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A More Just New York City - Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

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Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Independent Commission
on New York City
Criminal Justice and
Incarceration Reform

Dear Fellow New Yorkers:
As the chairman of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration
Reform, it is my pleasure to share with you this report.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called the Commission into existence just
over a year ago. Since that time, the 27 members of the Commission — along with our research and
strategic partners from the private and non-profit sectors — have worked diligently to study the
criminal justice system in New York City, with a particular focus on what should be done with Rikers
Island. We heard from a broad array of stakeholders, including prosecutors, clergy, public defenders,
correction officers, civil rights leaders, victim advocates, elected officials, community leaders, the
formerly incarcerated, and their families. We sought input from New York residents through our website
and at numerous public meetings in each of the five boroughs. And we conducted independent and indepth analysis of the available data and research.
The perspectives and voices we solicited were diverse. There was disagreement on many issues.
But there was one important common thread across what we heard: our criminal justice system
requires dramatic change.
We entered the process with no predetermined judgment. I asked the members of the
Commission — law enforcement officials, business leaders, judges, academics, and community
activists alike — to look at the justice system with a fresh set of eyes. We let the facts be our guide as
we examined both the successes and the failures of recent years.
But we have done more than just look at what was — we have sought to articulate what could be.
The result is a vision of a twenty-first century criminal justice system that all New Yorkers can be
proud of. This system will be animated by a new set of affirmative goals — keeping people safe, aiding
victims, responding to community needs, and crafting proportionate, meaningful, and compassionate
responses to unlawful behavior.
The report that follows is the product of a unified Commission. In laying out this blueprint, we build
on a solid foundation. For more than 20 years, New York City has successfully driven down both crime
and incarceration. The City has proven that more jail does not equal greater public safety. Indeed,
an emerging body of research suggests that jail can actually make us less safe, leading to more
criminal behavior and undermining the health of families and communities alike.
We believe that a twenty-first century justice system must acknowledge the multiple harms that
incarceration, and Rikers Island in particular, has caused hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, their
families, and their communities. And it must acknowledge that these harms fall disproportionately on
communities of color. To heal and restore hope, jail must become a last resort rather than the path of
least resistance.
Dramatically reducing incarceration is just part of the larger project of reimagining justice, however.
Going forward, the idea of community justice must become standard operating practice — investing
in New York City neighborhoods damaged by past practice and creating stronger links between
criminal justice agencies and the people they exist to serve. Going forward, every decision and
interaction — whether on the street, in the courthouse, or behind the walls of our jails — must seek to
advance the fundamental values of dignity and respect. And going forward, we must close the jail
complex on Rikers Island. Period.
Rikers Island is a stain on our great City. It leaves its mark on everyone it touches: the correction
officers working back-to-back shifts under dangerous conditions, the inmates waiting for their day in
court in an inhumane and violent environment, the family members forced to miss work and travel long
distances to see their loved ones, the attorneys who cannot easily visit their clients to prepare a defense,
and the taxpayers who devote billions of dollars each year to keep the whole dysfunctional apparatus
running year after year. Put simply, Rikers Island is a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.
We reviewed, studied, and debated every possible solution to the problem of Rikers. We have
concluded that simply reducing the inmate population, renovating the existing facilities, or increasing
resources will not solve the deep, underlying issues on Rikers Island. We are recommending, without


hesitation or equivocation, permanently ending the use of Rikers Island as a jail facility in any form
or function.
Closing Rikers Island is far more than a symbolic gesture. It is an essential step toward a more
effective and more humane criminal justice system. We must replace our current model of mass
incarceration with something that is more effective and more humane — state-of-the-art facilities
located closer to where the courts are operated in civic centers in each borough.
Rikers Island is not just physically remote — it is psychologically isolated from the rest of New York
City. Rikers severs connections with families and communities, with harmful consequences for anyone
who spends even a few days on the Island.
That’s why we believe that a smaller, borough-based jail system is critical. Our future jails must
promote the safety and well-being of both correction officers and the individuals they supervise, the
vast majority of whom are awaiting trial and have been found guilty of no crime. These goals are best
served when we make clear that the point of correction is exactly that — to correct. Going forward, our
jails must work to reduce crime through rehabilitation.
This is not just the right thing to do — it is also the fiscally prudent thing to do. Indeed, as you will
see in the pages that follow, we believe that closing Rikers Island will result in significant cost savings.
It will also enable us to move forward as a City, boldly preparing for the challenges that the next
century will bring. Permanently ending the use of Rikers Island as a de facto penal colony will free up
the space needed for the kinds of transportation and energy infrastructure projects that are crucial to
the future of our great City.
I am acutely aware that in order to enact our recommendations, we will need courageous leadership
from our City and State officials. Creating a more just New York City will not happen overnight — and it
will not happen with the support of a single person or entity. It is now more critical than ever that we
confront the challenges ahead together. This report serves as a roadmap for what must be done.
By working together to close Rikers Island, an international symbol of despair and damage,
New York will be a beacon of safety, humanity, and justice for cities across the country and
around the world.
Let New York City lead the way, as it has done so often in the past.

The Hon. Jonathan Lippman

Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform
Hon. Jonathan Lippman (Chair)
Former New York State Chief Judge and Of Counsel, Latham & Watkins LLP
Richard M. Aborn
President, Citizens Crime Commission
of New York City
Juan Cartagena
President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice
Hon. Matthew J. D’Emic
Presiding Judge, Brooklyn Mental Health Court
and Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters,
Brooklyn Supreme Court
Mylan L. Denerstein
Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Robert B. Fiske, Jr.
Senior Counsel, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP
and former United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York
MaryAnne Gilmartin (Subcommittee Chair)
President and Chief Executive Officer,
Forest City Ratner Companies
Colvin W. Grannum
President and Chief Executive Officer,
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
Dr. Michael P. Jacobson (Subcommittee Chair)
Executive Director, CUNY Institute for State &
Local Governance and Chairman of the
Board, New York City Criminal Justice Agency
Seymour W. James, Jr.
Attorney-in-Charge, Legal Aid Society
of New York
Hon. Judy Harris Kluger
Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families
Peter J. Madonia
Chief Operating Officer, Rockefeller Foundation

Glenn E. Martin
President and Founder, JustLeadershipUSA
Julio Medina
Executive Director, Founder, and Chief Executive
Officer, Exodus Transitional Community, Inc.
Ana L. Oliveira
President and Chief Executive Officer,
New York Women’s Foundation
Rocco A. Pozzi
Probation Commissioner, Westchester County
Department of Probation and former
Commissioner, Westchester County Department
of Correction
Stanley Richards
Board Member, New York City Board of
Correction and Executive Vice President,
Fortune Society, Inc.
Laurie Robinson
Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology,
Law and Society at George Mason University
and former Assistant Attorney General,
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Hon. Jeanette Ruiz
Administrative Judge, New York City Family Court
Peter G. Samuels
Partner, Proskauer Rose LLP
Dr. Alethea Simon
President and Executive Director, Greenhope
Services for Women, Inc.
Herbert Sturz
Board Chair, Center for New York City

Jeremy Travis
President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
and former Director, National
Institute of Justice
Nicholas R. Turner (Subcommittee Chair)
President and Director, Vera Institute of Justice
Darren Walker
President, Ford Foundation
Kathryn S. Wylde
President and Chief Executive Officer,
Partnership for New York City
Kenneth H. Zimmerman
Director of U.S. Programs, Open Society

Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform
Greg Berman
Courtney Bryan
Michael Rempel
Nora McDonnell
Kevin McDonough
Tyler Nims
Rachel Rodriguez
Insha Rahman
Navena Chaitoo
Stephen Roberts
Margaret Egan
Elizabeth DeWolf
Keegan Smith
Jane Marshall
Rachel Ben Haim
Justin Lapatine
Lauren Bierman
Marcia Maxwell
Anthony Chiarito
Anna Durrett
Marc LaVorgna

Additional support provided by:
HR&A Advisors: Jamie Torres Springer, Bret Nolan Collazzi, Cathy Li, Shani Carter. With FXFOWLE
Architects: Dan Kaplan, Jack Robbins, Tyler Cukar; Stantec: Greg Sprich, Alex Bernier, Mark Dempf;
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates; Sam Schwartz Engineering; Mueser Rutledge Consulting
Engineers; Roux Associates; VJ Associates; and AKRF
Van Alen Institute: David van der Leer, Jessica Lax, and Isabel Miesner. Justice In Design project team
Daniel Gallagher, Nader Tehrani, Susan Gottesfeld, Karen Kubey, Jayne Mooney, and Susan Opotow
Center for Court Innovation: Julian Adler, Sarah Fritsche, Jessica Kay, Adam Mansky, Robert Wolf,
Ashmini Kerodal, William Harkins, Gene Sorkin, Rachel Swaner, Matthew Watkins, Isabella Banks,
Amanda Cissner, and Lama Hassoun Ayoub
Vera Institute of Justice: Chris Henrichson
CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance: David Hafetz, Carrie Wolfson, and Caterina Pisciotta
Latham & Watkins LLP: Michele Penzer, William Reckler, Justin Glick, Jooyoung Yeu, Corey Calabrese,
Theodore Takougang, Eric Kaufman, Matthew Catalano, Katherine Lovejoy, Sindhu Boddu, Thomas
Heffernan, Katrina Fahey, Jacob Wolf, Jonathan Guest, Lemay Diaz, Asher Herzog, James Lambert,
Elizabeth Parvis, Amy Robertson, Christine Thomson, Christina Volcy, and Nikki Kelly


The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration
Reform’s work was made possible with the support and guidance of numerous
leaders, stakeholders, and residents of New York City.
In particular, the Commission is thankful to Laura Popa, Brian Crow, Deepa
Ambekar, and staff at the New York City Council for assisting the Commission,
particularly with community engagement efforts.
Thanks to Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte, and his staff
including Jeff Thamkittikasem, Emily Soto, Carleen McLaughlin, Karen Eggleson,
Eric Sorenson, Frank Eilam, and Wes Bauman for their input, data, and assistance
in gathering information and visiting jail facilities.
The Commission is also grateful to Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Director
Elizabeth Glazer and staff including Karen Shaer, Alex Crohn, Chidinma Ume,
Molly Cohen, and Mariana Veras, for their data support and insights.
Thank you as well to Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks for his
guidance. We also thank Carolyn R. Cadoret at the Office of Court Administration
for providing data to the Commission. Also, thanks to Preeti Chauhan at the
Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College for her insights.
Additional gratitude to Aubrey Fox, Isaac Gertman, and Josh Shaddock for
their support in drafting and designing the report. The Commission also extends
its thanks to Ken Ricci and Frank Greene of RicciGreene Associates and Stephen
Carter of CGL Companies for their guidance on jail facility design. We also thank
Alta Indelman and David Chapin for their assistance with the Van Alen Institute’s
Justice in Design project on behalf of the Commission.
Finally, thanks to Melanie Meyers and Ellen Lehman at Fried Frank for legal
research on land use.


