Criminal Justice reform is something that our Federal, NY State and NY City governments are all looking to accomplish. What governments are trying to do is make distinctions between low-level and high-level crimes and to separate the category of perpetrators from each other. That makes sense since we don’t think it’s fair to detain a shoplifter with the population of murderers and rapists. Nor is it effective since by mixing the populations, the system would in essence be training petty thieves to become like the hardened criminals they’re housed with.
There are other criminal justice reforms such as speeding up the time that the accused have to wait for their trial, better prepared attorneys as public defenders and rehabilitation for criminals rather than just warehousing them. Also critical is better training for police forces and deeper vetting techniques when accepting applicants to the Police Academy to eradicate the rogue element of police who react badly to a situation that gets escalated needlessly. Fair and reasonable people could and should coalesce with the reformers for those outcomes.
But as in most things when people want to change things dramatically, there can be a lurch to the extreme. Case in point, is the plan to close Rikers Island which is slated to happen as a “10 year plan” which started about a year ago. Most politicians with very few exceptions are in favor of closing it. Councilmen Bob Holden, Joseph Borelli and Eric Ulrich are examples of the exceptions. The Mid Queens Community Council (MQCC) of which I am a member, held a meeting in June where the Senior Assistant DA of Queens, James Quinn,
presented us with many facts concerning the closure of Rikers and I will share some of those here:
Closing Rikers involves 1)reducing the current prison population of 9,000 to 5,000 which means that 4,000 will be released to the streets of NY City. The remaining 5,000 will be transferred to prisons in the 5 boroughs of NY City.
Our share of the 5,000 (approximately 1,500) will be housed at the current
prison near the Court House in Kew Gardens NY which currently holds no
prisoners but was built to house 450. This will need to be expanded to hold
the 1,500. The congestion around the courthouse will be further aggravated
with the addition of all the correctional officers and other staff, prison visitors plus the trucks with delivery of food, linens and uniforms.
The security system which is elaborate at Rikers with multiple checkpoints
in and out of the prison will not be the same at the facility at Kew Gardens.
It is estimated that 97% of the Rikers population are felony charged - 50% of which are for violent felonies. 2,000 of the 9,000 total are serving out their sentence. Of the remaining 7,000 awaiting trial, only 3,300 of them are there for “bailable” offenses (where inmates were offered bail but could not come up with the money). The other 3,700 awaiting their trial are for charges for which they are restricted from posting bail because they have already violated probation, parole or have been served with a prior order of protection having been convicted of the same crime that they are now being charged with. The vast majority of the 3,300 bailable cases are those with prior felony and misdemeanor convictions and releasing them to the public without bail is not a safe or prudent thing to do.
Of the 9,000 total population, 1,800 are from Queens. Of that 1,800, there are 580 bailable cases. Only 46 of those are for misdemeanor offenses. The remaining 534 are for felonies that range anywhere from motor vehicle and check theft to heavy duty cases such as violent assault, rape and murder.
Each of those felony defendants awaiting trial who couldn’t make bail have
on average 5 to 7 prior felony and misdemeanor convictions on their record.
Financially, it is a very expensive venture to close Rikers but then again when did
that ever deter politicians from going ahead with an “ambitious” plan? (It reminds
of when certain politicians of ours wanted to knock down the T building on Parsons
Blvd because of the findings of the non-study that the building was not structurally
sound only to have that “finding” reversed when engineers actually inspected the
building and found it to be perfectly sound.)
The Closing Rikers project, according to the Commission of Corrections, headed by
Former NY State chief judge Jonathan Lippman, would cost $10.6 billion. But that is
only for the actual cost but it has to be financed because the city and state
do not have the money to pay for it. It would have to be financed over a 30 year term
and with the interest and finance charges the total would come to - not $10 billion -
but $23 billion. At $770 million per year it comes out to roughly $150k per inmate
($23 billion divided by 30) and that is just for the project. Add on another roughly
$150k per inmate that it costs just to house him and you get a princely sum of
$300k per inmate of the new Rikers’ 5,000 for the next 30 years. The current debt
of NYC is $116 billion so what’s the big deal of adding on another $23 billion?
The reason the politicians are so eager and giddy to demolish the Rikers prison is the same as the impulse they had to blow up the projects such as Cabrini Greene in Chicago because of the high crime that developed around them. Surely blowing up the projects would solve the problems! But we know that the buildings weren’t at fault for the high crime - the high crime came from a corrupt culture and incompetent form of government. The projects are gone but is there still crime in Chicago? The answer is yes. The dynamite should have been applied to the method of gov’t - not the buildings.
We hear that Rikers is replete with gang violence and deaths to both inmates and correctional officers. We hear that the building is old and needs to be renovated. The commission report found “conditions that are unsecured, unsanitary and dangerous, for staff and inmates alike.” They found that male prisoners were being supervised by female officers and that inmates were able to “pop open” secured cell doors.
The report further exposes that there were "instances of unmanned security posts,
poor record-keeping, papered-over security cameras, rodent infestation,
water leaks, sagging floors and expired fire extinguishers." Inmates would wash
their clothes and while hanging them to dry, would block the sight lines of
Ms. Mark-Viverito, the former speaker of the City Council, echoes the sentiment
of the Left that what we need to do is clear the system of backlogged cases of old
arrest warrants that stem from summonses for 'minor crimes’ such as those that
result in New Yorkers’ languishing on Rikers Island. That is the perception of the
“progressives” of the inmate population of Rikers Island and when the 40 year
veteran of the Queens DA office, James Quinn, points out the facts to the contrary,
Councilman Jumanne Williams tells Quinn that he’s being insensitive.
However, Norman Seabrook and Elias Husamudeen, both former and current presidents of the NY City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, disagree that closing Rikers is a fix to the big problems that are there. Seabrook, calls the notion of closing Rikers a “fantasy” and Elias Husamudeen says that closing Rikers and moving it somewhere else without a fundamental overhaul of the prison safety is just going to move the problem somewhere else.
There is a legendary very sad true story of a young black male, by the name of
Kalief Browder who in 2010 was charged with stealing a knapsack. He was sent
to Rikers Island and was held there for 3 years, 18 months of which, was in solitary
confinement. He was finally let go for lack of evidence of the crime. He was very
affected by the trauma of his prison experience of reportedly being starved and served
cabbage and bread when they did feed him and especially solitary confinement,
(placed there for legitimate reasons or not I do not know), that in 2015, after being out
of Rikers for 2 years, he committed suicide.
No one wants a system that is so dysfunctional and cruel. But people who are familiar
with the current prison population and not that of 10 years ago, know that we are no
longer dealing with cases of 16 year olds who steal knapsacks or even adults who
illegally jump the turnstile to the subway to beat a fare but rather the one who jumps
the turnstile and when caught, is found to have an illegal gun.
Criminal Justice is a challenging matter but Rudy Giuliani grabbed the bull by the horns
when he took office in 1993 and brought down homicides 65% in NYC from 2400 a year to about 850.
The Left still doesn’t give him credit for that and for literally cleaning up NYC. Now,
like a broken steering wheel the Left is constantly pulling to go off-coarse, whether
with illegal immigration such as when they (including US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand) chant
to eliminate ICE or now, when they want to dismantle what great progress we attained with
low crime in the city. Releasing 4,000, mostly felons, from Rikers and transferring the rest to
neighborhood prisons is exactly a case of going in the opposite direction of progress.