did not begin in New York City," he said. "But it will end here."

Mark-Viverito, who has fought years to close Rikers, said she is frustrated by residents' "not in my backyard" attitude, particularly regarding the mayor's plans to increase homeless shelters and trash facilities in the boroughs.

"This constant conversation when it comes to community facilities, that somehow the people that need access to these services are others, that we should shun, is just to be unacceptable," she said. "As a leader, we have to make a decision that we're here to represent everybody."

Here is the full text of de Blasio's statement:

New York City has always been better than Rikers Island. I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to this reality.

Our success in reducing crime and reforming our criminal justice system has paved a path off Rikers Island and toward community-based facilities capable of meeting our criminal justice goals.

There is no doubt that the road to Rikers Island's closure will be long and arduous. It will require that local officials and stakeholders stand up and support facilities that meet our moral obligation to thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we will never turn our backs on. It will require that our state government, and each component of our criminal justice system, contribute to the reform efforts critical to reducing our jail population and improving re-entry services and educational programming. The length of this process will also require continued investment in the facilities and conditions on Rikers Island that remain key to rehabilitation efforts for thousands of New Yorkers in the years ahead.

This moment would not be possible without the work of Speaker Mark-Viverito, who has helped fuel the progress toward a more just criminal justice system.