The closure of the George Motchan Detention Center, the first of nine jails, marks a major step toward shutting down the Rikers Island prison complex
The de Blasio administration announced today that it will close its first jail on Rikers Island this summer as part of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers Island. The closure is made possible by a significant reduction of the city’s jail population which fell below 9,000 for the month of December, a record-low figure last reported in 1982, according to the city.
“Closing a jail is one of many steps toward modernizing our entire justice system. We are reimagining and reforming how jails function as we are safely shrinking the size of the population,” said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and co-chair of the Justice Implementation Task Force. “This work is possible because of the partnership, from both inside and outside government, to reduce the jail population in a way that makes New York City safer for everyone.”
In March 2017, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito first announced the plan to close Rikers Island with the goal to create a smaller, safer and fairer jail system. The George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC), which currently houses about 600 men, will be the first of nine Rikers Island facilities to be closed.
“The city’s decision to shutter a sprawling, decrepit jail like George Motchan Detention Center is a great start to a new year,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “The key is to ensure that we continue to reduce the population of every single facility and until we close Rikers Island, also ensure that programming continues to serve people who are detained.”
In an effort to significantly reduce the jail population, the de Blasio administration has developed various strategies that include alternatives to incarnation as well as specialized services. In 2016, the city implemented an alternative bail program, the Supervised Release, which allows judges to assign eligible, lower-risk defendants to a supervisory program that permits them to remain at home and continue working while awaiting trial. Since its launch, the initiative has diverted over 6,000 people. In October 2017, the city also created a program that replaces short jail sentences for minor, low-level offenses with services that help prevent recidivism.
“In shutting down GMDC, Mayor de Blasio has moved us one important step nearer – both symbolic and concrete – to closing Rikers Island,” said JoAnne Page, president and CEO of the Fortune Society. “But, the challenge ahead is a significant one: how to keep taking the big steps needed to increase both justice and community safety. Achieving this will require bringing down our jail population by locking up fewer people and processing cases faster while ensuring that critical alternative to incarceration and reentry services are available to keep people from recidivating.”