The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration
Reform accepted no government funds. We are deeply grateful to the philanthropic
organizations that helped underwrite our work.
Ford Foundation
Open Society Foundation
Pinkerton Foundation
JM Kaplan Foundation
Burke and Violet Marshall Foundation
Propel Capital
Langeloth Foundation
David Rockefeller Foundation
New York Women’s Foundation
Tow Foundation
The Commission is also grateful to the organizations that provided considerable
in-kind support.
The Center for Court Innovation
CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance
Vera Institute of Justice
Forest City Ratner Companies
Global Strategy Group
Latham & Watkins LLP
HR&A Advisors


Executive Summary 	


Introduction	20
Rethinking Incarceration	


The Future of Jails	


Reimagining the Island	


Moving Forward	


Appendix A:	
Our Process


Appendix B:	
Data and Methodology


Appendix C:	
Community Design
Workshop Findings




A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

In her 2016 State of the City address, New York
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called
for fundamental criminal justice reform. Titling her
speech “More Justice,” Mark-Viverito announced
the creation of an independent commission to
explore “how we can get the population of Rikers
[Island] to be so small that the dream of shutting
it down becomes a reality.”
The Speaker appointed former New York State
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to chair the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal
Justice and Incarceration Reform. Under Judge
Lippman’s leadership, 27 commissioners were
selected, including leaders in business, philanthropy, academia, law, and social services, as
well as those with personal experience being held
on Rikers Island. Several organizations from the
non-profit and private sectors were engaged to
provide research and strategic support, including
the Center for Court Innovation, Latham & Watkins LLP, Vera Institute of Justice, CUNY Institute
for State and Local Governance, Forest City Ratner Companies, Global Strategy Group, and HR&A
Advisors. To ensure its independence, the Commission relied on philanthropic support, taking no
money from government or political entities.
For more than one year, the Commission has
studied the City’s criminal justice system, and
Rikers Island in particular. In addition to gathering formal testimony and interviewing a wide
range of experts—city officials, corrections staff,
formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and their
families, prosecutors, defense attorneys, clergy,
service providers, advocates, and others—the
Commission undertook a far-reaching community engagement process, including meetings with
the faith community, design workshops, public
roundtables throughout the City, and a website

Executive Summary

to solicit public input. The Commission also
performed in-depth data analysis and evaluated
model programs and practices from across the
country and around the world.

Jail in New York City
The presumption of innocence is one of the
foundations of the American legal system. Yet
on any given day, three-quarters of the roughly
9,700 people held in New York City’s jails are
awaiting the outcome of their case, nearly all
of them because they cannot afford bail. These
individuals have been found guilty of no crime.
Research shows that incarceration begets
incarceration. Spending time behind bars also
begets other problems, including eviction,
unemployment, and family dysfunction. These
burdens fall disproportionately on communities
of color. On any given day, nine out of ten people
being held behind bars in New York City are
either Black (55 percent) or Latino (34 percent).
The vast majority of those incarcerated in New
York City, more than 7,500, are housed in nine
jails located on Rikers Island (the rest are held in
smaller facilities around the City). Many of these
facilities are falling apart. And many lack the
kinds of basic services, including air conditioning
and space for social services, that are essential to
a modern correctional system. This creates a toxic
environment for everyone—both those being held
and those doing the guarding.
The Commission heard multiple reports of
mistreatment on Rikers Island, ranging from
small, daily humiliations to occasional acts of
shocking brutality. Much of this testimony confirmed the stark conclusion of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan: there is a deep-seat-


ed culture of violence on Rikers Island.
Another problem is physical isolation. Rikers
Island is located far from the City’s courthouses and neighborhoods. It is accessible only by
a narrow bridge. The Department of Correction spends $31 million annually transporting
defendants back and forth to courthouses and
appointments off the Island. Visiting a loved one
on Rikers can take an entire day, forcing people
to miss work and make costly arrangements for
child care.
Rikers’s inaccessibility also presents challenges for the men and women who work there.
The Commission heard from corrections officers
who slept in their cars between shifts rather
than travel home to be with their families. Perhaps most importantly, Rikers’s isolation encourages an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” dynamic, to
the detriment of all parties.
Rikers Island essentially functions as an
expensive penal colony. The Commission has
estimated that the annual price of housing
someone in a New York City jail is $247,000. The
costs, both moral and financial, of this arrangement might be readily borne by New York City
taxpayers if there were compelling evidence
that it helped to keep the City safe. But no such
evidence exists.
For more than 20 years, New York City has
successfully driven down both crime and incarceration, a trend which has continued under
Mayor Bill de Blasio. The City has proven that
more jail does not equal more public safety.
Indeed, an emerging body of research suggests
that jail can actually undermine public safety,
encouraging criminal behavior and undermining
the stability of families and communities.

The Report
The report that follows is the product of a unified Commission. All 27 members came together
behind a vision for a criminal justice system in
New York City that embodies the civic values
of liberty, equality, dignity, justice, and public
safety. Central to this vision is the primary recommendation of the Commission:
Rikers Island must be closed.
The Commission has concluded that shuttering
Rikers Island is an essential step toward building
a more just New York City. Refurbishing Rikers is
not enough. Our current approach to incarceration is broken and must be replaced. Acknowledging this, the Commission recommends
permanently ending the use of Rikers Island as a
jail facility.
The Commission believes that confinement
is necessary when individuals are a threat to
themselves or others, but that its use should
be a last resort. In addition to using jail sparingly, the Commission believes it must be used
humanely, with an eye toward preparing people
to re-enter society and ending the costly cycle of
repeat offending.
The reforms outlined in this report would cut
New York City’s jail population in half over the
next ten years, allowing for the closure of Rikers
and its replacement by a smaller system of stateof-the-art jails—one for each borough—situated
near the courthouses they serve.
The report also lays out a plan for the redevelopment of Rikers Island, transforming it to
meet the energy and transportation demands of
our expanding City. To acknowledge the harms
that correctional facilities on Rikers Island have
wrought over the years, particularly to communities of color, the Commission recommends a
memorial and/or museum to explain to future
generations the history of the Island.
The Commission’s recommendations are
organized into three sections:

1. 	Rethinking Incarceration
2.	The Future of Jails
3.	Reimagining the Island


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Rethinking Incarceration
In order to help create a more fair and effective justice system that prioritizes victim and
community safety, the Commission recommends
reforms at multiple stages of the criminal justice
process: arrest, arraignment, case processing,
and sentencing. If fully implemented, these
proposals would reduce the average daily jail
population in New York City to less than 5,000
Arrest: Creating Off-Ramps
Crime Prevention: The best incarceration reduction strategy is to prevent crime from happening
in the first place. Acknowledging this, the City
should invest in a range of neighborhood-based
crime prevention strategies that seek to change
community norms, address local hot spots, and
improve the life trajectories of young people.
Examples include youth development initiatives,
neighborhood beautification projects, employment programs, Cure Violence efforts, and others. These investments should be targeted to the
neigh-borhoods that have been most damaged
by Rikers Island.
Diversion: The City should establish diversion
programs to keep low-level misdemeanor cases
out of the criminal courts. Eligible defendants
would be brought to a community-based service
provider that would conduct an assessment, require participation in social services or community restitution, and offer voluntary assistance. In
addition, some low-level charges, including cases involving minor drug possession, should be
moved from the criminal to the civil system and
processed in summons court. The Commission
estimates that these two reforms could redirect
more than 100,000 misdemeanors each year.
Mental Health: The City should continue to
support efforts to ensure that those with mental
health needs are directed to services, not incarceration, wherever appropriate. This includes
training for all police officers in crisis intervention and the creation of additional public health
centers where officers can link those in need to

Executive Summary

Arraignment: Reducing Pretrial Detention
Pretrial Supervision: In lieu of bail, which nine in
ten defendants are unable to pay in time to avoid
a jail stay, the City should rely on pretrial supervision for those defendants who are not released
on their own recognizance. Pretrial supervision
should include rigorous monitoring and links to
services. It should become the default option,
replacing money bail, for those who are charged
with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies,
as well as for some young people charged with
more serious offenses.
Informed Decisions: To improve decision making, the City should create three risk assessment
tools measuring a defendant’s future risk of
re-offense, violence, and domestic violence. Developers of the assessments should take steps
to promote transparency and mitigate the potential for racial or gender bias. The City should also
implement a financial assessment tool to help
determine appropriate bail amounts that each
defendant can afford.
Payment of Bail: The City should simplify the
payment process in an effort to reduce the number of short jail stays resulting solely from the
difficulty of paying bail at arraignment.
Money Bail: New York should eliminate
money bail. A person’s freedom should not be
determined by what’s in his or her wallet. Any
legislative solution must allow judges to consider
the defendant’s risk to public safety in making
pretrial release decisions. Legislation must
also contain sufficient safeguards to ensure
that the overall use of pretrial detention does
not increase. Even while we wait for thoughtful
legislation that meets these requirements, it is
possible to drastically limit money bail to a small
fraction of the cases.


Case Processing: Reducing Delays
Benchmarks: Currently, more than half of the
City’s jail population consists of indicted felonies
in the pretrial stages. In keeping with the court
system’s official standards, indicted felonies
should be resolved within six months and misdemeanors within 90 days.
Trials: Very few cases are resolved by trial in
New York City—less than one percent each year.
The average time to a trial verdict is more than
20 months. All parties should work to expedite
early discovery and engage in meaningful plea
bargaining as early as possible. In cases that
cannot reach a plea, firm trial dates should be
scheduled. The state should pass new legislation
requiring trials to be held more speedily.
Adjournments: Cases in New York City can go a
month or more in between court appearances.
All parties should seek to minimize time between
appearances. Judges should enforce an upper
limit of 30 days for adjournments.
Procedural Justice: Every defendant and victim
who comes into contact with the New York City
criminal justice system should be treated with
dignity and respect. The system should actively
work to improve perceptions of fairness and
encourage compliance with the law.

Sentencing: Expanding Alternatives
Elimination of Short Jail Sentences: On any given day, more than 1,200 individuals are serving
jail sentences in New York City, with 69 percent
involving 30 days or less in jail. Given the high
cost and low impact of such sentences, the City
should look to eliminate sentences of 30 days or
fewer in favor of community-based alternatives.
Alternatives to Incarceration: The City should
expand the availability of evidence-based alternatives to longer jail sentences. Risk and need
assessments should be used to match defendants with appropriate programs.
Community Justice: Given the documented
success of the City’s existing community courts
at reducing both incarceration and recidivism,
the City should consider opening new community courts in neighborhoods with high crime rates,
low levels of confidence in justice, and local
interest in establishing such a program.
Raise the Age: Flying in the face of both common sense and the latest science on adolescent brain development, New York is currently
one of only two states that prosecute 16- and
17-year-olds as adults. To rectify this, New York
State must raise the age of adult criminal justice
responsibility to 18 years of age.
Racial Disparities: As the criminal justice
system looks to reduce its reliance on jail, it
must also make special efforts to address the
overrepresentation of Blacks and Latinos. This
includes regularly reviewing the implementation
of all of the criminal justice reforms highlighted
in this report to ensure that they are helping to
mitigate racial and ethnic disparities.


