New York Daily News

Arrested progress


In her call for the city to move swiftly forward with plans to close down Rikers Island by 2027, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams faces down some significan­t obstacles. If and when the borough-based jails get built, the city will likely have twice or more the volume of detainees that would fill them.

The complicati­on doesn’t mean that the longterm project of closing down our most reliable source of human rights violations, sitting right next to the gleaming new terminals of LaGuardia Airport, is folly. Rikers is worth shutting down, for reasons including inaccessib­ility for friends, family and attorneys and the sorry state of the complex’s physical infrastruc­ture, which adds to the hazards faced by detainees and officers alike.

The path there, though, must be paved with more than good intent. Since the get-go, the plan depended on getting the detainee population to an arbitraril­y low cap, based on the assumption that the numbers would keep trending downward. That assumption didn’t hold, and detainee numbers are now not only well above the 3,300-person goal but ticking up.

Some of this can be explained by recent increases in certain crimes, but also largely has to do with bureaucrat­ic delays at all levels of the criminal justice system, with cases wending their way slowly through backlogged courts and keeping people locked up pretrial detention for much longer than should reasonably be expected.

It is also downstream from the persistent and calamitous fact that the jails remain our primary avenue for mental health interventi­ons, with plenty of New Yorkers ending up on Rikers simply because we’ve failed to contend with their mental illness at any point before they got involved in a crime.

Speaker Adams is right that Rikers doesn’t really serve the city, not only as a subpar facility in itself but as a representa­tion of our inability to build out better treatment options and move towards effective alternativ­es to incarcerat­ion. All of that is a precursor to our ability to ever close Rikers. Without it, we’re spinning our wheels.

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