With the city’s jail population dipping under 7,000, the de Blasio administration announced that the Brooklyn Detention Complex would close by the end of January and the Eric M. Taylor Center on Rikers Island would shutter in March.
According to the Nov. 21 announcement by city officials, “Staff at BKDC and EMTC will be reassigned to other facilities, and the closures will not result in any layoffs.”
‘Destroying the Unions’
Despite those assurances, the president of the Correction Captains’ Association, Patrick Ferraiuolo, said he was convinced closing the jails would eventually lead to layoffs—and possibly to the decimation of his union.
Should the closings and consequent reduction in the jail population continue at pace, as city officials project, he said he expects the Captains’ ranks, which now number about 900, with few close to retirement, “to diminish to half that,” leading to a debilitating loss of dues.
“If I lose a few hundred Captains, then I can’t afford to pay defense attorneys, I can’t afford to pay salaries, I can’t afford to pay rent for offices,” he said. “This is another way of destroying the unions.”
City officials said the two closings represent “the first concrete steps” toward shuttering Rikers Island and building four new “borough-based” jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.
Mr. Ferraiuolo, a Captain since 1987, said the jails’ closures, particularly of the remaining eight facilities on Rikers Island, means DOC will have less need for personnel whose primary duties are other than guarding inmates. “You close Rikers, you’re not only closing jails, you’re closing support services, administration, security,” he said. “What do you think they are going to do with them?... They’re not going to pay people to twiddle their thumbs.”
'Lowest Rate' Going Lower
According to the city’s announcement, the inmate population is at “the lowest rate of incarceration...of any large city in the United States.” It is projected to decline even further, largely because of criminal-justice reform initiatives, several of which go into effect in the new year.
In October, Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said diversion and pre-trial programs and bail reform would lower the population to 3,300 by the time the four new jails were built in 2026. That figure is about 18 percent less than an earlier projection of 4,000.
The Eric M. Taylor Center, named for a retired Correction Chief of Department, was built in 1964 and houses men sentenced to one year or less of jail time. About 850 inmates are being held there, roughly half of what the facility can accommodate.
The Brooklyn Detention Complex, built in 1957 on Atlantic Ave. in the borough’s Boerum Hill section, houses men, most on a temporary basis as they await trial in Brooklyn or Staten Island. About 400 are jailed there, just over half its capacity of 759.
The planned closing of the two jails follows that of the George Motchan Detention Center, also on Rikers, in 2018.
“The closures will allow the Department of Correction to concentrate resources more effectively, resulting in better conditions, enhanced programming, and safer facilities for both people in custody and correctional staff,” the city’s announcement said.
Fear Rise in Crime
A sizeable majority of the City Council approved land-use legislation in mid-October that will shutter Rikers Island facilities, essentially setting in motion the borough-based jails plan, which was first estimated at $11 billion but is now projected to cost closer to $9 billion. The city’s Department of Design and Construction last month issued initial requests for qualifications tied to the borough-based jails.
Opponents of the plan, including some City Council Members and Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, argued that the Rikers jails could be revamped for roughly half the cost.
In a statement, Mr. Husamudeen said that closing Rikers and other city jails only to build new ones “is a pointless distraction from the real issue”—unsafe conditions within the jails.
“We don't have to wait six years for safer jails, we can make them safer immediately. But to do that our elected officials would have to do the one thing they have refused to do—listen to the boots on the ground,” he said. “We can lower the officer to inmate ratio to 1-20, which would enhance security. And the only way any meaningful reforms can be successful is through the multitude of services that only our members can provide."
Mr. Husamudeen said his union would ensure that city officials keep their promise to not lay off corrections personnel.
Captain Ferraiuolo and Joseph Russo, the president of the Assistant Deputy Wardens/Deputy Wardens Association, both said the reforms enacted by city and state officials could lead to more crime. “They’re just going to make the streets of New York more dangerous,” Mr. Ferraiuolo said.
“Do you really believe that every one of them doesn’t belong in a detention facility while they are awaiting trial?” Mr. Ferraiuolo asked. “I just think it’s going to come back to haunt everybody.”
Should a spike in crime take place, “Now we’re not going to have the space” to jail people, he contended.
Mayor Not Worried
But the de Blasio administration said the shuttering of the two jails would streamline jail operations and create better and safer conditions for inmates and DOC staff.
“With the lowest rate of incarceration of any major city and crime at historic lows, New York is again debunking the notion that you must arrest your way to safety,” the Mayor said in a statement announcing the closings. “These two closures show that we are making good on our promise to close Rikers Island and create a correctional system that is fundamentally smaller, safer and fairer.”
Mr. Russo said that while he expects to lose some of his 120 union members, if not through layoffs then certainly through attrition, the reduction in the jail population and the consequent elevated ratio of correction officers to inmates gives union members no “valid complaint.”
Still, he said that current staffing schedules in the jails can lead to bare-bone tours.
“At times, there’s an emergency where teams are needed and we don’t have them,” he said. “To avoid paying overtime, they cut down to a minimum...Because the staff isn’t perfectly balanced, they will cut it to a point where staff is compromised.”
'More Criminals on Streets'
While there’s “no question” that the numbers of correction officers, including Assistant Deputy Wardens and Deputy Wardens, will be reduced in the coming years, Mr. Russo said he was more concerned that the elimination of bail for some offenses and other criminal-justice reforms will lead to more crime.
“I’m baffled why this is thought of as a good thing,” he said of the reforms in general.
“We’re going to have more criminals on the streets,” he said. “Public safety is the primary concern, not how many people I have in my union.”
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