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

The Future of Jails
The use of Rikers Island must be phased out
over the next ten years and its facilities demolished. Given Rikers’s location and history—and
the persistent culture of violence and loss of
humanity inherent in a system that is based
on isolation—rebuilding on the Island is not
an option. In place of the penal colony model
embodied by Rikers Island, the Commission
recommends the establishment of jail facilities
in all five boroughs located closer to where New
Yorkers live and work.
Cost Analysis
Human Costs: The isolation of Rikers Island, accessible only by a single city bus line and a narrow
bridge, is an impediment to families trying to visit
their loved ones, and to service providers and attorneys trying to aid their clients. It also contributes
to a culture of violence and neglect. The design of
the jails on Rikers with their long, linear corridors
and the decaying physical plant (which provides
multiple opportunities to fashion weapons) pose a
constant threat to corrections officers.
Fiscal Costs: Aging jail facilities carry significant
maintenance costs. In addition, the antiquated
design of the City’s jail facilities requires more
uniformed staff to safely supervise inmates.
Construction on the Island costs 10 to 15 percent
more than in the boroughs.
System Costs: The location of Rikers imposes
an operational burden on the Department of
Correction, the courts, and other system actors,
contributing to delays in case processing. Ten
percent of the population of Rikers is moved off
the Island each day for court appearances. A
round trip requires hours to complete at a minimum. The Department of Correction budgets $31
million each year for transportation costs. There
are insufficient private, safe spaces for rehabilitative programming on Rikers. This is especially
harmful to those populations requiring special
attention, including women, adolescents, and
those with mental health issues.
Borough-Based Model
Community Jails: In place of jail facilities on
Rikers Island, the Commission recommends the
construction of five state-of-the-art jails, one

Executive Summary

in each borough. These jails—which would be
situated near courthouses in civic centers, rather
than in residential neighborhoods—would be
more accessible and would reduce transportation costs.
Capacity: Designed to meet the reduced jail
population in years ahead, the system should
have a capacity of 5,500 beds, with each facility
proportional in size to the number of people held
from that borough.
Community Involvement: Conversations with local communities concerning potential locations
for the jails must begin early and the City must
ensure that the process is as fair, transparent,
and responsive to community concerns as possible. The new jails should be integrated into their
surrounding neighborhoods, both in terms of
design and uses. Benefits to communities such
as new community meeting spaces and services
or retail space for local businesses should be
incorporated into
each facility.
Twenty-First Century Design
Clustered Housing: Inspired by the best practices employed in other jurisdictions, the Commission recommends the use of single cells arranged around central living areas in a “clustered
housing” model. Services should be gathered
together in a “town center” approach, allowing
individuals to move about as freely
as possible.
Direct Supervision: A “direct supervision” design
provides improved sightlines for officers and
more options for managing the behavior of those
in their custody. By reducing the physical barriers
between staff and inmates, this model facilitates
constant interaction, helping staff to strengthen
communication with inmates and identify problems before they escalate. If properly implemented, this model can significantly reduce violent
Programming: Beginning with an evidence-based admissions process, the new jail
facilities should begin planning for re-entry from
the moment of intake. Jails should have dedicated spaces that are equipped with updated tech-


nology to provide medical care, behavioral health
care, therapeutic services, and vocational and
educational programs. Visiting areas should be
welcoming and family-friendly. Dedicated space
for correction and programming staff should also
be created.
Women: Jail facilities must be designed to
account for the special needs of women. Gender-specific programming must pay particular attention to women with small children and those
dealing with histories of abuse and trauma.
Improving Operations
Staff Training: The Commission recommends
investing in a state-of-the-art training academy
and doubling the length of the current training of
Department of Correction staff. Training should
prioritize communication skills, de-escalation,
procedural justice, and mental health, among
other topics.
Improving Culture: In recent days, the Department of Correction has put a number of important reforms in motion. True and lasting change
will require staff to be infused with a renewed
sense of mission and clear expectations. To
change the culture of jails, the changes must be
embraced by leadership and deliberately spread
throughout the system.
Financial Impact
Costs: Researchers from the Commission
performed a fiscal analysis, examining the costs
and savings of moving to a borough-based jail
system. The total projected construction costs for
five new borough facilities and a new staff training facility is approximately $11 billion. The annual cost of this new jail system—including debt
service on the capital expenditures (assuming a
30-year term), the expansion of alternative-to-jail
programs, increased training, and enhanced programming for those behind bars—would be $1.11
billion per year.
Savings: The costs of creating a new, modern,
and efficient jail system must be measured
against the potential savings to be realized from
reducing the jail population. As part of its recommendations, the Commission suggests, over
the next decade, reducing the current uniformed


employee-to-inmate ratio of 1.08:1 to a projected
ratio of 0.73:1. The Commission still recommends
maintaining a richly staffed system including
civilian and uniformed personnel of 5,700, for a
total employee-to-inmate ratio of 1.14:1. This can
be achieved safely because there will be fewer
individuals who are in jail and because jail facilities will be more efficient and safe. This reduction would result in a potential annual savings of
$1.6 billion. Additional savings would be realized
through a reduction in transportation costs.
Net Impact: The Commission’s recommendations would eventually save billions of dollars.
After approximately ten years, once the City has
fully transitioned to borough-based jails, the net
impact after subtracting the costs described
above would be a benefit of $540 million in
annual budgetary savings. Additionally, renovating or building five new jails and a new training
academy for corrections officers would lead to
approximately 7,800 direct construction jobs over
seven years. After 30 years, once all renovation
and new building costs are fully paid, the City
would then save approximately $1.3 billion every
year in perpetuity. In other words, closing Rikers
is a unique opportunity to invest in our future.

Reimagining the Island
Over the next 15 years, Rikers Island should be
transformed from a blight to an asset. Even as
the City looks to the future of economic development on the Island, it also must honor its past,
including the negative experiences of those who
spent time behind bars on Rikers.
The Opportunity
Once the jails have been removed, the Island
offers an unusual opportunity in a dense,
highly-populated City: more than 400 acres to
redevelop. While the Island offers a blank slate
for urban planners, it also comes with significant
challenges, including restrictions related to its
proximity to LaGuardia Airport, the nature of the
land itself (the Island is mostly composed of landfill), and the lack of public transportation options.
Planning for the Future
The Commission proposes a vision for the island
that serves a next generation of critical

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

infrastructure enabling New York City to compete
as a twenty-first century global city, generate
good-paying jobs, and address major environmental challenges. The vision can take various
forms as regional priorities evolve. The Island
is uniquely positioned to accommodate an
expanded LaGuardia Airport that would reduce
delays and could serve as many as 12 million
more passengers annually. This expansion could
coexist with much-needed next-generation
infrastructure facilities that could help the City
meet the ambitious sustainability goals outlined
in the Mayor’s OneNYC plan by reducing the
city’s carbon footprint, and removing untreated
wastewater from our rivers.
These uses could directly generate up to $7.5
billion of annual economic activity and more than
50,000 jobs. Modernizing the City’s infrastructure would also power up to 23,000 homes with
clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions
equivalent to taking up to 150,000 cars off the
road, and support additional economic activity
and jobs as New York City's population grows to 9
million people and beyond.
Historically, lower-income communities have
been disproportionately burdened with unwanted
city infrastructure facilities. Relocating existing
public facilities to the Island would free up local
neighborhoods for community redevelopment,
generating more public benefits in the form of
new jobs, affordable housing, open space, and
other public uses.
Because the negative effects of Rikers Island
have fallen primarily on communities of color,
the Commission also recommends that any
redevelopment of the Island include special job
training and employment opportunities for New
Yorkers who face employment barriers, including
the formerly incarcerated. Redevelopment must
also offer contracting opportunities for minority
business owners.

Executive Summary

Honoring the Past
Recognizing the decades of damage inflicted
by the jails on Rikers Island, the Commission
recommends establishing a memorial and/or
museum that would honor the people whose
lives were changed forever by their time on the
Island—both those held and those who worked
there. The goal would be to educate future
generations about the history of the Island and
spark a conversation about the administration
of justice. The Commission envisions a participatory planning process involving significant
input from communities across the City. Finally,
to symbolize the Island’s rebirth, as well as its
re-alignment with our values as New Yorkers, the
Commission believes it makes sense to rename
the Island.
Moving Forward
Closing Rikers Island is a moral imperative. The
Island is a powerful symbol of a discredited
approach to criminal justice—a penal colony
that subjects all within its walls to inhumane
conditions. There is no evidence that Rikers
improves public safety. There is, however, plenty
of evidence to suggest that it negatively and
disproportionately impacts people of color.
Closing Rikers Island is essential to the future
success of New York City. If it did not serve as a
penal colony, the Island could be an important
asset, enabling desperately-needed investments
in transportation and energy infrastructure.
Closing Rikers Island is an achievable goal.
The concrete steps outlined in this report would
cut the jail population in half and facilitate the
creation of modern, humane jail facilities in
each borough.
Closing Rikers Island is a significant step
toward a more just New York City. Now is the
time to act.




A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

In her State of the City address on February 10,
2016, New York City Council Speaker Melissa
Mark-Viverito focused on the importance of
criminal justice reform. Titling her speech “More
Justice,” Mark-Viverito called for the creation
of an independent commission that would be
charged with reviewing the criminal justice
system in New York City and exploring “how
we can get the population of Rikers [Island] to
be so small that the dream of shutting it down
becomes a reality.”
The Speaker appointed former New York
State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to chair
the Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.
Under Judge Lippman’s leadership, 27 leaders
were selected to serve on the Commission from
a variety of fields, including law, academia,
business, philanthropy, and the non-profit
sector. The Commission included those who
have served as law enforcement as well as those
with personal experience being held in custody
on Rikers Island.

Given a year to complete its work, the
Commission chose to focus on three basic

Rethinking Incarceration:
What policies and practices might be
implemented to further reduce the jail
population in New York? How can the
criminal justice system be reformed to
promote fairness and justice at each
stage of the process?
The Future of Jails:
How can jail facilities be designed to
enhance the safety, security, and wellbeing of both correction officers and
the individuals they supervise? Is it
feasible to close the Rikers Island jail
complex and replace it with a smaller,
borough-based corrections system?
Reinventing Rikers Island:
If it no longer housed a jail complex,
what should happen with Rikers Island
itself? How can the Island best
serve the needs of New York in the
twenty-first century?



To answer these questions, the Commission
heard formal testimony and conducted
interviews with dozens of experts. It engaged the
Center for Court Innovation, Latham & Watkins
LLP, Vera Institute of Justice, CUNY Institute for
State and Local Governance, Forest City Ratner
Companies, Global Strategy Group, and HR&A
Advisors to conduct original research. And it
solicited public input via community forums,
design workshops, and meetings with the faith
community across New York City as well as a
website (
This report describes the Commission’s
findings. We begin by providing some context.
First, we discuss the recent history of criminal
justice in New York City. Then we look at the
particular challenges that Rikers Island poses to
the healthy functioning of the justice system—
and New York City generally. Finally, we describe
the values that animated our investigation.

