The New York City Council on Thursday approved the closure of the giant prison on Rikers Island, at a date still uncertain, to replace this establishment known for its endemic violence with four new prisons in the heart of the city.
This is a new step in a complex process, which began in March 2017 with the presentation of the project by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“It’s a historic day,” said the Democratic mayor after the vote. This vote aims to “value people, no longer condemn them and send them on a path that only made their lives worse”.
To set a deadline, the city council also adopted a provision that will no longer allow the use of Rikers beyond December 31, 2026.
The project is highly controversial due in part to concerns among New Yorkers that new prisons will be built near their homes, while Rikers, located on an island in the far northwest of Queens, is completely isolated from any residential area. .
The project plans to construct buildings in downtown Brooklyn and Chinatown in Manhattan, as well as in Queens and the Bronx.
Others criticize the idea of seeing the city spending a colossal budget on building new prisons, rather than using the envelope to improve the justice system.
The mayor and the city council have agreed to release a budget of 391 million dollars, which should include prevention programs, tiny compared to the cost of the project, estimated at 8.7 billion dollars.
Supporters of the plan believe that it will allow more frequent visits for relatives and facilitate reintegration projects.
Bill de Blasio’s plan relies on a significant drop in the number of prisoners in New York, which has already fallen by more than a third since 2014, to stand at 7,790 according to figures released in January. The goal is to reach 3,300 inmates by 2026.
According to January figures, some 80% of New York City inmates were awaiting trial. Many of them could have been released, but remain behind bars because they were unable to post their bail.
The municipality has already implemented several measures to reduce the prison population, in particular the so-called “Supervised Release” program, an alternative to the payment of a deposit for people of modest origin.