New York City plans to close a jail on Rikers Island this summer, a move city officials called a major step toward shuttering the troubled complex. The George Motchan Detention Center houses 580 men awaiting trial. One of nine jails on the island, it is the first that officials have said they would close as part of a plan to stop holding inmates on the island, reports the Wall Street Journal. “There is a seismic change under way in justice in New York City,” said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Officials said they chose to close the Motchan jail because it has structural and sewer problems and cells in need of repair. The inmates and approximately 1,000 staffers who work there would be moved to other facilities.
Elias Husamudeen, head of the union that represents correction officers, said closing the jail was “reckless” and “put politics ahead of safety.” Husamudeen said shifting inmates from the closed jail to other facilities on Rikers would increase assaults on correction officers. Mayor Bill de Blasio has come under fire from some city council members and advocates who say the administration is moving too slowly to close the jail. Closing all jails on Rikers will involve building new ones in the boroughs, which could generate opposition of community members and local elected officials. Existing jails in the boroughs can house about 2,300 people. Citywide, the jail population is about 8,800, about 6,800 of whom are housed on Rikers. Officials have said closing the entire complex will take a decade and require the citywide population to drop under 5,000 inmates.