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NYC Council members propose steps to reduce Rikers population; union boss calls it ‘socialist manifesto

A group of City Council members is introducing a series of proposals Tuesday aimed at reducing the jail population from the current level of just under 6,000 to 3,300.

That’s the level mandated in the city’s stalling plan to close Rikers Island and open four borough-based jails.

The estimated price tag for the new plan is $300 million a year and includes measures to reduce the amount of time people spend in jail before trial — close to a year on average.

The proposals would also increase funding to house people with addiction issues and mental illness and make a renewed effort to identify people with pending cases who can be released either through the courts or via the correction commissioner, a copy of the plan shows.

Councilman Lincoln Restler (D-Brooklyn) admits the cost is significant but says sharply reducing the jail population will ultimately save the city money. It costs about $556,000 a year to house a single detainee, according to the city comptroller’s office.

“The amount that we spend on a daily basis to house someone on Rikers is exorbitant,” Restler told the Daily News. “We can reduce the population, speed up case processing and provide safe housing. Ultimately, this will be an investment for taxpayers.”

In all, there were 5,904 people in Rikers as of April 6, including 457 people serving city sentences, figures published by the Vera Institute show.

A total of 3,933, or 69.5%, were charged with a violent felony while more than one in five face nonviolent felony charges. Another 370 people, or 6.5%, were held while facing misdemeanor charges.

A total of 886 people were held on murder charges and another 547 people for attempted murder.

In December, Correction Commissioner Louis Molina told the Council he forecast the jail population rising to more than 7,000 over the next two years. But the population hasn’t grown appreciably since then.

Benny Boscio, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, called the proposal “reckless” and a “socialist manifesto,” noting the jail population of under 6,000 compares with a city population of roughly 9 million.

“It’s no surprise that the same Council members who have done absolutely nothing about the rising crime rates in their own districts now want to misinform the public about the dangerous inmate population that our officers deal with daily,” he said.

“These Council members need to come clean and tell their constituents that they would rather set violent felons free than keep their own communities safe from violent felons,” Boscio added.

The Close Rikers plan passed by the Council in 2019 and signed by Mayor de Blasio would shut down all the Rikers jails by 2027, coinciding with the completion of four new borough jails.

But the new Brooklyn jail might already be as much as two years behind schedule, and that was the the first one that was supposed to be completed.

Key proposals in the Council members’ new plan include:

• Getting full commitment to fund 380 hospital beds referenced in the Close Rikers plan. Restler said the city has funded 100 beds in Bellevue Hospital, but money for additional beds at two hospitals in Queens and the Bronx has been delayed.

* Providing $28 million more for supervised release for people with mental illness and substance abuse issues. The city jails have become a de facto mental health system, Restler said.

The number of people with diagnosed mental illness in the jails has risen 36.7% since December 2021.

• Providing money for more specialized housing slots for the homeless and adding $45 million for rent assistance and $46 million for re-entry from incarceration programs.

A 2022 report by the Corporation for Supportive Housing estimated that close to 2,600 mentally ill homeless people a year are held on Rikers who could quality for supportive housing, the policy paper noted.

• Pushing to get more defendants to court on time. Just over 70% of detainees get to court on time, down from 96% before the pandemic, according to the Council members.

• Speeding up case processing in court and providing more money to reduce delays in people getting psychiatric exams to determine their fitness for trial.

As of April 6, there were 1,080 people who had been in Rikers awaiting trial for a year or more.

“So far, the mayor has failed to tackle these issues and the City Council is taking direct action here,” said Darren Mack of the Freedom Agenda. “We know that no one comes out of Rikers better. We have to pull all the levers together to make it work.”

Adams administration officials did not respond to requests for comment.

JoAnne Page, president and CEO of the Fortune Society, echoed Mack’s remarks.

“All of these initiatives would help break the shelter-to-jail cycle that traps some of our most vulnerable fellow New Yorkers while draining our public resources,” she said.

 

Read more at Daily News Back

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