In six years, Rikers Island, a New York City jail complex notorious for inhumane treatment, will be closing, as the city opens a series of smaller jails in each borough instead of housing all its inmates in one place. A new report highlights some of the ways that the land—a 400-acre island in the middle of the East River—could potentially be transformed.
“As we’re starting to look at what happens next in New York and really around the country, I think the Rikers redevelopment is a critical part of really helping to solve some social justice issues, and then helping to solve some economic and development issues,” says Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, which published the report. “I think the moment is really here to get Rikers’ closing and the future of Rikers back in discussion.”
The island currently holds nine outdated, dilapidated jails, where reports have documented systematic abuse from guards. Cage-like cells often don’t have air conditioning, there are rats, and the island, which is built partially on landfill, often emits noxious odors. There aren’t basic social services for those who are mentally ill. Many of the thousands of people who are incarcerated are there because they couldn’t afford bail while they await trial. But in 2019, the city council voted to close the jails, with a plan to both reduce the number of people who are jailed in the city overall, and to open new, safer, more humane jails in each borough that would be closer to each inmate’s family and attorneys for visits. That will leave a large space for redevelopment.