October 14, 2019
New York City’s historic decarceration efforts to accelerate ahead of the closure of Rikers Island, resulting in 700 fewer people in the jail system than previously forecasted
NEW YORK—City officials have revised the estimated jail population to 3,300 by 2026, down from the earlier estimate of 4,000, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson announced. The new figure will serve as the baseline for plans to build four smaller, safer, more humane facilities to replace the current outdated jails on Rikers Island and elsewhere. The revised population estimate will mark the lowest jail population in New York City in a century and is estimated to be the lowest jail population rate among the nation’s largest cities.
"Mass incarceration did not begin in New York City, but it will end here, said Mayor de Blasio." With the lowest rate of incarceration of any major city, we are proving you don’t need to arrest your way to safety. New York is a telling a different story, one where we can keep fathers at home and kids in schools and still be the safest big city in America."
“Just a few years ago, the Lippman Commission’s projection of a 5,000 average daily population was considered by many to be overly optimistic. To now reach 3,300 is an extraordinary achievement, and the culmination of years of hard work to move away from the failed policies of mass incarceration. But we will not rest. We will keep fighting to bring this number down even further. New York City should be a model of progressive criminal justice reform nationwide,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“The new city jail population estimate of 3,300 by 2026 reflects a new model of safety being built in New York City in which police, prosecutors and courts have lightened the touch of the criminal justice system while crime has continued to drop," said Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. "The City’s successful diversion and alternatives to incarceration programs, such as the nationally recognized Supervised Release program, keeps people from entering jail. Our robust reentry services such as Jails to Jobs help people from coming back. And our community-based violence interruption programs, such as the Crisis Management System, helps people steer clear of the justice system entirely. This foundation of reform, built over the last five years, will provide current and future generations of New Yorkers with an even smaller, safer, fairer justice system.”
The updated jail population estimate will allow the City to build new facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx appropriate for an even smaller number of detainees. Each facility will now anticipate an average daily population of fewer than one thousand people—less than half the population of the largest facility currently operating on Rikers Island.
The 3,300 estimate comes after City officials analyzed the impact of the City’s many successful reform measures, such as the award-winning, nationally recognized Supervised Release diversion program, which will now expand to further reduce the population of pretrial detainees that comprise the majority of individuals incarcerated in city jails. These estimates also reflect the major role bail reform and other state reform measures will have on the number of pretrial detainees in the city’s jails.
The lower population estimate is the latest announcement by Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson ahead of the Council’s anticipated Oct. 17 vote to replace the current dilapidated jail facilities on Rikers Island, as well as the old borough-based jails in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the barge in the Bronx. Those aging jails will be replaced with four new facilities that prioritize safety for staff and detainees, as well as programming and services that will help individuals to reenter their communities.
Earlier this month the Administration and Council leadership committed to change the zoning of Rikers Island to ban its use for incarcerating individuals going forward. This land use proposal will guarantee the permanent closure of jails on Rikers Island.
The new 3,300 population update reflects the City’s ongoing efforts to end the era of mass incarceration by providing a new model of safety and progressive justice, both in city jails and beyond.
“I thank Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson for responding to the demands of the #CloseRikers campaign and minimizing the projected jail population for 2026. This reduction demonstrates our city’s commitment to decarceration and to transforming our justice system into one that is smaller, safer, and more humane,” said Council Member Diana Ayala.
“A citywide jail population of 3,300 would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. This dramatic reduction in the number of detainees in New York’s jails is an essential step toward achieving a criminal justice system driven by our shared values of social services, rehabilitation and true reform," said Council Member Margaret Chin.
“I applaud the administration and Speaker on today’s announcement to reduce the city’s jail population to 3,300 people by 2026,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “This is the result of historic statewide policy change and city level reform and is in direct response to the leadership of formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and advocates fighting for long-lasting change. Throughout this process I have been focused on our decarceration and criminal justice reform needs to ensure we are doing everything we can to get people out of jail and home with their loved ones. This new estimate would be the lowest jail population in a century, marking a major change in a city of 8.7 million people and toward a world where incarceration is not the response to our communities’ needs.”
“This marks a new era for our city and shows our commitment to a fairer system that invests in our communities. I applaud all of my colleagues in government who made this possible, and the advocates for constantly demanding we as a city do better for all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Karen Koslowitz.
“As less and less people are incarcerated in New York City, we have an opportunity to reallocate resources away from detention and towards critical investments in communities, public safety, and other much-needed services,” said Council Member Keith Powers, Chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice.