A Unique Moment
The Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform began
its work at a unique moment.
New York City has experienced more than two
decades of declining crime rates, a trend which
has continued under Mayor Bill de Blasio. The
number of homicides plummeted from 2,245 in
1990 to 334 in 2016. Other serious felonies have
followed a similar trajectory. In the span of a
generation, New York City has been transformed
from an international symbol of urban disorder
to, by many measures, the safest big city in the
United States.
New York has experienced another
remarkable development alongside these
improvements in public safety: reduced
After dramatic growth over the course of
the 1980s, New York City’s jail population has
shrunk significantly in the years since. From 1991
to 2016, the daily jail population declined from
more than 20,000 to less than 10,000—a 52
percent reduction.1
In short, the recent history of New York City
clearly demonstrates that crime and incarceration
can be driven down simultaneously. Contrary
to what many people believe, more jail does not
mean more public safety.


This story has not been well disseminated.
Indeed, a recent phone survey documented
that only 15 percent of New Yorkers know that
incarceration has been reduced over the past
20 years.2
Given this reality, it is worth pausing here
to acknowledge the mayors, police officers,
prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys,
probation and corrections officials, advocates,
alternative-to-incarceration programs and
others who have contributed to this success.
We applaud the work that has been done to
reduce crime and unnecessary incarceration
and recommend a future path that is consistent
with the trajectory that New York City has
established for more than two decades.
The New York experience is in direct contrast
to the rest of the country. As has been well
documented, the United States experienced
skyrocketing incarceration rates throughout
the past four decades. In 1980, the Bureau
of Justice Statistics estimated that 503,600
people were being held behind bars in the U.S.
By 2008, that number was more than four times
higher at 2,310,300. Since then, the number of
incarcerated Americans has declined modestly
to just under 2.2 million.
A 2017 phone survey commissioned by the
Center for Court Innovation documented that
most New Yorkers are unaware of the reductions
in crime and incarceration that the city has
seen over the past 20 years. Less than half
(43 percent) of those surveyed knew that crime
had been reduced over the past 20 years. Only
15 percent knew that incarceration has been
reduced over this period.
Given this reality, it is worth pausing here to
acknowledge the mayors, police officers, prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, probation and
corrections officials, alternative-to-incarceration programs and others who have worked so
diligently to promote public safety and reduce unnecessary incarceration. New York City’s success
on both fronts should be celebrated.
Alongside the achievements of the past
several decades, there have also been a number
of flash points that have thrown the failings of
our criminal justice system in stark relief. These
include public protests over the New York Police
Department’s stop, question, and frisk practice
and the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

17, 5 3 8


1 3 , 0 17









Jail Population Trends in New York City, 1970–2016


9 ,7 6 6

7, 5 2 0



















Source: Vera Institute Incarceration Trends Project, except for 2015 and 2016 figures,
which come from data obtained by the Commission from the New York City Department
of Correction and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.



Breakdown of Current Jail Population

93.6%	 Male
6.4%	 Female
*DOC data does not track gender


02.0% 16–17
22.4% 18–24
35.0%  25–35
40.5% 36 and older


54.6% Black
33.7%  Latino






A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

For many New Yorkers, the problems of the
criminal justice system, particularly around the
issue of race, were crystallized by the suicide of
Kalief Browder in 2015. As described in The New
Yorker, Browder was arrested as a 16-year-old for
allegedly stealing a backpack. He spent three
years on Rikers Island awaiting the resolution
of his case. During that time, he suffered brutal
treatment at the hands of both correction
officers and fellow inmates. He spent months in
solitary confinement and attempted suicide on
multiple occasions. Browder’s criminal case was
ultimately dismissed. He killed himself at the
age of 22, two years after his release from jail.
Browder’s story remains a powerful rallying cry
for those interested in forging a more just and
humane justice system.

Jail in New York City
All of which brings us to the current jail
population in New York City.
On any given day, thousands of New Yorkers
are held behind bars in City jails. To get a better
sense of who these people are, researchers from
the Commission took a one-day snapshot of the
jail population on September 29, 2016. On that
day, 9,753 people were held in a City jail. Here is
what we learned about them:
Pretrial: Three-quarters of the jail population in
New York City consists of people who are being
held while their cases are awaiting an outcome
in court. These individuals have been found
guilty of no crime—they are presumed innocent.
In nearly all of these cases, the individuals are
held due to their inability to make bail.
Jail Sentences: Another 13 percent of the jail
population is composed of individuals convicted
of an offense and sentenced to jail. The typical
sentence is not very long—more than two-thirds
of all sentences are 30 days or less.
Parole Violations: Six percent of the jail
population are individuals held on a parole
violation or revocation. These people are either
awaiting a revocation hearing or have had their
parole revoked and been sentenced to additional
incarceration time at Rikers Island. In addition,
a small fraction of the jail population are people


held temporarily while awaiting transfer to,
or returning from, a state prison, or for other
miscellaneous reasons.
Demographics: The jail population is 94 percent
male. More than 75 percent of the individuals
in jail are aged 25 years or older (two percent
are 16 or 17 and 22 percent are ages 18 to 24).
The population is also predominantly Black
(55 percent) and Latino (34 percent).
Borough: The Commission determined that 38
percent of the City’s jail population comes from
Manhattan’s criminal court, although Manhattan
processed only 29 percent of the criminal
caseload in 2016. No other borough comes close,
with Brooklyn accounting for the second highest
percentage of the jail population at 22 percent.
(Note that the Brooklyn figure is less than the
borough’s 27 percent share of the city’s caseload.)
Location: There are currently nine functioning
jail facilities on Rikers Island. On September 29,
2016, 77 percent of those in a City jail were being
held in one of these facilities. The remainder
were held in borough-based facilities—eight
percent at the Vernon C. Bain Center in the
Bronx, six percent at the Brooklyn Detention
Complex, eight percent at the Manhattan
Detention Complex, and less than one percent
at special wards within either Bellevue or
Elmhurst Hospitals.
Of course, numbers can only tell us so much
about the jail population in New York City, and
Rikers Island in particular. Digging deeper, we
found the following:
‘A Code of Violence’
Recent years have seen intense scrutiny of
Rikers Island. Intrepid reporters from The New
York Times, Associated Press, New Yorker,
Village Voice, Marshall Project and other outlets
have highlighted the routine mistreatment
of people held at Rikers. These journalists
have been assisted by a variety of advocacy
groups and numerous defense agencies that
have worked assiduously to increase public
awareness of what happens on Rikers Island.
Various government officials and agencies
have also sought to document violence on Rikers



Island, including the New York City Board of
Correction, the New York City Comptroller, and,
perhaps most importantly, the U.S. Attorney
for the Southern District of New York. In a
2014 report, the U.S. Attorney’s Office found a
systematic pattern of excessive force by Rikers
Island correction officers against adolescents.
In 2015, the City settled a federal lawsuit
over conditions at Rikers Island, agreeing to
numerous reforms and a federal monitor.
We did not seek to reinvent the wheel in terms
of recording the mistreatment of those held on
Rikers Island—all of these reports are readily
available to anyone with access to an Internet
browser. But we did hear, over and over again,
directly from those who had spent time on Rikers
Island about the brutal treatment that they
received. To cite just one example, a formerlyincarcerated New Yorker who participated in
one of the community roundtables we convened
put it this way: “[Rikers Island] is a code of
violence…when you go to Rikers Island, when
you get through the gates, the first thing the COs
tell you is ‘enroll in the gladiators’ school.’”
A big part of the problem is the model that
Rikers Island embodies. The sheer size of
the inmate population creates management
challenges. The transient nature of the
population, with many inmates spending only
a few days on the Island, adds to the degree of
difficulty. Indeed, we consistently heard from
those who had spent time in both that State
prison felt safer and less chaotic than jail in
New York City.3

‘A Ball of Darkness’
In addition to egregious acts of violence, Rikers
is a place characterized by daily humiliations.
People held at Rikers regularly complain
of inhumane conditions and petty indignities.
Little that happens on the Island is designed to
set individuals on a more productive and lawabiding path. As one formerly incarcerated person
summed it up, “Rikers is its own ball of darkness.”
This darkness falls on all who enter the gates
of Rikers. But the Island takes a particularly
heavy toll on adolescents, women, and those
with mental health issues. As one young adult
testified before the Commission:

I went to solitary confinement at the age
of 17. I was a child the first time I went to
solitary confinement—15 days, then 90
days, then another 90 days, 120 days…
Young people, adults—it doesn't matter,
because it's going to break a person down
mentally and physically and emotionally.
Thankfully, the City has recently committed to
moving 16- and 17-year-olds off Rikers Island. It
has also sought to ban solitary confinement for
those under the age of 21.
Improving the treatment of those with
mental health issues may prove more difficult.
Combining Department of Correction data
with a prior analysis by the Council of State
Governments, researchers from the Commission
estimate that about 19 percent of people held
in city jails have a serious mental illness.4 Those
with a mental illness are less likely than others
to make bail and are incarcerated for more than
twice as long pretrial. These outcomes suggest
that despite their treatment needs, individuals
with mental illness currently receive more, not
less, incarceration at Rikers than others.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

‘Torture Island’
Some of the most moving testimony about
Rikers Island came from family members with
experience visiting their children or partners.
The isolation of Rikers Island, which is only
accessible by a single city bus line and requires
passing through multiple security checkpoints,
means a short visit can take an entire day.
“It’s very exhausting to visit your loved
one at Torture Island,” said one parent to the
Commission. “The whole process of hours of
struggle of traveling by public transportation
and hours of searches and waiting and
waiting to get that one-hour visit is just very
deteriorating for any human to endure.”


