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Rikers closure delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, budget cuts

Slow Your Roll

Rikers closure delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, budget cuts

Rikers Island from the air (Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey, conversion to PNG by Herr Satz/Public Domain)

It’s been known for months that the closure of Rikers Island as a jail complex would be delayed; with New York City’s finances in dire straits because of the coronavirus pandemic and the state legislature rolling back bail reforms, the issue was broached as the city’s 2021 budget was being hashed out.

Now, Gothamist has confirmed that the plan to close the facilities on Rikers and replace them with four borough-based alternatives has been pushed back by at least a year, if not longer.

The plan was officially confirmed in October of last year, as the City Council approved the $8.7 billion proposal to shutter Rikers and have all four replacement jail towers up and running by 2026. The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) then issued Request for Qualifications (RFQs) shortly after to help prepare for the necessary design work (although AECOM will be overseeing the design-build process).

That RFQ’s brief tasked respondents to:

“[…] aim to create a new borough-based jail system comprised of smaller, safer, more humane facilities, located within easier reach of courts, families, lawyers, social workers, educational services, and care providers. The jails will be sited: in Manhattan in place of the existing jail complex on White Street (replacing the Tombs); in downtown Brooklyn in a reconstruction of the existing detention facilities; in Queens in place of a decommissioned detention center on 82nd Avenue, and in the Bronx on a city-owned property that had once been a police tow pound. While the towers had originally been planned to reach a maximum height of about 450 feet, those limits were later slashed to 295 feet, as the city revised its estimates of what the incarcerated population would number in 2025.”

However, DDC documents obtained by Gothamist, including one labeled “Program Schedule,” showed the project’s timeline pushing well into mid-2027 and possibly beyond, not accounting for construction delays. The demolition of the Tombs has been pushed from March 2021 to the summer, compressing the timeline of at least the Manhattan jail tower even further, and, as The City noted, giving further fuel to activists who don’t want the towers built in their backyards.

The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to shutter Rikers and erect the four replacement towers began in December 2019. All five components were being bundled to make the process as expedient as possible and hit the 2026 deadline, so it’s unclear how the predicted delays will impact the review process.

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