New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed on the broad contours of a plan to eventually close the city’s troubled jail complex on Rikers Island, telling those working on the issue that his position had changed, the New York Times reports. The details of his plan to do so were not immediately clear. They were expected to hew closely to recommendations in the 97-page report by an independent commission chaired by Judge Jonathan Lippman and created by the City Council to study the issue. The panel wants to move inmates off Rikers Island and into a system of smaller, borough-based jails, at a cost of $10.6 billion.
“The commission believes that the use of Rikers Island must be phased out over the next 10 years and its facilities demolished,” the report recommends. The jails there would be replaced with new jails built in each of the five boroughs that “would vary in size, on the expected population in each borough.” There would be 5,500 beds across the borough jails, under the commission’s plan, with the largest in Manhattan and the smallest on Staten Island. Lippman and the speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, were expected to announce the findings of the report on Sunday at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The apparent about-face by de Blasio, who is up for re-election this year, comes amid public pressure on the issue from Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who last year appeared to goad the mayor into supporting closure, calling it a “big solution” — and at a time when the mayor has been hounded by prison reform advocates at his events, including at town halls around the city and outside a fund-raiser in Fort Lauderdale, Fl.