Lawmakers in New York City voted Thursday to close the Rikers Island Jail complex as part of a new modernization effort that includes smaller jails throughout the city, reported Bloomberg. New York City Council voted 36-13 to shut down the jail by 2026, in favor of ten small prisons, one in each borough except Staten Island.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is leading a movement in the city towards ending mass incarceration.
Rikers Island, a historic jail complex situated in the East River between Queens and the Bronx, is the world's largest correctional and mental institution.
After the vote, de Blasio tweeted, "Our city is a big step closer to closing Rikers Island — and ending the era of mass incarceration."
Today we made history. The era of mass incarceration is ending in New York City.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) October 18, 2019
It’s a moment where a cycle is broken — where we said no to mass incarceration and yes to redemption. pic.twitter.com/df7BwePbzR
So how will de Blasio administration pay for the new jails? Why, with more debt of course, specifically, an $8.7 billion in bonds over a ten-year program.
"Rikers Island is a symbol of brutality and inhumanity and it is time for us to once and for all close Rikers Island," said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. "As a city we must do everything we can to move away from the failed policies of mass incarceration."
De Blasio vowed to close Rikers Island several years ago, and he told reporters: "The era of mass incarceration is over."
De Blasio added, "If God forbid, somebody makes a mistake and ends up in our justice system, we want it to be a one-time occurrence. We believe in redemption and today's vote is a vote for redemption."
Rikers Island will close. Period.— NYC Mayor's Office (@NYCMayorsOffice) October 17, 2019
We are ending the cycle of incarceration that ruined so many lives, and we're investing in communities to improve so many more.
This city believes in redemption. pic.twitter.com/W4qSobACgM
Several protestors were arrested during the vote on Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the NYPD confirmed. Police said demonstrators were throwing leaflets on City Council members and demanding them not to close the jails because the financing of new prisons will only increase mass incarceration.
Jacob Kang-Brown, a researcher at the Vera Institute, an organization centered on criminal justice reform, told Bloomberg that Wall Street banks must stop financing prisons if they want to see a decline in mass incarceration.
"Jail bonds are something they should be taking a second look at," he said.
Residents from neighborhoods of where at least four of the new jails will be located lashed out at lawmakers Thursday, telling them that their streets will become more violent.