Mayor Bill de Blasio rebuffed demands by Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for an instant release of all Rikers Island detainees due to increasingly dangerous conditions at the jail, refusing to “just open up the gates.”
“That’s not going to happen,” de Blasio said Wednesday during his daily press briefing, held remotely from Queens Borough Hall.
“I respect the Congress member and her colleagues who signed that letter, [but] couldn’t disagree with them more,” he added. “It’s not going to happen, it’s not the right way to handle things.”
On Tuesday, AOC along with Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Nydia Velazquez and Jerrold Nadler — all Democrats representing parts of the five boroughs in Congress — sent a letter to the mayor and Gov. Kathy Hochul requesting that the executives “immediately” let out inmates held at the out-of-control Rikers Island.
“We strongly believe that those who are detained at Rikers should be immediately released and the facility shut down,” reads their letter. “It has become evident that conditions at Rikers … are deplorable and nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.”
When asked by The Post Wednesday about his thoughts on the radical request, de Blasio touted his plan to close the jails on Rikers Island by 2027 — by which time he will have been out of office for five years — and replace them with four smaller facilities in each borough except for Staten Island, while categorically dismissing the proposal offered by the four House reps.
“In the end, the real thing we have to do as a city is close Rikers once and for all,” said the mayor. “Rikers needs to close once and for all, but when we have new modern, redemption-oriented community jails for inmates to go to. The answer is not to just open up the gates.”
“Releasing everyone there is not the right way, obviously, [and] doesn’t make sense.”
Recent deaths and fed-up absent guards have prompted local elected officials to tour the jail facilities and call for reforms to improve conditions there.
During a recent tour of the jail, local lawmakers witnessed an inmate attempting to hang himself, according to an assemblywoman.
In response to the escalating crisis, de Blasio last week announced a series of reforms aimed at bringing the lockup under control. The measures include punishing absentee and AWOL correction officers and deploying police officers to courts, to allow more correction workers to staff the city jails on the island.
The mayor said Tuesday that he will transfer 100 NYPD cops into courts to replace correction officers who are needed at the jail, where guards in recent months have been not showing up for work.
A top Department of Correction staffer revealed at a recent City Council hearing that about one in five Rikers Island employees called out sick. On Monday, City Hall filed a lawsuit against a correction officer union for allegedly allowing — or even encouraging — guards who work at Rikers Island facilities to stay home.
That came after Isaabdul Karim on Sunday became the 11th person to die at the lockup this year.