Ideas have consequences and yesterday in New York City arrived more evidence that progressive forces in Gotham have lost their collective mind. The New York City Council voted to close the 400-acre Rikers Island jail complex. Keeping violent criminals off the streets? Future crime waves? Never mind, they’ll figure that out later.
Rikers is a hellhole with a long history of human-rights abuses. Serious reform is needed. But that’s not what the radical Left is looking for. New York is in the vanguard of a national “Abolish Prisons” movement. All prisons must be done away with.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is on the bandwagon. “Mass incarceration did not begin in New York City,” he declared recently, “but it will end here.”
Radical chic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also has signed on to prison abolition. “Mass incarceration is our American reality,” she wrote. “It is a system whose logic evolved from the same lineage as Jim Crow, American apartheid, & slavery. To end it, we have to change.”
In case you’re wondering about Ocasio-Cortez’s influence on the Left, Bernie Sanders has been touting her upcoming endorsement, slated for a rally Saturday in Queens. Rep. Ilhan Omar also endorsed Sanders this week.
Meanwhile, the jails controversy in New York is catching fire.
On Wednesday, a City Council committee set in motion a land-use change that would ban jails on Rikers after 2026. Yesterday, the full council voted. Rikers will be closed and new, smaller jails will be built in four city communities—one each in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
Rikers these days houses about 7,200 inmates, though it has capacity for many more. The four new jails would hold a total of about 3,200—roughly 800 inmates per jail.
Do the math. That leaves about 4,000 inmates currently at Rikers. What about them? Advocates for the new jails say a years-long drop in the crime rate, diversion programs, changes in arrest and sentencing practices, and new legislation will reduce the city’s jail population to around 3,200.
But the Manhattan Institute’s Rafael Mangual points to some contradictory evidence. De Blasio’s 2017 Mayor’s Management Report says the recent decline in jail population is due to his administration’s “successful efforts to divert low-risk, non-violent offenders from our jails” and notes that those “who remain [in jail] tend to be more violent and difficult to manage.”
“It does indeed seem to be the case,” Mangual writes, “that the current residents of Rikers Island are, in large part, the worst of the worst.” They’re “violent and difficult to manage,” in the words of the mayor’s own report. Mangual asks: can the Rikers population really be reduced by several thousand more “without those very inmates being left to roam the streets?”