“Having a jail population of less than 4,000 people was considered unthinkable in New York City just five years ago, but the work of legislators, advocates, criminal justice experts and the NYPD in New York has made the impossible possible,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Committee on Public Safety. “Focusing on keeping nonviolent offenders out of jails, investing in communities and making a serious commitment to vocational training and programming will help us reach that reality. This is only the start of the work that needs to be put in to reform a horrible system that led to the loss of too many lives and turned minor offenders into lifelong victims of the criminal justice system. I look forward to continuing the work needed to ensure that these plans are executed responsibly and compassionately by 2026.”
“The inevitable closure of Rikers Island presents an opportunity to reexamine the criminal justice system in New York City,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams. “With the new reduced jail population estimate, comes an opportunity to build smaller, efficient facilities that serve as an incentive to keep jail populations at historic lows by design.”
“This revised population estimate means we are that much closer to building the smaller, safer and fairer criminal justice system that New Yorkers demand and deserve. One with fewer people incarcerated, more resources dedicated to supporting individuals who become involved with the justice system, and enhanced safety for those who work and live in city jails,” said Department of Corrections Commissioner Cynthia Brann.
"As New York City's largest alternative to incarceration, the Department of Probation (DOP) is proud of the work being done with our partners and probation officers to strengthen communities and change lives in neighborhoods across the City. Our nationally recognized evidence-based programs and practices help reduce incarceration and improve individual outcomes, thereby decreasing reliance on jails, creating 'A Safer City for All,'" said Department of Probation Commissioner Ana M. Bermúdez Esq.
“Over the past few years, New York City has dramatically and safely reduced the number of people in jail, demonstrating that mass incarceration does not equal public safety,” said Jonathan Lippman, Former Chief Judge and Chair, Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. “These reform efforts have been successful thanks to the hard work of the Mayor, the Speaker, and the Council, and the relentless focus of the advocacy community. The updated projections announced today represent a strong commitment to the continuation of justice reform in our city. Closing Rikers has never been only about putting an end to the misery of the jails on that island. It’s about keeping more people out of jail and out of the criminal justice system altogether, and focusing on rehabilitation and community investment rather than incarceration and punishment. When our common vision of a local, smaller criminal justice system becomes a reality, New York City can be a beacon of fairness for the nation.”
“Today’s landmark announcement demonstrates that Mayor De Blasio and Speaker Johnson are committed to ensuring NYC has the smallest criminal justice footprint possible,” said Stanley Richards, Executive Vice President of The Fortune Society. “The revised estimate will allow the City to build even smaller, and safer jails. The Fortune Society stands ready to continue to work with our government and community partners to move the revised number even lower as the Close Rikers plan moves forward. On behalf of the 7,000 people who seek Fortune services each year, we applaud Mayor De Blasio and Speaker Johnson for not settling on the original plan of reducing the jail population to 5,000 and working side by side with advocates and services providers to ensure that we reduced our reliance on mass incarceration to achieve safer communities. The time now is to reinvest in our communities hardest hit by mass incarceration as a result of our reduced reliance on incarceration. Investments that would ensure children like my grandchildren have a pathway to college, economic stability and a future without Rikers Island. For too long, Riker’s Island has been the destination for too many of our Black and Brown children. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to shutter Rikers Island, significantly reduce the number of people in our system and who are detained in jail and reinvest in the future of our fellow New Yorkers. The Fortune Society looks forward to the day when Rikers Island is closed forever . We congratulate Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson and all who worked to ensure we continue to reduce our overall criminal justice footprint.”
“The giant step that New York City is taking to improve the lives of New Yorkers by drastically reducing the use of incarceration is unprecedented. New York will become one of the safest big cities in the country while also maintaining the lowest jail population in 100 years. To be sure there is more work to be done. Advocates and activists must remain productively engaged to ensure that borough-based facilities are suitable for accountability, healing and restoration rather than punishment. Furthermore, our communities must persistently demand that the savings of $1 billion a year that will result from closing Rikers is invested in schools, economic opportunity, affordable housing, and other improvements in the neighborhoods most impacted by the scourge of Torture Island," said Vivian Nixon, Executive Director, College & Community Fellowship.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that closing the draconian Rikers Island is a moral imperative. When government exercises one of its highest powers by incarcerating an individual it has the obligation to ensure that person is kept free from harm, is housed in humane conditions and does what it can to ease that person’s reentry to society. Rikers Island miserably fails all three responsibilities. It would be indefensible to keep it open. The time to close it is now. The city’s projection of an even smaller number of individuals who will be held logically follows the now 18 year steady decline in crime rates coupled with ever shrinking numbers of people who are incarcerated and soon to be enacted additional reforms to bail. This is welcomed news and should facilitate the rapid closing of Rikers," said Richard Aborn, President, Citizens Crime Commission of New York City.