The burden of visiting family members
falls particularly hard on young children.
“My daughter started visiting her father when she
was two years old,” described another parent:

She knew when she arrived she had to
watch a dog walk by and smell her even
though she is scared. Every time the dog
came by she would grab the stroller where
her brother was to try and protect him. She
knows to take her hat, coat and shoes and
put it in a bin to push through scanning. She
knows to walk through a metal detector and
wait on the other side. This process can take
all day. My kids speak to their father through
a glass wall with holes in it. My son puts
his hands to the glass and tried to kiss his
dad but I have to explain the glass is dirty.
It’s unbearable, really. It feels like torture.
‘We’re Also Human’
Rikers Island is not an easy place to work. Indeed,
many correction officers and health officials find it
dehumanizing. As one correction officer told New
York magazine, “[Rikers] has a smell. I can’t even
describe it to you. Worse than a sewer. The Island
is its own Island that people on the outside could
never understand.”
The physical isolation of the Island creates
hardships for correction officers. We heard stories
of officers sleeping in their cars between shifts
rather than driving home to be with their families.
Working conditions on Rikers Island are
difficult. “We deal with a lot of mental and physical
abuse, from your inmates to your superiors,” said
a correction officer. This includes incidents of
“splashing”—inmates hurling urine and feces.
It also includes acts of violence, with inmates
taking advantage of the failing physical plant to
fashion makeshift weapons. In testimony before
the Commission, Elias Husamudeen, President of
the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association,
stated, “We’re professionals, but we’re also


‘The Land That Time Forgot’
The New York City Department of Correction
dates back to 1895. Unfortunately, as Ken Ricci,
a national expert in jail design, told us, “New
York City, the leader in so many ways, is currently
in the 19th century in terms of jails.”
The first jail on Rikers Island opened in
1935. Since then, Rikers Island has expanded
exponentially. It is in many ways a small city,
complete with a power plant, hospital, bakery,
and other services designed to serve the tens
of thousands of people (inmates, staffers, and
visitors) who spend time on the Island each day.
Very few, if any of these facilities could be
described as “state-of-the-art.” Many lack air
conditioning, making for brutal conditions during
the summer months. Leaks and water damage
are common occurrences, as are foul smells
emanating from the parts of the Island that are
composed of landfill. According to one formerly
incarcerated person who testified before the
Commission: “You're living with rats, rodents
every day if your food isn't eaten; even if you're
allowed to get food, ants are on it right away.”
The antiquated design of Rikers undermines
safety—many of the jails have poor sightlines, bad
acoustics, and other features that encourage bad
behavior. The outmoded design also creates a
need for more correction officers to manage the
According to Department of Correction
Commissioner Joseph Ponte, no one would
choose to build something like Rikers Island
today. In his words, Rikers Island is “almost the
land that time forgot.”

‘Getting to Court on Time’
The process of shuttling defendants from
Rikers Island to court—which takes hours at a
minimum, given the distance between the Island
and courthouses across the City—imposes
significant financial and human costs. As one



public defender told the Commission, people
held at Rikers are “woken at 3 or 4 in the
morning to get to court on time, and don't get
back to Rikers until late at night, interfering with
their ability even to eat.” She went on to explain:

I recently participated in a six-week trial
where we had to beg court staff to let us give
a client breakfast before he took the stand
to testify in his own defense…That same,
very hungry, client had barely slept in weeks
because he had to get up at 3 in the morning
every day for trial. When you are facing a
conviction, the last thing that you should
have to worry about is whether the state is
effectively preventing you from participating
in your own defense by depriving you of
sleep and food.
‘Cost of Inmate in NYC Almost as
Much as Ivy League Tuition’
So read a Daily News headline from 2013. Since
that time, costs have only gone up. The current
cost of incarcerating a person for one night
in a City jail is approximately $678 per day,
or $247,000 per year.5 This estimate includes
costs borne directly by the Department of
Correction as well as jail-related costs to other
City agencies (covering pensions for correction
officers; fringe benefits for staff; hospital,
medical, and mental health costs for people
housed in jail; and defendant transportation). All
told, taxpayers will shell out almost $2.4 billion
in fiscal year 2018 to support the City’s jail
system.6 This greatly exceeds the cost of nearly
every other jail in the nation.



The staggering costs of Rikers Island, both moral
and financial, might be readily borne if there
were convincing evidence that our jails help
make the City safer. But there is little to suggest
that Rikers Island improves public safety.
Indeed, there is evidence that serving time
in jail, even briefly, actually increases criminal
behavior. A 2013 analysis in Kentucky found
that as little as 48 hours in pretrial detention
increased recidivism after release.7 In New
York City, a Center for Court Innovation study
found that sentencing people to jail produced


a seven percentage-point increase in the twoyear re-arrest rate.8
Recidivism is just the tip of the iceberg.
Spending time in jail is bad for you on a
host of levels. A study involving nearly 1,000
interviews with individuals recently released
from Rikers Island documented high rates of
homelessness, unemployment, and reduced
access to health benefits over a two-year
follow up period.9 Put simply, individuals who
go into jail with problems—substance abuse,
mental health disorders, lack of education,
etc.—tend to come out with those problems
The adverse effects of incarceration are
felt particularly by women. Women enter the
justice system with higher rates of mental
illness and trauma, as well as greater economic
disadvantages. For example, approximately
two-thirds of women in jails report having a
chronic medical condition.10 Since almost 80
percent of women in New York City’s jails are
mothers of young children, their incarceration
also has an outsized impact on their families.
Over the last decade, research has also
documented the negative effects of incarceration
on neighborhoods. High incarceration rates
adversely affect the social fabric of already
disadvantaged communities, disrupting
families and social networks. Removing a
large percentage of the primary earners from
a neighborhood also has disastrous economic
impacts, reducing disposable income and
undermining local businesses.11 In New York City,
these negative effects have been experienced
primarily by communities of color.
Should New York City continue to employ a
penal colony model that needlessly confines
thousands of local residents on an isolated
Island where they, and their guards, are exposed
to inhumane treatment that leaves a lifetime of
damage? Our answer is unequivocal: “No.”
Closing Rikers Island might be a good idea,
but is it possible? And what should replace it?
On the pages that follow, we seek to answer
these questions.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Core Values
The 27 members of the Commission come
from different places and diverse professional
backgrounds. What we all have in common is
a love of New York City. We are committed to
helping New York pursue important civic virtues
like liberty, equality, and justice.
More specifically, in examining the criminal
justice system, we were animated by several
basic principles:
Public Safety: Public safety is fundamental to
a civilized society. Everyone who lives, works or
visits New York has a right to walk the streets
without fear of victimization. Public safety is not
the sole responsibility of the criminal justice
system, but the system has an important role to
play in promoting the rule of law and addressing
crime and disorder.
Due Process: A twenty-first century system of
justice must honor both the letter and spirit of
the Constitution. This includes making sure we
are living up to the promise of provisions that
guarantee the right to a speedy and public trial
and prohibit the deprivation of liberty without
due process of law.

 airness: All New Yorkers should be treated equally
and fairly by the justice system. Given the history
of the United States, the justice system must take
special pains to ensure that this is true regardless
of race and class. Criminal justice policies and
practices must be examined to ensure that they
are not subjecting people of color and low-income
individuals to unequal treatment.
Community: The criminal justice system
should work to support the health and
vibrancy of New York City neighborhoods.
High incarceration rates tend to undercut
community cohesion and hinder economic
growth. Instead, the justice system should
foster community wherever possible. This
means investing in crime prevention rather
than just reacting after crime occurs. And
it means reaching out to local residents to
understand their concerns and engage them
in promoting neighborhood safety.
Accountability: Individuals who engage in
unlawful behavior should be held accountable
through proportionate and meaningful sanctions.
Policymakers should be held accountable for
devoting the time and resources necessary to
improve the criminal justice system.

Respect: Whenever and wherever they encounter
the justice system, New Yorkers should be
afforded personal dignity. Defendants and
victims alike should be given ample opportunity
to tell their side of the story and to understand
what is happening to them and why. The
system should convey respect not only through
interpersonal treatment but also through
material conditions, ensuring that precincts,
courthouses, jails, and other facilities are clean,
well-designed, and user-friendly.
The Judicious Use of Incarceration: We have
jails for a reason. Some individuals are a threat
to themselves and to others. But given the
manifold harms it causes, incarceration should
be used sparingly. And when someone is sent
to jail, whether pretrial or post-conviction, the
purpose should be to help them change their
behavior. Jails should be places of rehabilitation
rather than warehouses of human misery.



Over the course of the past 12 months, we saw
and heard much that disturbed us. From our
investigation, it is clear that the criminal justice
system in New York City is falling well short of
realizing these ambitions.
But amidst all of the depressing statistics
and heartbreaking stories, we also found
reasons for hope and optimism. We met dozens
of people, both inside the system and outside,
who are committed to improving justice in New
York. While the media tends to focus on areas
of conflict, in truth, there is a great deal of
agreement about where we need to go. Police
officers and people in communities across
our City both want safety. Correction officers
and the individuals they supervise both want
humane, livable, and dignified conditions.
And no one wants to spend billions of taxpayer
dollars on ineffective interventions that do
not make us safer.
On the pages that follow, we will outline a
plan for reforming the criminal justice system
in New York City. We believe that it is possible
to reduce the jail population to less than 5,000
people over the next decade. These reductions
would allow the City to close the jail complex on
Rikers Island and move the individuals housed
there to more humane and effective facilities in
the five boroughs close to the courthouses they
serve. Closing the jails on Rikers Island would be
a powerful symbol of New York’s commitment to
doing right by all of its residents. It would also
be an important investment in the future of the
City, enabling us to create the transportation
and energy infrastructure that we will need in
order to thrive in the 21st century and beyond.

1. 	Jail data comes from the Vera Institute Incarceration
Trends Project, except for 2015 and 2016 figures, which
come from data obtained from the New York City
Department of Correction and the Mayor’s Office of
Criminal Justice.
2.	Poll commissioned by the Center for Court Innovation,
3.	Jails are administered by local (city or county) government
and typically house those awaiting trial as well as
those with sentences of less than one year. Prisons
are administered by states and generally hold those
incarcerated for more than one year.
4.	The Commission determined that 44.3 percent of
individuals held in jail on September 29, 2016 had an “M”
flag, meaning that they received mental health treatment
at some point during their confinement. The “M” flag,
however, is not diagnostic and tends to capture people
with widely varying problem severities. An analysis by the
Council of State Governments determined that 43 percent
of those with an “M” flag, and by implication 19 percent of
those held in jail on September 29, 2016, have a serious
mental illness (SMI). See Council of State Governments.
(2012). Improving Outcomes for People with Mental
Illnesses Involved with New York City’s Criminal Court and
Correction Systems. Available at: https://csgjusticecenter.
5.	New York City, Office of Management and Budget
(2017). January 2017 Fiscal Plan, Fiscal Years 2017-2012,
Departmental Estimates.
6. 	 Ibid.
7. 	Lowenkamp, C. T., VanNostrand, M., & Holsinger, A. (2013).
The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention. New York: Laura
and John Arnold Foundation. Available at: http://www.
8. 	Rempel, M., Kerodal, A., Spadafore, J. & Mai, C. (2017). Jail in
New York City: Evidence-Based Opportunities
for Reform. Center for Court Innovation. Available at: http://
9.	Freudenberg, N., Daniels, J., Crum, M., Perkins, T., and
Richie, B. E. (2005). “Coming Home from Jail: The Social
and Health Consequences of Community Reentry for
Women, Male Adolescents, and their Families and
Communities.” American Journal of Public Health 95:
10: 1725-1736.
10.	Swavola, E., Riley, K., and Subramanian, R. (2016),
Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform, The
Vera Institute of Justice. Vera Institute of Justice. See page
9. Available at:
11. 	Venkatesh, S. A. (2006). Off the Books: The Under-ground
Economy of the Urban Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform





A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Over the past 12 months, we have heard directly
from dozens of former inmates, family members,
corrections officers, law enforcement officials,
victims, and advocates. Amidst this diversity
of opinion and perspective, one point became
abundantly clear: more jail does not lead to
greater safety. New York City has experienced
this truth first-hand, having successfully
reduced both crime and incarceration over the
last two decades.
We also learned that there is still much
work to be done. Seventy-five percent of those
incarcerated in New York City are pretrial
detainees who have been found guilty of
no offense. More than two-thirds of all jail
sentences involve stays of 30 days or less, an
expensive practice with little purpose.
Given the manifold harms that it causes,
incarceration should be used thoughtfully and
judiciously—a last resort to ensure public safety,
not the starting place. Pretrial release and
community-based supervision and treatment
should become the default. And money should
not determine one’s liberty.
Our recommendations seek to accomplish
these goals. We recommend that the City
divert many low-level cases from criminal
court entirely. We recommend that only those
defendants who pose a risk of future harm to the
public based on empirically sound information
be detained prior to conviction. We recommend
that all criminal justice system actors—judges,
prosecutors and defense attorneys—work to
ensure that those accused of a crime receive
due process and speedy case processing.
And we recommend that sentences should be
meaningful and designed to protect public safety
and promote rehabilitation.

Rethinking Incarceration

Victims and Survivors
This chapter focuses primarily on forging a
different response to those who are prosecuted
by the criminal justice system. Even as we do this,
we must not lose sight of those who are harmed
by crime. Any effort to reform our justice system
must incorporate the perspectives of people who
have a unique insight into the system—victims and
survivors. Too often, the justice system perpetuates
victimization by not taking into account the needs
and input of victims. Some advocates have even
argued that there is a need to create a parallel
justice system that places rebuilding the lives of
victims at its center.1
Over the course of our deliberations,
we learned that there is no single, uniform
perspective among victims and survivors. Some
desire a punitive response from the criminal
justice system. But many do not.
According to the authors of a national survey
on victims’ views of safety and justice, “the
overwhelming majority of crime victims believe
that the criminal justice system relies too heavily
on incarceration, and strongly prefer investments
in prevention and treatment to more spending on
prisons and jails.”2 In the survey, victims of crime
favored rehabilitation over punishment by a
two-to-one margin; investments in mental health
treatment over prisons and jails by a seven-toone margin; and investments in drug treatment
over prisons and jails by a four-to-one margin.
The Commission’s meetings with advocates
for crime victims and survivors, including
the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims,
supported these findings. For example,
Catherine Shugrue dos Santos of the AntiViolence Project encouraged the Commission to
“challenge the binary construct of perpetrators



and victims.” She and others stressed that many
people in jail, particularly women and LGBTQ+
individuals, have been victims as well. A panelist
at a Commission community roundtable told
us: “the very individual [at Rikers] charged with
a crime is also likely a victim of another crime.”
Our jails are not designed to effectively care for
or respond to the needs of these people.
The Commission believes that more
community-based models are needed to respond
to victimization and hold individuals accountable
outside of the formal criminal justice system,
including programs that use restorative justice
principles to bring victims and those who harm
them together to address the impact of crime
and to repair the damage.

Racial/Ethnic Disparities
Black and Latino New Yorkers have
disproportionately borne the impact of New
York City’s criminal justice policies and are
substantially overrepresented at every point
in the criminal justice system. Blacks and
Latinos comprise slightly more than half of
our City’s overall population but are nearly
90 percent of our jail population. A range of
factors contribute to this reality. Communities
of color—both nationally and in New York City—
are disproportionately impacted by arrests for
quality-of-life and drug offenses. Once arrested,
Black and Latino defendants in New York City
are more likely than whites to be taken into
custody for low-level offenses. One person
who shared their ideas with the Commission
on put it this way:
“We need to fundamentally shift the punitive
mindset that has contributed to the widespread
criminalization of mostly poor Black and Brown
New Yorkers.”
A recent study of prosecutorial patterns in
Manhattan points to higher rates of pretrial
detention and more punitive plea offers for
Black and Latino defendants when compared
to similarly situated white defendants.5 In New
York City, sentencing outcomes vary by race too,
although the disparities are significantly less
pronounced than what has typically been found
elsewhere in the country.6
Members of racial and ethnic minority groups
tend to perceive their interactions with criminal

justice players more negatively than others.
They also enter those interactions with lower
expectations—with less trust and confidence in
the criminal justice system.
The Commission believes that reforms at
every stage of the process should seek to reduce
racial and ethnic disparities within the criminal
justice system.

Vulnerable Populations
While the recommendations in this report
endorse a different approach to justice for all
cases and defendants, we know that justice
system involvement has a particularly profound
impact on the following groups:
Young People: Recent brain science confirms
that through about age 24 our brains are still
developing. Young people tend to be more
impulsive, emotional, gratification-seeking, and
dependent on peer approval—and hence more
prone to anti-social behavior—than older adults.8
Three decades of research has also made clear
that young people experience reduced recidivism
rates when they are given cognitive-behavioral
therapy and other evidence-based treatments.9
Women: Histories of trauma are pervasive
among women held in custody in New York City.
Complicating matters further, approximately
80 percent have young children.10 Given these
dynamics, there is a real need for gender-specific
programming both inside and outside of jail
facilities. Employment services are particularly
needed. The New York Women’s Foundation
recently identified several examples of promising
gender-responsive treatments, all of which are
Mental Health: Mental health problems bring
many New Yorkers into the criminal justice
system. In order to be effective, the justice
system must help address the treatment needs
of these people. In some cases, this will mean
off-ramping arrestees out of the system entirely
(prior to any formal prosecution) and linking
them directly to community-based services. In
cases where this is not appropriate, the justice
system should make greater use of interventions
like the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, which

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in NYC’s Criminal Justice System in 2016
New York City Population

Arrested in New York City

New York City Jail Population




Percent of Population











has shown that judicially-monitored mental
health treatment can significantly reduce
recidivism with a wide array of felony defendants,
including those charged with violent offenses.12
Besides expanding mental health courts, the
Commission also recommends greater citywide
investment in the forensic assertive community
treatment (ACT) team model, which provides
comprehensive community-based services to
defendants with multiple, complex needs.13



Other Racial/ Ethnic Groups

Leaner, Fairer, and More
In general, the Commission believes that the
City’s approach to rethinking incarceration
should be guided by the following goals:
Prioritizing Public Safety: Any new system
should not compromise public safety. The
Commission’s recommendations adopt an
evidence-based approach that reserves
incarceration for those who pose a real,
cognizable danger to the public.
Promoting Informed and Individualized
Decisions: An assembly-line system of justice
is incompatible with notions of fairness and
due process. Judges, prosecutors, and attorneys
should be given enough information—and
enough time for careful deliberation—to make
informed, individualized decisions about each
case and each defendant.
Combatting Racial Disparities: Addressing racial
disparities should be a critical component of any
effort to reduce the use of jail in New York City.

Rethinking Incarceration


Evaluating Impact: New York City has already
seen significant incarceration and crime
reductions for more than two decades. Our goal
is to continue these trends. Any new reforms
must be carefully evaluated in a transparent and
ongoing manner to assess their impact, shed
light on any unintended consequences, and
allow for mid-course corrections.

In the pages that follow, we set out a vision for
a criminal justice system that is leaner, fairer,
and more effective. We focus on fundamental
changes at four stages of the criminal justice
process: arrest, pretrial, case processing, and
First, we recommend reforming the moment
of arrest by diverting tens of thousands of
low-level offenses away from traditional
prosecution. Second, we recommend reforming
our pretrial system to reduce the number of
people held in custody while awaiting trial.
Third, we recommend case processing reforms
so that defendants and victims do not have to
wait months, or even years, for the resolution of
their cases. Finally, we recommend an approach
to punishment that prioritizes meaningful
sentences and a judicious use of incarceration
for all types of cases.
If our recommendations are implemented, the
Commission projects that admissions to Rikers
Island and other borough facilities will drop
from 62,000 annually to approximately 30,000.
And New York City’s jail population will be cut in
half, from about 9,700 people to less than 5,000
people in jail on any given day.

Preventing Crime: New York City should make
robust investments in crime prevention, housing,
mental health, education, and workforce
opportunities to help people avoid criminal
behavior altogether.
Restoring Public Trust: Low levels of public trust
in justice have a corrosive effect, undermining
efforts to promote community safety and
law-abiding behavior. A system that is fair and
procedurally just promotes engagement and
confidence among communities, victims, and
defendants alike.

71 , 9 1 4

Volume by Borough




Staten Island

47, 6 0 7

Volume of Cases


7, 5 6 0

11 , 6 9 6
7, 5 6 9


7, 3 9 3



3 ,775



Continued at Arraignment

Detained at Arraignment

Detained throughout the case

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Reforming the System
at the Point of Arrest

Rethinking Incarceration

again is costly for the system, counter-productive
for the defendants, and damaging to public
confidence in justice.
Generally, when an arrest is made, a police
officer brings the arrestee to the precinct
for processing. Nearly all arrestees are then
transferred to holding cells in each borough’s
criminal court. There, they await an arraignment
that usually takes place within 24 hours. For some
of these individuals, the 24-hour wait from arrest
to arraignment is enough time to upend their
lives. People may lose their job or their place in a
homeless shelter. There is also the possibility that
their children can be removed because no one
was at home to take care of them.15
Not all arrests, however, lead individuals
to be held in this way. As long as there is no
outstanding warrant, the arresting officer has
discretion in most misdemeanor and Class
E felony cases to issue a Desk Appearance
Ticket (DAT), which allows the person to be
released until a pre-scheduled arraignment date
several months later.16 In 2016, 28 percent of
misdemeanor arrests were issued a DAT.17
With or without a Desk Appearance Ticket,
everyone currently arrested must appear
in criminal court for an arraignment. Many
misdemeanor defendants can be predicted in
advance to be headed for a case dismissal or
adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD).
For instance, in 2013, 80 percent of first-time
nonviolent misdemeanor defendants ages 16 to 24
had their cases resolved with a straight dismissal
or ACD.18 Concluding cases with dismissals only
after requiring defendants to go through a timeconsuming and often degrading court process
undermines the legitimacy of the system and
consumes valuable resources without purpose.


In 2016, 249,776 criminal cases passed through
the New York City courts. More than four in
five (82 percent) carried a top charge of a
misdemeanor. Most of these cases involved
low-level unlawful conduct such as jumping
the subway turnstile, petty theft, possessing
a small amount of marijuana, possessing a
small amount of other drugs, or driving with a
suspended license. In fact, these five charges
alone accounted for 102,430 arrests in 2016, or
41 percent of all criminal arrests. (An additional
11,098 violations, which the law deems so minor
as to not technically constitute a “crime,” were
routed to the City’s criminal courts in 2016.)14
Many New York City residents demand
low-level law enforcement from the New York
Police Department; complaints about qualityof-life crime are a regular feature of precinct
council and community board meetings. The end
result is that our courts are clogged with cases
involving low-level offenses.
The enforcement of low-level crimes sweeps
many New Yorkers into the system who have
never been arrested before. For these people,
the potential consequences of an arrest are
outsized compared to the unlawful conduct
itself. A criminal record can have life-changing
implications, and not in a good way.
Another segment of the misdemeanor
population cycles through court again and
again, stuck in a cycle of arrests and short jail
sentences. Judge Alex Calabrese of the Red
Hook Community Justice Center calls this
phenomenon “doing a life sentence, 30 days at a
time.” Many of these individuals confront serious
challenges such as homelessness, substance
use, and mental illness. Cycling these sorts of
cases in and out of the system over and over


Based on 2016 case volume, we estimate
that the recommendations provided below
would result in more than 100,000 low-level
cases being routed out of the criminal courts
each year, representing over 40 percent of the
total criminal caseload. The diversion reforms
proposed in this chapter would also remove
approximately 300 individuals from the daily jail
population. Shifting large numbers of low-level
cases away from court would help transform
criminal justice in New York City, establishing
a more just and proportionate response to
minor offending.

