Rikers Island's death sentence will come in 2026, according to an $8 billion plan approved by New York City lawmakers on Thursday. There are roughly 7,000 inmates currently held at the island complex in the East River, sometimes referred to as "Torture Island" or "the Guantánamo of New York," per the Guardian. But because of a declining crime rate, officials expect just 3,300 to remain by 2026, at which point they'll be moved to four smaller jails to be built in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. These will be safer, closer to the city's main courthouses, and easier for visitors to reach than Rikers, officials say.
It's "a historic opportunity" to step away from decades of mass incarceration and a jail system that many describe as inhumane, City Council speaker Corey Johnson said. There are critics, however. "What are you going to do if you end up with 5,000 people?" the president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association asks, per the New York Times. The paper notes city last had a count of just 3,300 prisoners nearly a century ago. Still, "New York City, by some measures, is the safest it has been since the 1950s." (Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced the closure in 2017, saying it would "take many years.")