Mayor Adams suggested Wednesday that his administration may have to house inmates in a half-finished Brooklyn jail to comply with the city’s plan to close Rikers Island by 2027.
The Brooklyn jail, to be built on the site of the former Detention House on Atlantic Avenue, is one of four county facilities that within four years is supposed to replace the Rikers complexes.
But the Adams administration issued a notice about a construction contract for the Brooklyn jail this week that said it is not expected to be completed until April 2029.
Asked Wednesday morning how his administration will meet the 2027 deadline given Brooklyn’s construction delay, Adams indicated that inmates can be housed at the Atlantic Avenue facility even if it doesn’t.
“Just because something isn’t completely finished doesn’t mean you can’t (house) inmates,” Adams told reporters at a news conference in Brooklyn.
Adams did not elaborate on how the city would house the inmates at a half-finished facility. A spokesman for the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The mayor also reiterated that he believes there are problems with the city’s original plan to close the troubled Rikers jails.
“The plan had flaws, but we are going to comply with the law,” he said. “The law establishes 2027. That is the law that we are going to follow.”
Daniele Gerard, an attorney with the children’s rights advocacy group, said later Wednesday that she does not buy the idea that the Adams administration cannot finish building the Brooklyn jail by 2027.
“The mayor is a slow-paced construction in Brooklyn. Let’s remember that the Empire State Building was built in less than 14 months. What is the mayor’s excuse? Gerard told the Daily News.
Freedom Agenda co-director Darren Mack agreed with Gerard and urged Adams to immediately take “tangible steps” to shut down operations at Rikers.
“These include the permanent closure of empty jails in Rikers as required by law, beginning with the Otis Bantum Correctional Center,” Mack said.
He also urged “accelerating construction of county replacement jails and substantially expanding funding for initiatives that have been shown to reduce incarceration and increase community safety.”
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio advocated for the closure of Rikers and, in 2019, signed into law a Close Rikers plan approved by the City Council. In addition to closing Rikers by August 2027, the plan called for the construction of four jails in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan that would house the island’s inmates.
Construction schedules for the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan jails are not available.
A lingering question about Rikers’ plan is how the city will accommodate the island’s prison population, which stood at 5,937 as of this week, when the combined capacity of municipal jails should be capped at 3,330.
Of the 5,937 currently detained at Rikers, 3,958 are being held for violent crimes, while 1,269 are there for non-violent crimes and 375 for misdemeanors, Vera Institute figures show. Nearly all of Rikers’ inmates have yet to be convicted of any crimes and are in pretrial detention.
The push to close Rikers has reached fever pitch in light of deteriorating conditions on the island. Sixteen people died in Rikers jails in 2021 and 19 in 2022, with understaffing being a factor in several of them, as detailed in the Board of Corrections reports.
While he vowed to close Rikers on time, Adams argued that the city might need a “Plan B.” She hasn’t explained what that plan would look like. Meanwhile, Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina has said the Rikers population is likely to continue to grow.
Zachary Katznelson, executive director of the New York City Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said the 2027 deadline cannot be treated as “an arbitrary date.”
“It’s part of the law,” he said. “We are in a race for public safety and we should do everything we can to speed up the construction of the new prisons and the new hospital beds.”
The mayor’s latest comments came a day before advocates and elected officials were expected to hold a rally at City Hall calling on him to move up construction deadlines for county jails and increase funding for alternative incarceration initiatives.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Queens), who has increasingly clashed with the mayor over the Rikers issue, is expected to attend, according to a council source.