When Mayor de Blasio held his press conference yesterday in which he endorsed closing Rikers Island over a period of 10 years, he said that he hadn't seen the Lippman Report, a study of the prison island by city officials, former judges, academics and other interested parties. Our pals at DNAinfo have seen it though, and the 164-page report recommends closing the prison island as well, and using the land for an expansion of LaGuardia Airport and as a place for city infrastructure.
The full report from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which took over a year to compile, recommends "without hesitation or equivocation, permanently ending the use of Rikers Island as a jail facility in any form or function." Beyond the economic benefits that the report suggests the closure would generate, the authors call it "an essential step toward building a more just New York City" and the first step towards creating a more humane criminal justice system.
The report is broken up into three sections: "Rethinking Incarceration," "The Future of Jails" and "Reimagining the Island." In the report's first section, the study's authors recommend the elimination of money bail and the expanded use of pretrial supervision as a way to keep the city's jail population down, as well as the elimination of jail sentences of 30 days or fewer. In the second section, the authors recommend the use of new "community jails" with a total capacity of 5,500 beds. The report calls for one of these jails each borough that's located near courts and civic centers instead of residential neighborhoods. The authors also suggest that new guard training should "prioritize communication skills, de-escalation, procedural justice, and mental health."
Finally, in the third section of the report, the authors explicitly suggest that the island itself "is uniquely positioned to accommodate an expanded LaGuardia Airport that would reduce delays and could serve as many as 12 million more passengers annually." In addition to an expanded airport, the authors recommend putting modernized power infrastructure on Rikers and moving public infrastructure utilities like wastewater treatment plants out of poor neighborhoods and onto the island itself.
Much of the report's recommendations are echoed in a Times op-ed co-authored by the head of the commission, retired judge Hon. Jonathan Lippman, and City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Opening with "The time has come to close Rikers Island," Lippman and Mark-Viverito dismiss the idea of reforming the prison island, and lay out the case for an updated criminal justice system in New York City. While admitting that the political path to closing the island and building new jails in the city would be difficult, the two write:
We need to articulate a simple truth: We are better than this. Rikers Island is an affront to the civic values of New York City. Reforming our jail system and closing Rikers Island is not simply good public policy — it is a moral imperative.
At its best, New York City has always been a place where people fight for fairness. As we strive to make New York a more just and humane city, we most close Rikers Island and end once and for all the despair and damage it causes.
Following the announcement from the mayor that the prison island would be closed, Jay-Z tweeted a message of support for the idea, and in memory of Kalief Browder, the Bronx teenager whose suicide after spending three years on Rikers awaiting trial for a petty theft charge sparked calls to close the island.
Kalief is a prophet. His story will save lives . You guys watching and your compassion made this happen. Thank you . pic.twitter.com/Vvnt9tDBeR
— Mr. Carter (@S_C_) March 31, 2017