"The projected reductions in the daily jail population in New York City are a rare piece of good news that all New Yorkers can feel positive about. To go from 22,000 people behind bars to 3,300 in little more than a generation is no small achievement. The investments that the City has made in alternatives to incarceration (both pre-trial and post-adjudication) and in community-based crime prevention programs have reaped significant dividends. Indeed, New York is serving as a national model for how to reduce mass incarceration while maintaining public safety," said Greg Berman, Director, Center for Court Innovation.
"Since the Mayor began this ULURP process, and for decades before that, directly impacted leaders have fought to make New York City the most decarcerated big city in the United States. These most recent population projections represent how far we have come and the success we have had in pushing this administration to go further than even they thought possible. By winning groundbreaking pretrial reforms, by continuing to fight for historic parole reform, and by advancing and demanding the implementation of our #buildCOMMUNITIES platform, our message is clear: we must push for permanent decarceration and investment into the people and communities most traumatized by Rikers so that the system's ability to harm anyone is forever diminished. Survivors of Rikers will continue to lead this City through permanent closure of all nine Rikers Island jails & the Boat on the fastest timeline possible, while centering the urgency of improving conditions and investing in communities most harmed by incarceration” said DeAnna Hoskins, President & CEO, JustLeadershipUSA.
“We thank God for this historic day in which New York City commits to significantly downsizing the jail system. City officials are wise to honor and affirm the work of advocates and personally impacted people who, for many years, have been fighting for a more just system. This bold and pivotal step will serve as a model for hundreds of jurisdictions throughout the United States,” said Rev. Wendy Calderón Payne, Executive Director, BronxConnect.
“Almost 100 years later and New York City is about to have its lowest number of detained people since the 1920's. The projection of 3,300 people within our City's detention facilities is by far the most progressive in the country. New York City's commitment to cap the footprint of our jail system to 3,300 sets an unrivaled national precedent for ending mass incarceration, an anomalous and shameful American phenomenon. Already New York incarcerates less than any American big city, like Los Angeles or Chicago, and driving down to 3,300 will reduce incarceration by yet another 50 percent, putting us on par with Western European cities. New York, which in the 1990s had upwards of 20,000 people in jail, has since demonstrated that less incarceration means safer communities. Today’s announcement, last week’s to end all jail building on Rikers Island, and the commitment to safer, more humane borough-based facilities, builds on this progress. We applaud the Mayor and the City Council,” said Nicholas Turner, President and Director, Vera Institute of Justice.
"The City's projections about continued drops in the jail population are grounded in what we know about the causes of crime -- and the solutions—if we have the courage and commitment to put our resources where we know they will make a difference," said Osborne Association President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes. "Despite the cynicism of those opposed to closing Rikers, recidivism by people charged with causing harm is not inevitable, and jails themselves cause trauma and harm that contributes to recidivism. If we build a system that is both small and humane, organizations like Osborne can focus our resources on individualized services known to prevent violence and promote healing and safety, and a City like ours can focus its resources on the root causes of crime and violence, including poverty, racial inequity, unaffordable housing, and inadequate education and health and mental health treatment."
Getting here has not been easy. Directly impacted advocates, activists and organizers have been working tirelessly with local, City and State legislators to not only decarcerate our City but, build communities as well.I applaud the New York City Council and the Mayor for working alongside us to shut down the inhumane and cruel penal colony that is Rikers Island,” said Donna Hylton Senior Justice Advisor, Katal Center.
“The City, City Council, City Planning Commission, Just Leadership and #CloseRikers campaign have done a magnificent job towards the closing of Rikers. I compliment them all tremendously,” said Herb Sturz, Senior Advisor, FedCap and Open Society Foundation.
“With an incarceration decline from around 22,000 in 1991 to around 7,000 today, New York City is the safest and least incarcerated big city in the United States, giving the lie to notions that more incarceration equates to safer communities,” stated Vincent Schiraldi co-director of the Columbia University Justice Lab and co-author of Better by Half: The New York City Story of Winning Large Scale Decarceration while Increasing Public Safety. “When the jails’ population declines to 3,300, the city will be challenging the underpinnings of mass incarceration at an elemental level unheard of since the U.S. invented mass incarceration in the 1970s. The mayor and city council, along with the advocates, formerly incarcerated people, and government officials deserve immense credit for this unmatched achievement.”
With these lowered numbers, we are at a pivotal moment in NYC’s realization of a new vision for much smaller, safer, and humane borough-based facilities. The continued rethinking of incarceration at the various stages in NYC’s criminal justice system has been instrumental in the decarceration efforts we have seen so far, thanks to the advocacy of many individuals and families who are system involved, organizers, and other stakeholders. We are witnessing another giant step in the efforts to dismantle and eventually end mass incarceration in NYC,” said Alethea Taylor, Member, Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration.