New York Daily News: De Blasio Vows to Close Rikers Island, Excludes Building New Jails on Staten Island

Tina Luongo in the Daily News urges City Hall to adopt a borough-based jail approach that will ease access for families to see their relatives and attorneys to access their clients.

New York Daily News
De Blasio vow to close Rikers Island excludes building new jails on Staten Island
By Jillian Jorgensen
April 3, 2017

While he’s vowed to close Rikers Island and house inmates elsewhere, Mayor de Blasio said there’s one place he doesn’t intend to put them: Staten Island.

“I have no intention of opening a jail on Staten Island, because, again, we need the fewest facilities possible, and so we know that very few of our inmates come from Staten Island,” de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference in Randall’s Island.

On Friday, the mayor said he’d close the notorious jail complex if he could drop the inmate population to 5,000.

But he didn’t commit to the recommendations laid out in a report from a commission led by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, which recommended using borough-based jails to house inmates locally. That would include a jail in Staten Island, which would be the smallest of the five based on the proportion of inmates from there. There are already jails in downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan, and a barge off the Bronx. Queens has a former jail that is now empty.

“I want see this move forward and I want to see us figure out the fewest possible locations that allow us to get off Rikers Island,” de Blasio said. “And Staten Island doesn't really play a strategic role in that. So that’s not my plan.”

Advocates for closing Rikers Island argue that placing jails close to every borough’s courthouses provides better outcomes and saves the city time and money transporting them.

“We hope the Mayor's final plan prioritizes families over politics and makes accessibility paramount,” Tina Luongo, attorney-in-chief of the criminal practice at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement. “Our attorneys need easy access to their clients, as well as relatives to their family members. Location shouldn't still serve as an ordeal mechanism if the Mayor is serious about reforming our broken corrections system.”

But building new jails is a heavy lift for any mayor, particularly in an election year. Unlike new homeless shelters, which de Blasio has also vowed to build in all five boroughs, new jails require the sign-off of the local City Council member.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo said his “hardline” stance against a jail was rooted in years of trying to shut down — and prevent the re-opening of — the Fresh Kills landfill.

“I am pleased this is one battle we won't have to fight. I take the Mayor at his word — and in 20 years he's not broken his word to me — and so this ends the discussion of the de Blasio Administration building a jail in Staten Island,” Oddo said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Daily News.