The high priestess of New York City progressives said it on Instagram, so it must be true: “We shouldn’t be building new jails,” and therefore the City Council ought to sink plans to erect modern detention facilities in four boroughs to enable the closure of Rikers Island.
While not surprising, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s embrace of the simplistic #nonewjails hashtag is depressing. It is counterproductive for the people she claims to champion. Woe to any left-wing lemmings in the Council who follow her off the cliff.
New York’s entire political establishment agrees that the old, inaccessible, inhumane, fetid jails at Rikers Island, which now house about 4,000 pretrial detainees (another 1,500 are serving sentences), should be shuttered.
Before you blurt “mass incarceration,” get facts: Those numbers are way, way, way down from a few years ago, and detainees account for just 27% of all those awaiting trial.
The numbers will come down further when bail reform and other state policy changes kick in, especially if crime (knock wood) continues its historic decline. But they will never be zero.
Any way you slice it, some number of people accused of especially serious crimes — 2,400 individuals charged with violent felonies are on Rikers right now — will be deemed flight risks or too dangerous to release pretrial (though under state law, dangerousness cannot technically be considered, judges do exactly that in practice).
The choice for anyone who believes in closing Rikers is whether to use decrepit and cramped old facilities like the Brooklyn House of Detention or the defunct Queens Detention Center in Kew Gardens, or decent, modern ones.
Places with decent sight lines for guards. Visiting facilities for families. Climate control and rec rooms for innocent-until-proven-guilty inmates.
The “no new jails” crowd is actually shouting “old, cruddy jails.” Not quite as catchy, is it?
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