The $8.7 billion plan will see the construction or expansion of four smaller jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
“Today is a day the history books will look back on as a good day for the future of New York City, as getting rid of a profound and painful symbol of inhumanity and brutality that was allowed to fester and be in the East River for far too long,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said at a press conference after the vote.
“This is a step forward, this is progress, this is the right thing to do.”
The new jails will only have a total of 3,300 beds, compared to the 10,000 currently at Rikers. The city attributes the difference to a projected drop in crime, which critics of the plan say might just be wishful thinking.
“I think the public should be very concerned that there won’t be enough beds for inmates,” Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen told CBS New York. “Who’s doing the numbers? Where are they coming from?”
“We have 8.5 million New Yorkers,” he said. “It doesn’t add up.”
The city has cited four main factors in its call for fewer prison beds: bail reform, which will allow defendants who can’t make bail to avoid incarceration before their trials; an expansion of a supervised release program; a plan to house individuals with serious mental illness in New York City Health and Hospitals facilities, instead of in jail; and more efficient use of space in the new prisons.
Rikers has earned a reputation for violence and inhumane treatment of inmates. A 2012 lawsuit brought by the Legal Aid Society described a “deeply entrenched” culture of violence among the guards, whose “unlawful, excessive force” routinely sent prisoners to the hospital and forced the city to spend millions in legal settlements.
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