The mayor of New York City will take the first step in closing the notorious Rikers Island this summer.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the first of nine detention centers at New York’s biggest jail will close in the summer of 2018, moving some 600 inmates off the island. The mayor has promised to close the facility entirely in the next decade.
The George Motchan Detention Center, one of nine such centers on Rikers Island, will shutter first. In January the population of the jail hit its all-time low, with 8,705 inmates, according to the New York Daily News.
Crime numbers in New York have fallen considerably year-to-year, per New York Police Department statistics.
Still, de Blasio has come under scrutiny for the NYPD’s continued racial bias in low-level drug arrests.
“Every day we are making New York City’s jail system smaller, safer and fairer,” said de Blasio, according to the local CBS-affiliate news station. “This announcement is an important step in our plan to close Rikers Island and create more community-based facilities to better serve people in custody and our hardworking correctional staff.”
The city’s been under pressure to close the jail, which has been racked by controversy. In 2015, the New Yorker reported a story about Kalief Browder, a teenager from the Bronx who spent three years on Rikers awaiting trial for stealing a backpack. Browder suffered from mental illness after spending about two years in solitary confinement while in jail. He killed himself in 2015.
Cases like Browder’s and story after story of violence in the facility have brought increased scrutiny to Rikers, with many advocates pushing for it to close. In March of 2017, de Blasio announced a plan to close the jail within a decade, while eyeing other spots to open new jails within the city limits.
The announcement that this facility will shutter is the first concrete action taken as part of de Blasio’s plan. His administration has identified a previously-closed prison in Queens that it is considering reopening as Rikers closes, according to the New York Daily News.