By providing support to the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, we're aiding in the effort to reduce New York City’s jail population and close Rikers Island.
In April 2017, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to a long-term plan for closing the jails on Rikers Island. The announcement came as the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform released its final report.
The commission—created in 2016 by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman—spent a year developing a blueprint for how to safely reduce the city's jail population in order to allow for the closure of Rikers.
Mark-Viverito and Lippman described the commission's vision in an op-ed for The New York Times entitled, Closing Rikers Island Is A Moral Imperative. (Click here for a reflection on the commission's work from Center Director Greg Berman.)
The commission is composed of 27 civic leaders from government, academia, business, and the non-profit sector. Among its principal recommendations:
- The use of Rikers Island must be phased out over the next 10 years and its facilities demolished.
- In its place, the city should construct a system of smaller, community jails—one in each borough—in civic centers, not residential areas, near the courthouses they serve. Inspired by the best practices employed in other jurisdictions, these facilities would promote the safety of guards and the incarcerated.
- Based on an extensive data-analysis undertaken by the commission, the city should implement reforms at multiple stages of the criminal justice process designed to cut the total jail population in half over the next 10 years. Recommended reforms include diversion programs for low-level cases; expanding the use of pretrial supervision; simplifying the bail payment process and working toward the elimination of money bail.
- Plan for a memorial and/or museum to remember the legacy of harm inflicted by Rikers Island, especially on people and communities of color. The commission also made recommendations for the future civic development of the Island.
The Center for Court Innovation worked with a multi-agency team to staff the Lippman Commission and produce its report. The Center's partners in this effort included the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, Vera Institute of Justice, Latham & Watkins LLP, Forest City Ratner Companies, Global Strategy Group, and HR&A Advisors.
We continue to work towards the closing of Rikers Island on numerous fronts. Our operating programs are providing safe alternatives to jail for thousands of New Yorkers each year. We are expanding the use of supervised release, a central recommendation of the Lippman Commission, and helping to facilitate the decriminalization of selected low-level offenses.
We are also providing research and strategic support to policymakers who are interested in taking a data-driven approach to jail reduction. For example, with support from the Art for Justice Fund, we will work with administrators from the New York State Court System to help them process cases more quickly, reduce the use of cash bail, and increase the use of sentencing alternatives.
In 2018, the commission published an update on the status of its recommendations and the timetable for closing Rikers Island entitled, A More Just New York City: One Year Forward.
In the News
Selected coverage of the Lippman Commission and the debate over the future of Rikers Island:
- In line with one of the central recommendations of the Commission, Mayor Bill de Blasio announces an agreement on the location of four smaller modern jails to replace Rikers Island, in every borough but Staten Island, reports the New York Times.
- At a New York City Council hearing, activists, Judge Lippman, and council members press the de Blasio administration over its commitment to closing Rikers, reports City Limits.
- The Daily News reports on a significant step in the de Blasio administration's search for sites for new or expanded jails to replace Rikers Island.
- Mayor de Blasio eyes "ideal" Queens site for new jail as part of planned Rikers closure, reports the Daily News.
- The Daily News reports on fresh funding for the Lippman commission as former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman continues to push to close Rikers, five months following the release of the commission's report.
- The Nation explores the challenges—political and other—to New York's promise to close Rikers arguing, 'It Will Take Tenacity and Guts to Shutter One of the Country's Most Notorious Jails.'
- The New York Times outlines the report from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's office laying out the city's roadmap for closing Rikers Island in ten years time and replacing it with a network of smaller modern jails.
- 'How Closing a Jail Could Make New York City Stronger,' a feature from The Nation on Rikers, the work of the commission, and the way forward.
- In City & State New York, Commission member Ana Oliveira and John Jay College's Alison Wilkey introduce a new report on the role of gender in the New York City justice system, and how reforms can keep more women out of Rikers.
- Former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and our director, Greg Berman, argue in an op-ed in the Daily News that to close Rikers Island, serious action must begin this year.
- In The Atlantic, Lippman Commission member and president of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, contends Rikers Island is a "microcosm" from which the American criminal justice system can draw important lessons.
- The Economist argues "the plan to close Rikers Island reflects a wider improvement" for a city with declining crime and incarceration numbers.
- On the New York Slant podcast, former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Center for Court Innovation Director Greg Berman discuss the commission's work and the steps needed to fulfill its recommendations (see here for a transcript of an excerpt).
- Center for Court Innovation Director Greg Berman explains what drove the recommendation to close Rikers on the Off-Kilter podcast.
- The New York Times surveys the political challenges to replacing the "out of sight, out of mind" incarceration model represented by Rikers.
- Closing Rikers will be a struggle, but The Fader reflects on the significance of what has already been accomplished.
- Without Rikers, Learning to Love the Jail Next Door, Ginia Bellafante in The New York Times explores the Commission's call for new borough-based jails, and profiles those that already exist.
- The Daily News reports on a survey we helped administer on behalf of the Lippman Commission that found "overwhelming" support among New Yorkers for reforming the jail system.
- A useful Rikers Island primer from The New York Times: the troubled facility's history, population, and the debate over its future.
- The Nation digs into the history of the mounting calls to shutter Rikers and focuses on the organizing work of the #CLOSErikers campaign.
- The Village Voice praises the Lippman commission report as "thoroughly researched and compellingly presented" and weighs the prospects of its central recommendations.
- Brutal Force at Rikers Island Continues at an ‘Alarming Rate,' The New York Times on the latest findings of the federal monitor overseeing reforms at the jail complex.
- Rikers Plan Marks a Shift for New York City, and its Mayor, Politico reconstructs the events surrounding Mayor de Blasio's decision to support the calls to close Rikers.
- In an editorial, The New York Times calls the Lippman Commission’s recommendation to close the jails on Rikers Island, "a specific, sensible, defensible plan."
- Closing Rikers Island Is a Moral Imperative, New York Times op-ed by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, introducing the Commission's major findings.
- 'Belly of the Beast': Former Inmates Hail New York Plan to Close Rikers Island Jail, The Guardian on the history of the campaign to close Rikers Island.
- Commission Unveils Plan to Close Rikers Island, WNYC covers the news conference where the commission's report was formally released.
- Closing Rikers Goes from Pipe Dream to Policy, City Limits analyzes Mayor Bill de Blasio's decision to back the calls for closure with a transcript of his news conference remarks.
- Le maire de New York veut fermer la célèbre prison de Rikers Island, France's Libération on the background to Mayor de Blasio's decision.
- Held Indefinitely: Will Anything Ever Change at Rikers Island? City & State New York with a long feature at the end of 2016 on the prospects of closing Rikers.
- Rikers Commission Chief Knows the Challenges Ahead, and Says He’s Ready, Politico analyzes the commission's mandate the month after it was announced.