Recent Progress
In recent years, a number of initiatives have been
launched in New York City that seek to reduce the
burdens on our criminal courts.
For example, in 2016 the City enacted the
Criminal Justice Reform Act, which allows
police officers to issue civil summonses in lieu
of criminal arrest for conduct that violates the
local administrative code, such as having an
open container of alcohol in public, riding a
bicycle on the sidewalk, or being in a park after
dusk.19 In 2017, the New York City Council and
the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office

plan to launch community justice panels in four
police precincts in the Bronx. People arrested
for minor offenses will appear before a panel of
specially-trained local residents. The goal is to
promote accountability yet avoid the possibility
of criminal sanctions or a record of conviction.
In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio created the Task
Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal
Justice System. Among other things, the task
force recommended establishing communitybased drop-off centers where police officers
and other law enforcement personnel could take
individuals facing low-level charges who present
with a mental illness.20 In New York City, plans
are now underway to establish two drop-off
centers. Another recommendation was to provide
supportive housing and services to New Yorkers
with behavioral health disorders who are the
most frequent users of the City’s emergency
rooms, shelter beds, and jails. To date, the City
has identified almost 100 participants and
placed them in permanent supportive housing.

Pilot Diversion Models in New York City
Project Reset
In 2015, the New York Police Department and Manhattan District Attorney’s Office launched
Project Reset to divert first-time 16- and 17-year-old misdemeanor defendants prior to court
involvement. (Project Reset was also launched in three police precincts in Brooklyn.) In
exchange for completing an assessment and two sessions of community-based services, the
District Attorney’s Office will decline to prosecute the cases of all participants. A planned
expansion in 2017 will extend this program to first-time misdemeanor defendants of all ages in
Heroin Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) Program
The Staten Island District Attorney’s Office piloted the Heroin Overdose Prevention and
Education (HOPE) program in early 2017. In collaboration with the NYPD, HOPE targets firsttime defendants arrested on misdemeanor drug possession charges. Specifically designed
to address the growing heroin problem on Staten Island, eligible participants receive a peer
mentor who will take them to one of two community-based resource centers. If the participant
engages in treatment, the Staten Island District Attorney will decline to prosecute the case.


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Jail reduction should begin with crime
A twenty-first century criminal justice system
should do more than respond to crime after it
happens. The best way to keep people out of jail
is to prevent crime from happening in the first
place. New York City’s historic drop in crime
over the last few decades is evidence that this
approach works.
The Commission recommends implementing
a multi-pronged, neighborhood-focused crime
prevention strategy. A great deal of this is
already in place. In recent years, City agencies,
non-profit organizations, and community groups
have launched an impressive array of crime
prevention programs. For example, in 2016,
the New York Police Department launched the
Neighborhood Policing Strategy and created the
Neighborhood Coordination Program in several
precincts throughout the City. The precincts
are divided into neighborhood-based sectors.
Each sector has a dedicated cadre of officers
assigned to walk the streets and get to know and
strengthen relationships with local residents.
Also, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice has
created an action plan for neighborhood safety
(known as “MAP”) that expands access to youth
development and employment programs, as well
as other community resources, in public housing
developments with high crime rates. MAP also
focuses on making physical improvements, such
as better lighting, designed to deter crime and
restore abandoned lots.
Other programs that have shown potential
in preventing crime include the group violence
intervention advocated by the National Network
for Safe Communities (NYC Ceasefire), which
creates partnerships between community
members, law enforcement, and social service
providers; Cure Violence, which pairs antiviolence education and community mobilization
efforts with street outreach to individuals at
high risk of future violence; and various youth
development initiatives, including bullying
prevention, conflict resolution, mentoring, and
These kinds of initiatives should be
continued, strengthened, and expanded. In
general, these kinds of investments should focus
on the neighborhoods that have traditionally

Rethinking Incarceration

sent the most people to Rikers Island—places
like the South Bronx, Brownsville, and East and
Central Harlem.
Selected offenses should be removed from
the criminal justice system and placed in the
civil summons system.
The Commission recommends removing a
select few low-level offenses entirely from
criminal scrutiny and allowing them to be
handled in the civil summons system. The goal
of this recommendation is to hold individuals
accountable, but through a non-criminal
process that would eliminate the collateral
consequences of an arrest, conviction, or
jail time. The Commission recommends that
legislators in Albany consider reclassifying
four charges as civil, and not criminal, matters:
theft of services (using public transportation
without paying the fare), low-level possession
of marijuana in public view, prostitution, and
possession of “gravity knives” (knives that
open by force of gravity and that are often used
legitimately by those in construction or building
Diversion programs that keep cases out of
court should be expanded.
For low-level misdemeanor charges that
still warrant criminal justice scrutiny, the
Commission supports the diversion of first-time
offenses to avoid prosecution, unnecessary
trips to court, and a criminal record. Diversion at
this stage would mean immediate removal from
the traditional criminal justice system. Instead,
at the point of arrest, law enforcement would
refer the individuals directly to a communitybased provider, where they would be required to
participate in a brief risk-needs assessment, a
therapeutic class, or community restitution.
Law enforcement should be equipped to
respond more effectively to individuals
with mental health and behavioral health
Police officers are often called to respond
to disruptive behavior by individuals with
behavioral health disorders or mental illness.
Given this reality, all NYPD officers should be
given the tools and training they need to work
effectively with this population. The City has



already made significant progress, providing
thousands of officers with crisis intervention
training. All NYPD officers in the training
academy should receive 40 hours of training
on crisis intervention techniques prior to their
first assignment.21 They should also be trained
on how to connect individuals with behavioral
and mental health needs to community-based
resources, including the drop-off centers
recommended by the Mayor’s Task Force on
Behavioral Health.
People whose criminal involvement is driven
by behavioral and mental health disorders
should be diverted to community-based
According to Muzzy Rosenblatt of the Bowery
Residents Committee, “If the goal is to stop the
behavior, then the arrest and incarceration isn’t
going to stop the behavior. Treatment is.” The
Commission recommends creating an alternative
to formal arrest for those situations where a
person is engaging in unlawful misdemeanor
conduct that is clearly driven by underlying
behavioral and mental health problems.
The alternative should be modeled after the
intervention known as Law Enforcement Assisted
Diversion (LEAD), which was first piloted in King
County (Seattle), Washington. Since then, LEAD
has been replicated in many other jurisdictions
across the country, including Albany, New York.
Evidence of efficacy is strong.22
A LEAD-like program should be developed
across all five boroughs for people who are
arrested on the kinds of offenses that are
often driven by underlying mental health and
behavioral health disorders. In particular, people
arrested on misdemeanor drug possession
(involving a small quantities of drugs other
than marijuana) and petit larceny (involving
shoplifting or theft of a small amount of goods)
should be placed in this program. In 2014, the
New York City Department of Health and Mental
Hygiene found that defendants facing these two
misdemeanor charges consistently presented
with a serious need for medical and mental
health services.
Program participants would engage in a brief
community-based intervention and be linked to
longer-term voluntary services. The Commission
recommends imposing very few criminal history

restrictions; program participation should not be
limited to first- or second-time arrestees.
Obtaining better information about local
crime victims, their needs, and their
preferences should be a standard feature of
the justice system.
Under-reporting of crime undermines the ability
of the criminal justice system to work effectively
for all communities. To address the dearth of
solid information about the views of New York
City’s crime victims, the City should administer a
systematic representative survey. The goal would
be to document how widespread victimization
is, to identify unmet service needs, and to solicit
perspectives on a range of relevant criminal
justice topics, including opinions about if and
when incarceration is appropriate.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Reducing Pretrial

One of the foundations of the American legal
system is the presumption of innocence. And yet,
on any given day, three-quarters of those held
in New York City jails have not been convicted
of a crime. These are defendants whose cases
are pending in court. The vast majority are being
held because they are unable to make bail. As
one person noted via the Commission’s website,
“poverty should not be the reason you are in
The recommendations that follow build on
the most effective parts of our pretrial system
and seek to repair the parts that are broken. We
believe that it is possible to safely and effectively
release many defendants without compromising
safety. Recent efforts by both the City and
nonprofit providers demonstrate that defendants
do not need money as an incentive in order to
appear in court and comply with conditions of
pretrial release. The Commission seeks to build
on these positive developments.
The Commission’s pretrial reform
recommendations can reduce the daily jail
population by just over 3,000 individuals. The
Commission’s projections are based exclusively
on reforms that can be implemented right now,
within the current statutory framework.

Rethinking Incarceration

Current Practice
In 2016, 249,776 criminal cases were arraigned in
New York City—82 percent on misdemeanor and
18 percent on felony charges. Nearly half of the
misdemeanors and just under 3 percent of the
felonies were resolved right away at arraignment.
In the remaining cases, arraignment judges
heard brief oral arguments and then made a
decision about whether to release the person on
their own recognizance or to set bail.
Seven out of ten defendants are released
on their own recognizance at this stage of the
process. No bail is set in these cases and the
accused leaves the courtroom subject to no
formal monitoring or court-mandated conditions.
With a handful of exceptions, the remaining
defendants—roughly three out of every ten—are
required to post bail to secure their release.23
As might be expected, the use of bail
increases along with charge severity—of these
cases that are not resolved at arraignment,
bail is set in 18 percent of misdemeanor cases,
compared to 47 percent of nonviolent felonies
and 63 percent of violent felonies. The use of
bail also varies from borough to borough.
The problems with this situation have been
well-documented. Of those who had to make
bail in 2016, almost nine in ten (89 percent) were
unable to do so at arraignment.24 If bail is not
made, defendants remain in pretrial detention.
More often than not, this means a trip to
Rikers Island.


