It is unclear whether or not the city is on course to shut Rikers Island down in four years as scheduled.
However, the city does plan to shutter the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center, an 800-bed jail barge used to hold inmates, next month.
"I'm glad that the boat is closing. I am glad,” said Edwin Santana, a community organizer with the Freedom Agenda at the Urban Justice Center.
What You Need To Know
- The city plans to shutter the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center next month
- The closure is drawing mixed reactions from community organizers and experts
- Mayor Eric Adams has raised concerns over the plan to close Rikers Island by 2027
The Department of Correction says closing the floating jail, dubbed the boat, across from Rikers Island will streamline operations and better manage inmates, staff and resources.
"All they're doing is shifting people from one terrible area to another terrible area," Santana said. "And that doesn't sit right with me."
Santana spent time in jail on Rikers Island and on the boat, and he says he is not happy the 500 inmates and 200 correction officers and staff members will be transferred to Rikers Island and other facilities.
"Every single mayor has thrown money at Rikers Island," Santana said. "They threw money at Rikers for the correction officers or for the buildings to fix them and Rikers is still the same way."
Santana worries that transferring inmates from the boat to Rikers could run counter to the city's legal obligation to close Rikers by September 2027.
The City Council passed and then former Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the closure order after prisoners endured years of staffing shortages, management issues, overcrowding and inmate deaths.
"You're going to increase the violence, increase the overcrowding and put a detriment to the staff that work there," said Marc Bullard, adjunct assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Bullard believes the plan to close Rikers for a neighborhood-based jail system will make matters worse. He worked at Rikers for 29 years, including as an assistant deputy warden, and he does not believe the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center or the Rikers Island jail complex should be closed.
"I don’t think Rikers Island should be closed," Bullard said. "I think any new facilities should be built on Rikers and repairs should be made to make the living conditions humane."
While the boat is now slated to close next month, Mayor Eric Adams has added questions into exactly what will happen with Rikers Island. It is mandated to shut down in four years, but just a week ago, he said he wants the City Council to figure out a new plan for closing it.
"The boat (or the barge) has been a potent symbol of the inhumanity of the city's jails, but its closure does nothing to address the institutional dysfunction and toxic culture that plague every corner of every single building managed by the New York City Department of Correction," a spokesperson from the Legal Aid Society said in a statemenet.
NY1 has reached out to the mayor’s office but has not heard back.