Elected New York officials criticize Mayor Adams for ‘inconsistent’ plan to close Rikers Island by 2027

In an unusually scathing rebuke, two of Adams’s fellow citywide selections and the speaker of the city council joined on Thursday to blow up what they see as his wavering commitment to close Rikers Island by the 2027 deadline.

The deadline was set by city council legislation signed into law by former mayor Bill de Blasio in 2019. But in a contract notice released this week, the Adams administration said it doesn’t expect the new prison in Brooklyn to be completed before 2029.

This admission prompted city politicians to question how the city would close Rikers in accordance with the law.

“The administration’s inconsistent statements over the past few days have unacceptably raised questions where there shouldn’t have been questions,” said City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams during a rally calling for the closure of Rikers Island on Thursday, March 16, outside City Hall.

“Rikers is due to close by 2027 and we cannot allow it to continue to undermine public safety concerns in our city,” the speaker said.

At a press conference outside City Hall, Adams was joined by Comptroller Brad Lander and Public Advocate Juman Williams, who, like Mayor Adams, are elected citywide. They also expressed their disapproval of the Rikers’ chatter.

Williams, a progressive Democrat who has largely refrained from directly criticizing Mayor Adams despite their ideological differences, said he had doubts since early last year about the mayor’s commitment to closing Rikers.

“The administration has already said from the very beginning that they are not even sure that they agree with the plan. So looking for a reason for the delay seems a bit random,” Williams said of the delay in building the Brooklyn jail.

City public attorney Juman Williams speaks during a rally calling for the closure of Rikers Island on Thursday.

Representatives for the mayor did not respond to requests for comment after a press conference at City Hall Park.

Despite the delay in the construction of the Brooklyn prison, Mayor Adams and his advisers are pushing the administration to commit to closing Rikers by April 2027, as required by law.

Construction timelines for three other prisons to replace Rikers in Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan have not been disclosed.

The Brooklyn Penitentiary, slated to be built on the site of the old Atlantic Avenue Detention House, will not be completed until April 2029 under a $2.96 billion contract that the Adams administration plans to award to Tutor Perini, one of the nation’s largest construction firms. .

Asked Wednesday how Rikers could close by 2027 given the Brooklyn complex’s 2029 construction schedule, Mayor Adams told the Daily News that just “just because something isn’t completely finished doesn’t mean you can’t [house] prisoners.”

On Thursday, Speaker Adams refrained from commenting on the mayor’s proposal that the city could house inmates in the partially completed prison. But she told reporters, “Whatever happens in the future, we will stick to the law.”

The mayor has raised his eyebrows, saying on numerous occasions in recent months that he considers Rikers’ shutdown plan “defective.” He also said the city might need a “Plan B”, though he didn’t explain what that would look like.

New York Mayor Eric Adams

At the same time, the prison population at Rikers has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic and currently stands at nearly 6,000. Almost all of the prisoners on the island have not been convicted of any crime and are in pre-trial detention.

Rikers’ growing population adds another major challenge to the city’s prison plan, as four facilities in Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn are expected to have a combined capacity of 3,300.

Meanwhile, prisoner advocates say the Rikers’ conditions are only getting worse. Nineteen Rikers inmates died in 2022, the island’s deadliest year in nearly three decades, according to Board of Corrections records, and a lack of staff has contributed to a number of deaths.

Prison complex on Rikers Island

Lander lamented that the Adams administration did not approach him and other city officials for help in resolving construction delays.

The Comptroller also said the administration must take immediate steps to end operations at Rikers, including stopping admissions at the Rose Singer Women’s Center on the island.

“I didn’t speak to a single person at Rosie’s hospital who needed to be taken into custody,” Lander said of a recent visit to the facility. “In 2023, we could close Rosie’s.”

Controller Brad Lander speaks during Thursday's rally.

Speaker Adams agreed: “Administration, attorneys, city council – let’s work together to finally close Rikers for public safety.”

Rikers-related tensions between the mayor and speaker, who are unrelated, arise as the two have increasingly clashed with each other recently over a range of issues, including funding for city welfare and housing agencies.

Emphasizing his commitment to the Rikers cause, Adams plans to personally preside over the Department of Corrections Budget Board hearing next week, an unusual role for a speaker.

“Any other member of the committee could have chaired the hearing, but the speaker chose to do it herself because Rikers’ closed issue is a priority for her,” the speaker’s aide said.

With Graham Rayman

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