April 2, 2017 | Featured, News

Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform Releases Report Calling for Closure of Rikers Island

CUNY ISLG Executive Director Michael Jacobson Led a Subcommittee Developing a Plan to Develop a Smaller, More Humane and Effective Jail System

Today, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform released its pathbreaking report outlining a far-reaching blueprint for reducing the City’s jail population and developing a new, smaller jail system to eventually close Rikers Island.

CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance Executive Director Michael Jacobson served on the commission and led the subcommittee charged with developing recommendations for a safer, more humane and effective jail system for staff and those incarcerated, as well as a fiscal model outlining the plan’s cost and savings.

Conditions on Rikers Island and the Department of Corrections have been criticized for decades, and calls for closing Rikers have been made in the past; the Commission report represents the first comprehensive blueprint for how this ambitious goal could be achieved.

The Commission outlines a plan to reduce the jail population to 5,000, half of its current size, as well as a plan for developing a smaller, borough-based jail system. The new system would be comprised of facilities in each of the five boroughs located near courthouses and public transportation, which would improve outcomes for inmates and reduce the burden on families and the Department of Corrections. Jails would be designed to blend into the community with exteriors akin to other civic buildings. The interiors would prioritize housing and program space to allow staff to effectively manage behavior and detainees to engage in evidence-based programming to improve outcomes. Of equal importance is developing a new training academy facility to provide corrections officers with the necessary de-escalation, communications, and behavioral health training to maintain a safe and secure environment.

“This is a bold, progressive plan that will ultimately improve the lives of inmates and staff alike, making us all safer while also saving taxpayer dollars,” Jacobson said, “Implementing these recommendations will require significant political will. It will be hard work, but work that is worth doing—work we are obligated to do to ensure a justice system that embodies dignity, equality, and fairness for all.”

Jacobson and ISLG staff worked intensely over the past 12 months to develop the blueprint, hearing from jail officials, providers, former corrections officers, and families as well as experts on the critical design principles for new facilities and a new training academy. ISLG also conducted a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the new system, ultimately finding that a new, smaller borough-based jail system will lead to significant savings over the long-term. More efficient and effective jails could, ultimately, lead to annual savings of $1.1 billion.

In addition leading the Institute for State and Local Governance, Dr. Jacobson is also a sociology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. He was the president of the Vera Institute of Justice from 2005 to 2013. He was New York City correction commissioner from 1995 to 1998, New York City probation commissioner from 1992 to 1996, and worked in the New York City Office of Management and Budget from 1984 to 1992 where he was a deputy budget director.

About the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance

The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance works with government agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations, philanthropic institutions and the private sector to improve public systems to produce better results that are worthy of public investment and trust.

Contact: Abbi Leman, abbi.leman@islg.cuny.edu