Facing pressure from New York City Council members, city officials defended their progress toward closing the Rikers Island jail complex, saying doing so isn’t merely a question of real estate but requires a sea change in how the criminal-justice system functions, the Wall Street Journal reports. “While ‘Close Rikers’ has become a convenient moniker, it masks the seismic system change that must happen in order to achieve that one goal,” said Elizabeth Glazer of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, during a council hearing on Monday on the jail’s closure. To close Rikers Island, the daily population must shrink to 5,000 from about 9,100. Closing the complex would involve building jails in the boroughs, where they could face community opposition.
Council members and others questioned whether sufficient progress had been made toward closing Rikers, which has long been plagued by violence. Administration officials say shuttering the island’s jails would take about a decade. “The time for incremental reforms has come and gone,” said Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the council’s criminal-justice committee. “There has been a lot of talk but little action.” Queens Democrat Donovan Richards Jr. , said the idea that it would take 10 years was “shameful.” Inmates, he said, “come home broken” from Rikers Island. Officials said they had taken steps toward planning for new jails in the boroughs and ultimately shuttering the complex. These have included reducing the number of people incarcerated and creating jail alternatives. The city has formed working groups to address issues involved with closing Rikers, including one that would focus on changing jail culture. As the number of inmates decreases, shrinking the population further becomes tricky. “Who is left at Rikers Island will increasingly be those accused of violent offenses,” Glazer said.