City Takes First Step Towards Shuttering Jails on Rikers Island
By Cindy Rodriguez | January 2, 2018
The de Blasio Administration said it will close the George Motchan Detention Center by the summer of 2018 because of a drop in the inmate population that is due to less crime, fewer arrests for low level offenses and more programs that allow judges to divert defendants away from jail.
GMDC, as it’s often referred to, currently houses close to 600 inmates. Most of them are young adults between 18 to 21-years-old charged with a variety of offenses. Like other jails at Rikers, the GMDC is in disrepair.
“There’s some sewer problems in that building. There’s also non-operative cells and this facility has the highest percentage of non-operative cells of any of our facilities,” said Cynthia Brann, Commissioner of New York City’s Correction Department.
After the jail closes, the city said inmates will most likely be transferred to other jails on the island along with roughly 1,000 staffers. The city said no employees, who are backed by the powerful Correction Officers Benevolent Association, would be laid off but that the closure would help reduce overtime.
After mounting pressure from criminal justice reform advocates, the mayor made a commitment to close down the Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with smaller borough-based jails. To do that, he said the population would need to shrink to roughly 5,000 inmates, a process that would take 10 years.
Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said the city was in the process of selecting a team of architects, engineers and others who will be looking at potential jail sites within the coming months.
Criminal justice reform advocates called the announcement a positive step forward but many want the jail system, known for violence and brutality, shut down sooner. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a 3-year closure timeline.
“Which we certainly would like to see,” said Gabriel Sayegh, co-executive director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice. “But the Governor has not yet put forward any plans that would make that timeline feasible or real.”
On Wednesday, the Governor will give his annual State of the State address. Sayegh said he hoped to hear Cuomo talk about reform efforts that would speed up the process for resolving cases and also allow more people to make bail.
There are currently just over 8,600 inmates in jail citywide. The vast majority are housed on Rikers Island.