Why Rikers Island is ready for a rethink

Mayor Adams Announced last month that Louis Molina will leave his position as commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) to become assistant deputy mayor for public safety.

Molina’s replacement has yet to be named, but unless the next DOC frees itself from fantastical progressive demands, attempts to improve security and management at Rikers Island will continue to fail.

Molina’s two years in office were plagued with criticism, but the administration also had successes.

Deaths among Rikers inmates have decreased to nine so far in 2023 from last year’s horrendous quarter-century record of 19, and will likely finish below 2021’s total of 15 deaths.

Rates of violent assaults and assaults on staff decreased in 2022 after steady increases over the previous decade.

The average daily percentage of sick staff fell from more than a quarter to less than an eighth during Molina’s first year.

Molina DOC Reduced Serious Staff Injuries for 32% and the percentage of inmates in rehabilitation programs more than doubled between the beginning of 2022 and the beginning of this year.

During his tenure, former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio talked about closing Rikers and replacing it with a series of smaller facilities across the city.
Stefan Jeremiah for New York Pos

But Rikers remains a dangerous place: there are still cuts, stabbings and fights between inmates. stubbornly high.

Crumbling infrastructure becomes improvised weapons, lethal drugs pass inspections, and it is difficult to recruit competent and ethical personnel.

This is why the incoming commissioner will only succeed if New York officials quash unrealistic demands against incarceration, lobbied by activists and amplified by the press and compliant academics.

And this includes the most progressive minefield of all, the closure of Rikers itself, along with the illusion that incarceration simply isn’t necessary.

In fact, his predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, promoted plans to “Shut down Rikers” and replace them by 2027 with much smaller facilities (with ridiculously insufficient capacity for 3,300 inmates) to move “One step closer to ending mass incarceration once and for all.”

Toward this ideal, de Blasio began artificially reducing the Rikers population in 2016.

He was aided in this effort by soft-prosecution strategies such as “supervised release” programs, non-enforcement policies for misdemeanors, and statewide reforms in prosecution and parole.

But the adoption of release has been correlated with an increase in crime.

Serious crimes committed in New York last year were 40% higher than in 2017: 30,000 additional incidents.

The result, ironically, is that the population of Rikers grew 45% in the last two years, and it is increasing.

Rikers currently averages 6,149 inmates daily, 40% retained about violent crimes and about a room on homicide-related charges.

Mayor Eric Adams is distancing himself from his predecessor and is considering a “Plan B” to keep Rikers open and continue housing inmates.

So why are officials still clinging to the fantasy of shutting down Rikers?

Even members of the majority-progressive Board of Corrections reportedly admit behind closed doors that closure is impossible, prompting Adams to We talk about a “Plan B” rehabilitate rather than retire Rikers.

But pressure to toe the party line in public is driving the shutdown plan at the expense of real-world improvements.

Think about how much safer an incoming commissioner could make Rikers if the more than $8 billion slated to build new inadequate jails were spent fixing door locks, attracting better staff, and fixing Rikers’ existing footprint.

Meanwhile, combining criticism with demonization of incarceration has generally made it harder to recruit and retain qualified personnel.

Most importantly, dangerous criminals at Rikers have ample opportunity to reoffend behind bars.

Louis Molina left his position as head of the New York City prison system to take a position in Mayor Adams’ administration.
Robert Miller

The city’s cruelest inmates have more daily opportunities to take advantage of others than those in Chicago, Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., where inmates may be limited to just five or six hours outside their cells.

That is why Molina tried to reduce the number of inmates Minimum daily out-of-cell time from 14 hours to seven for the small facility with the most cuts and stabbings.

Race, in part, drives this refusal to limit the partition of the most violent.

Progressives like the state Senator Alessandra Biaggi considers reducing Solitary confinement is a “vital step” toward “racial justice.”

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Luis Sepúlveda similarly cite disproportionate confinement of black inmates.

The focus on racial disparity has not only taken precedence over physical safety considerations, but has actually accentuated racial disparities, as the incarceration rate of black New Yorkers compared to whites is higher. more than doubled between 2016 and 2021.

As progressive politicians debate closing Rikers, crime levels in the city have increased. That’s why closing Rikers is clearly not a good idea.

Calls have grown for a federal receiver to take over Rikers, although federal receivers in other jurisdictions have not proven reliably successful.

This means that unless New York admits that prisons must be strong, well-funded, and focus on physical security over racial composition, the new DOC Commissioner will have a difficult time improving security and efficiency, and even can become the new public enemy number one.

Hannah E. Meyers is a fellow and director of policing and public safety at the Manhattan Institute.

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