Good news: Rikers Island jail to close by 2026

The notorious jail will be replaced by four smaller, more modern jails close to New York’s main courthouses.

The Rikers complex counts 10 jails on an island between Queens and the Bronx that mainly houses inmates awaiting trial. The complex has housed jail inmates since the 1930s and has long been known for brutality. It saw hundreds of stabbings each year during the 1980s and early 1990s. It has been nicknamed Gladiator School, Torture Island, the Guantánamo of New York and, in summertime, the Oven.

More recently, a 2014 Associated Press investigation detailed dozens of inmate deaths including that of a homeless ex-marine who essentially baked to death in a hot cell.

Daniel Dromm, a councilman, invoked the names of former inmates who have died at the facility, including Kalief Browder. The most notorious case in the jail’s recent history involved the 16-year-old Browder, who spent three years at Rikers Island after being accused of stealing a small backpack. The charge was eventually dismissed. Browder was beaten by officers and inmates, as shown in disturbing footage from surveillance cameras, obtained by the New Yorker. He took his own life at age 22.

Dromm also recalled Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who was found dead in her cell last June.

With falling crime rates, the number of people incarcerated in the city on a daily basis has declined from a high of nearly 22,000 in 1991 to about 7,000 today. City officials announced this week that they believe they can shrink the jail population even further by 2026, to just 3,300 prisoners.

Remember that almost all the people incarcerated in this hellhole have not even been convicted of a crime but were awaiting trial. I wrote earlier about the tragic and appalling cases of Layleen Polanco and Kalief Browder. Those stories should make anyone’s blood boil.

It is long overdue for the US to start the process of decarcerating its jails and prisons.


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