In an unusually blunt rebuke, Mayor Adams’ two citywide elected officials and the president of the City Council joined forces Thursday to criticize what they see as his faltering commitment to close Rikers Island by a 2027 deadline.
The deadline was set by City Council legislation signed into law by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2019. But in a contract notice released this week, the Adams administration revealed it does not expect a replacement jail in Brooklyn to be completed before 2029.
That admission led city politicians to question how the city will close Rikers in accordance with the law.
“Inconsistent statements by the administration in recent days have created unacceptable questions where there should be no questions,” said City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.
“Rikers must close by 2027 and we cannot allow it to continue to undermine public safety issues in our city,” the speaker said.
Adams was joined at a press conference outside City Hall by Comptroller Brad Lander and Public Defender Jumaane Williams, who like Mayor Adams are elected citywide. They also expressed their disapproval of the Rikers’ palaver.
Williams, a progressive Democrat who has largely refrained from directly criticizing Mayor Adams despite their ideological differences, said he had doubts about the mayor’s fidelity to closing Rikers since early last year.
“The administration already said from the beginning that they are not even sure that they agree with the plan. So this seems a bit of a coincidence to find a reason to stall,” Williams said of the Brooklyn jail construction delay.
Spokesmen for the mayor did not respond to requests for comment after the City Hall Park news conference.
Despite the delayed construction schedule for the Brooklyn jail, Mayor Adams and his advisers have insisted that the administration commit to closing Rikers by April 2027, as required by law.
Construction schedules for Rikers’ three other replacement prisons in Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan have not been released.
The Brooklyn jail, to be built on the site of the former Detention House on Atlantic Avenue, would not be completed until April 2029 under the $2.96 billion contract the Adams administration plans to award to Tutor Perini, a one of the largest construction firms in the country. .
Asked Wednesday how Rikers could close by 2027 given the 2029 timeline for the Brooklyn complex, Mayor Adams told the Daily News that just “because something isn’t completely finished doesn’t mean you can’t (house) the inmates” there.
President Adams on Thursday refrained from commenting on the mayor’s suggestion that the city could house the inmates in a partially completed jail. But she told reporters: “Whatever things look like in the future, we will stick to compliance with the law.”
The mayor has surprised by saying repeatedly in recent months that he believes the plan to close Rikers is “wrong.” He has also said the city might need a “Plan B,” though he hasn’t explained what that would look like.
At the same time, Rikers’ prison population has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic and currently stands at nearly 6,000. Nearly all inmates on the island have not been convicted of any crimes and are held pretrial.
Rikers’ increased population adds another tense wrinkle to the county-based jail plan, as the four facilities in Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn are supposed to have a combined capacity of 3,300.
Meanwhile, inmate advocates say conditions at Rikers are only getting worse. Nineteen Rikers inmates died in 2022, marking the deadliest year on the island in nearly three decades, and staff failures were factors in several of the deaths, according to Board of Corrections reports.
Lander regretted that the Adams administration has not turned to him or other city officials for help in resolving the construction delays.
The comptroller also said there are immediate steps the administration must take to scale back operations at Rikers, including suspending admission to the island’s women-only Rose Singer Center.
“I didn’t speak to a single person at Rosie’s who needed to be detained,” Lander said of a recent visit to the facility. “In 2023, we could close Rosie’s.”
Speaker Adams agreed: “Administration, advocates, City Council – let’s work together to ensure public safety remains with Rikers closing, finally.”
The Rikers-related friction between the mayor and the speaker, who are not related, comes as the two have clashed at an escalating pace of late on a variety of issues, including the funding of city housing and welfare agencies. city.
Underscoring his commitment to the Rikers issue, Adams plans to personally chair a Council hearing next week on the Department of Correction budget, an unusual role for a speaker.
“Any other member of the committee could preside over the hearing, but the speaker chose to do so herself because the close issue of Rikers is a priority for her,” an aide to the speaker said.
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