On October 17, the City Council of New York voted to approve a plan to close the infamous Riker’s Island jail. The closure is part of a community-driven plan the embraces three basic principles.
From the city’s website A Roadmap to Closing Riker’s:
- Our jail system can be much smaller with thousands of fewer people in jail
- Our jails should be safer with modern, well-designed facilities that promote the dignity of those who visit, work and are incarcerated
- The justice system should be fairer, changing the culture inside the jails, fostering community connections and providing greater access to services
“Under the plan, the new facilities would be located in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan and would house just over 3,000 people — a drastic reduction from the roughly 10,000 that were incarcerated in Rikers at the beginning of this decade,” according to an article on VOX.
Organizations like PYP who are working inside our nation’s prisons and jails know that space for rehabilitative programming is at a premium. The new jails will feature “Ample programming space within the housing units, providing individuals with greater access to educational, recreational, and tailored programming.”
While this plan feels like a step in the right direction, it is unclear to what extent the city will invest in the communities to address the reasons people wind up in jail in the first place. If you’ve been to one of our training programs, you will know that the majority of the people held in jails are experiencing mental health concerns. In NYC, an estimated 1 in 5 people live with mental health concerns. Riker’s is one of the three largest centers for psychiatric care in the US, along with the Cook County Jail in Chicago, and the LA County Jail. If the city is willing to commit $8 Billion to build new jails, what will it commit to providing access to adequate and effective treatment for people with mental health concerns?