Rethinking our approach to criminal justice

Closing Rikers Island would require both a reduction in the overall criminally involved population as well as sensible siting of community based facilities.

Closing Rikers Island would require both a reduction in the overall criminally involved population as well as sensible siting of community based facilities.

“As a City, we have fallen short of fully upholding our values of justice and fairness,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Not only is our centralized justice system is inefficient, but it also deprives New Yorkers of their right to due process and needlessly severs family and community ties. We must do better. That is why I continue to support the closing of Rikers Island jail complex and transitioning to community-based criminal justice. We must do two things to make this a reality. First, we must commit to a calculated reduction to the overall prison population. Second, we must ensure detention facilities are close to courthouses.”

In recent years, New York City has started to make progress in reducing the overall prison population, already at half the level seen in the 1990s. Bail reform has shortened jail stays for individuals awaiting trial. One of these reforms, the supervised release program, grants judges the discretion to allow low-risk defendants to continue working and living with their families. Additionally, improved mental and behavioural health screening is better matching individuals to care instead of incarceration where appropriate.

Reducing the overall prison population is half of the solution -- we must also be more efficient and fair. The principle of having jail facilities next to our courts is the right principle. Transporting individuals to a court miles away and back to the detention facility takes hours. It is costly and inefficient. This is part of the reason the per-person cost of our jail system is more than $250,000 a year.  Furthermore, remote detention separates individuals from their family and community resources, increasing the chance of future involvement with the criminal justice system. Local jails near courthouses improve transparency, reduce costs, and reduce recidivism.

“In 2012, when the Brooklyn House of Detention reopened in Downtown Brooklyn, life went on as usual. Since reopening, I’ve received very few complaints about the facility itself. The overwhelming majority of local complaints have nothing to do with prisons, but with parking -- a ubiquitous New York City issue. Overall, the area has continued to grow and thrive.”

“Let’s keep the experience of residents in the neighborhood in mind as we engage in the difficult but important conversation about criminal justice in our city. No, there isn’t currently a specific plan to expand the Brooklyn House of Detention, which would require city approval to move forward. Furthermore, I’m not preapproving any application. But what I would like to do is urge everyone to reflect on what kind of city they want to live in. Let’s look at facts as well as experience. Let’s converse truthfully and sincerely about what values we hold and how we should organize our community.”