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Rikers Island jail facility will be closed, mayor says

THE BRONX, N.Y. — Rikers Island, the largest jail in the country notorious for violence within its walls and described by some as "the worst place on Earth," will be closed, city leaders announced Friday.

"It will take many years. It will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The mayor said he and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an outspoken proponent of closing the jail, have agreed on a 10-year timeline to shut down the facility.

PIX11 News has reached out to the correction officers' union for a statement on the announcement.

The speaker called the jail a "stain" on the city's reputation, saying its "legacy of violence and systemic abuse" are a blemish.

As of 2016, Rikers' population was its lowest to date, with just over 10,000 inmates being held at the 85-year-old jail complex where individuals are held on charges as they wait for a trial.

Still, despite record-low population, violence continued to climb. In 2015, there were 9,424 assaults at the jail, the highest in five years. In 2016, there were nearly 12,000 instances of violence.

Mark-Viverito called on the memory of Kalief Browder, who at 16 was arrested and held for three years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime. Browder spent more than 800 days in solitary confinment, often thrown into violent fights with correction officers and other inmates which were caught on camera. He died by suicide at age 22.

"The death of Kalief Browder was a wake-up call to this city," de Blasio said. "The No. 1 reason we lost Kalief Browder was because he was held in solitary confinement … and that doesn’t exist anymore" for young inmates.

As of Friday, there are 9,500 individuals in custody in city jails. That number must be reduced to 5,000 before Rikers can be closed, de Blasio said.

"Rikers Island is an example and an expression of a major national problem. the mass incarceration crisis did not begin in New York City, but it will end here," the mayor said.

"We are going to end the era of mass incarceration by making this important change."

The next step is to determine how the city can hold thousands of inmates without the use of Rikers, de Blasio said. A report on the jail's future by a panel commissioned by Mark-Viverito will be revealed on Sunday.

Sources told PIX11 News the 100-page report will recommend shutting down the jail and moving inmates to jails that need to be built or finding existing structures in which to house them.

No specific plan has been created or neighborhoods identified for holding those inmates, de Blasio said, vowing that the process to relocate inmates will be "very long and public and transparent."

As for what will come of the island between Queens and the Bronx, de Blasio said there will be "new life for Rikers Island when it is no longer a jail facility." He did not specify any projects slated for the land, but suggested it could be home for government facilities or grounds for private-sector enterprises.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams released the following statement:

“Closing Rikers Island is a laudable and valuable mission. I am supportive of this goal, with the full understanding that there must be a comprehensive criminal justice plan in place that ensures public safety remains our paramount priority. Until that plan is in place, we must and will press ahead with important reforms such as alternative sentencing, mental health support, speedier trials, and warrant clearance. Any conversation of new correctional facilities must be led with agreement on the supportive infrastructure and services that communities will need; this cannot be an afterthought.”