Bail Decisions in 2016



Total Cases


69.6% Release on Recognizance


28.2% Bail Set


01.5% Supervised Release

Nonviolent Felonies

00.8% Remanded

Violent Felonies




81.0% Release on Recognizance

47.2% Bail Set

63.4% Bail Set

17.9% Bail Set

46.9% Release on Recognizance

33.2% Release on Recognizance

00.8% Supervised Release

04.8% Supervised Release

03.4% Remanded

00.3% Remanded

01.1% Remanded

00.0% Supervised Release


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Bail Imposed by Borough in 2016



















Public Safety
A survey of New Yorkers revealed that 88 percent of
respondents support “holding people in jail prior to a
conviction only if they present a high risk to the safety
of the community.”25 This is not what happens today.
Among misdemeanor defendants detained on bail in New
York City, a Center for Court Innovation study found that
nearly two-thirds (64 percent) posed only a minimal-tomoderate risk of re-arrest over a two-year tracking period.
Even among detained felony defendants, nearly six in ten
(59 percent) posed only a minimal-to-moderate risk of
It is worth noting that this analysis examined the
risk of any re-offense. When isolating risk of violence—a
better measure of whether someone poses a real danger
to the public—the same study found that 90 percent of
detained defendants with a misdemeanor charge and 78
percent with a felony charge posed only a minimal-tomoderate risk of re-arrest on a violent felony charge over
a two-year period.
Undermining the public safety argument further is the
reality that the average length of stay in jail is only 17 days
for people held pretrial on misdemeanor charges. In fact,

Rethinking Incarceration


Staten Island

New York City

over half (55 percent) of misdemeanor pretrial stays last
less than five days. Jail stays of this length serve little
public purpose. But they can have a massive impact on
the life trajectories of defendants—as little as 48 hours in
jail can be enough time to increase recidivism rates after
There are many reasons why bail is overused, but much
of the problem stems from an overreliance on charge
severity. A study by the New York City Criminal Justice
Agency found that prosecutors accord particularly heavy
weight to charge severity when recommending bail. In
turn, judges rely more heavily on the prosecutor’s bail
recommendation than any other factor when setting bail.28
Research shows that charge severity is, in fact, a weak
predictor of either a defendant’s likelihood of failing to
appear for a scheduled court date or of future arrest.29
Thus, whether the purpose of pretrial decision-making
is to secure court attendance—as it is under current New
York State law—or to prevent the release of individuals who
pose a high risk to public safety during the pretrial period,
the empirical evidence indicates that charge severity
should not exert as large an influence as it now does over
bail and release outcomes.



Detained Defendants by Risk Level











Minimal- To Moderate-Risk








Minimal- To Moderate-Risk

Bail Amounts
In 2016, 84 percent of misdemeanor bail amounts
were set at $2,000 or less, compared to 22
percent of nonviolent felony and 14 percent
of violent felony bail amounts. Bail amounts
exceeding $10,000 were nearly non-existent
among misdemeanors, while 35 percent of violent
felony cases had bail set above this amount.
There is precious little evidence that either
prosecutors or judges consider a person’s
ability to pay bail, even though New York’s bail
statute requires that the “financial resources”
of the defendant be taken into account.30 As
one advocate noted at a Commission event, “if a
person is on public assistance and you know they
are receiving $300 a month, and you give them a
$5,000 bail…that’s a ransom—not a bail.”
While many cannot afford bail, those who
do pay bail often are compelled to use scarce
financial resources that would otherwise go
toward rent, basic necessities, and providing
for family and dependents. The process of
paying bail in New York City is anything but
user-friendly.31 One part of the problem is an
overreliance on the types of bail that are the
most difficult for people to pay. The New York
bail statute provides for nine different forms
of bail;32 judges are required by law to set at
least two different forms of bail.33 Yet judges
routinely allow defendants to post only the two



most onerous forms—cash bail, which requires
all money to be paid up front; and insurance
company bond, which requires 10 percent of
the bond amount to be deposited as collateral
with a bail bond company, and any other nonrefundable fees.
Among the alternative forms of bail available
under the law, credit card bail involves nothing
more than the use of a credit card to pay bail
of $2,500 or less. Arraignment judges allowed
credit card bail in only 3 percent of eligible cases
in 2013.34 Barely used at all are partially secured
bonds, which enable the payment of a percentage
of the total bail amount (up to 10 percent) up
front and the rest only if the defendant doesn’t
return to court. Similarly, unsecured bonds do
not require any up-front payment and are only
collected upon failure to appear.
Research shows that unsecured bonds,
because they still require payment if the
defendant fails to appear in court, are just as
effective at guaranteeing court attendance as
paying the full bail amount up front.35 In New
York City, a pilot study of alternative forms of
bail confirmed that when partially secured or
unsecured bonds were used, more people made
bail at arraignments. Even more encouraging,
rates of re-arrest and failing to appear remained
the same as when cash bail or a commercial bail
bond option was set.36

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform


≤ $1,000



> $10,000





1% 1%









5.9% 32.6%


When defendants are detained pretrial, the
prosecutor inevitably gains leverage. Getting
out of jail is an enormous incentive to agree to
a plea deal, whether favorable or not. Studies
in New York City37 and elsewhere38 confirm that
pretrial detention is directly tied to an increased
likelihood of conviction and a sentence involving
incarceration. In the words of one individual who
wrote to the Commission’s website, “the link
between unaffordable bail and pleading guilty
is critical. The level of violence at Rikers would
make almost anyone do whatever was necessary
to get out—guilty or not.” In New York City, those
held in jail throughout the pretrial period had a
conviction rate 10 percentage points higher in
misdemeanor cases and 27 percentage points
higher in felony cases compared to similar
defendants not held pretrial. Pretrial detention
also increased jail sentences by 40 percentage
points in misdemeanor cases and increased
state prison sentences by 34 percentage points
in felonies.39
The bottom line is this: money bail does not
have a meaningful impact on appearance in court
but it does serve to hold thousands of New Yorkers
in jail without a strong public safety rationale.

Rethinking Incarceration


Recent Reforms
Acknowledging the need for change, reformers
both inside and outside of government have
recently launched several promising initiatives.
Supervised Release. In 2016, the Mayor’s Office
of Criminal Justice created a groundbreaking
supervised release program intended to divert
3,000 defendants per year from traditional bail
to community supervision. The model includes
phone and in-person check-ins, as well as
linkages to voluntary services. Participants are
accepted after a risk assessment screening that
determines whether they are a low, medium-low,
medium, medium-high, or high risk for re-arrest.
The level of supervision and conditions imposed
pretrial are based upon the defendant’s risk
assessment score. 	
	 The program is open to most misdemeanor
and nonviolent felony charges. It excludes violent
felonies, Class A felonies, firearms and domestic
violence cases, and defendants who lack verifiable
contact information.40 The supervised release
program also excludes defendants who are
classified as posing a high risk of felony re-arrest.
Similar to earlier pilots that produced promising
evaluation findings in Brooklyn,41 Manhattan,42
and Queens,43 the new program is administered
by nonprofit agencies in each borough.44 The
City projects that this program will reduce the


Bail Amounts in 2016


jail population by about 200 people on any given
day.45 So far, the supervised release program is
successfully meeting its volume targets, with 2,445
intakes in the last ten months of 2016.46 While this
volume amounts to only 1.8 percent of all cases not
resolved at arraignment,47 it has nonetheless made
a promising start and lays the foundation for many
of the Commission’s recommendations that follow.
Charitable Bail Funds. In 2012, New York State
passed a law that allows for the licensing and
operation of charitable bail funds that may
post bail in misdemeanor cases where bail
is set at $2,000 or less. The Bronx Freedom
Fund, in operation since 2012, and the Brooklyn
Community Bail Fund, since 2014, have bailed
out over 2,000 people combined. Overall, the
rates of court appearance are strong. Based on
this success, The New York City Council voted to
invest $1.4 million in a citywide charitable bail
fund, the Liberty Fund, to be launched in 2017.
Other Bail Initiatives. The Mayor’s Office
of Criminal Justice has undertaken other
important initiatives, such as introducing a
new, more accurate risk assessment tool to
predict failure to appear in court. Currently the
assessment tool used at arraignment classifies
49 percent of defendants as posing a high
risk of failing to appear.48 Yet, the data shows
that these individuals had only a one in five
chance of failing to appear in court and a one
in ten chance of both failing to appear and
not returning within 30 days.49 The new failure
to appear risk assessment tool will seek to
address these problems. The Mayor’s Office also
established the Bail Lab to implement a number
of bail payment reforms, including creating an
online bail payment option; installing ATMs in
all courthouses; and ensuring that the court is
promptly notified whenever a bail amount of $1 is
set for administrative reasons and this $1 fee is
holding a defendant in jail.

Within the Current
Statutory Framework
The Commission’s pretrial justice recommendations fall into two categories—those that
can be implemented immediately and those


that require legislative changes. All of the
recommendations seek to promote public safety;
provide an incentive for defendants to attend
future court dates; and protect the constitutional
rights of the accused.
We can make great strides within the current
statutory framework, creating a more robust
framework to support supervised release and
making it easier for defendants to pay bail.
In developing these recommendations, the
Commission recognizes that great care must
be taken to avoid net widening, which would
occur if individuals who are currently released
without conditions inadvertently end up facing
more onerous requirements in the future. To
accomplish this will require discipline on the
part of three principal parties—judges, defense
attorneys, and prosecutors. The Commission
recommends that the City establish a routine
training and briefing protocol on bail alternatives
for judges whenever they are assigned to
arraignment court, as well as training for all
prosecutors and defense attorneys who handle
cases at arraignment.
An assessment tool should be used to
measure a defendant’s ability to afford bail.
Currently, the courts are not provided with
meaningful information about a defendant’s
ability to afford bail unless it is provided by a
defense attorney.50 The Commission supports
the implementation of an ability-to-pay
assessment tool that would cover employment
status, sources of income, public assistance,
total household income, expenses, access
to a bank account or credit card, housing
assets, and responsibility for dependents. The
questions could be adjusted to explore both
the defendant’s financial situation and that
of family or friends who might be available to
pay bail. The tool would produce a financial
resources score and a formal bail amount
recommendation. The tool should be piloted
on a sample of defendants to measure validity
and reliability.
Validated risk assessment tools should be
used to measure a defendant’s future risk
of: (a) any re-offense, (b) violence, and (c)
domestic violence.
Formal risk assessment tools use past patterns

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Pretrial Detention Breakdown
54.1% Violent Felonies

08.6% Misdemeanors

36.8% Nonviolent Felonies

00.5% Violations or lesser


Total Population in Pretrial Detention

to predict future behavior. Risk assessments
have long been used in medicine to predict life
expectancy, in finance to predict future profits
or loss, in education to predict likelihood of
dropping out, and in criminal justice to predict
Most risk assessment tools look at factors
such as prior arrests and convictions, prior failure to appear in court, revocations of probation
or parole, the severity of the current charges,
and demographics such as age and gender.
Some, but not all, risk assessments use a direct
interview with defendants to gain information
about other circumstances, such as family ties,
employment, housing, and treatment needs such
as substance use or mental health disorders.51
In the criminal justice context, formal risk
assessments have been shown to outperform
individual judgments regarding whether
someone will be re-arrested.52 Accordingly,
risk assessments are a powerful aid to
decision-makers and can serve to improve
(but not replace) professional judgment. The
City’s supervised release program uses a risk
assessment tool that identifies those defendants
suitable for the program and recommends an
appropriate level of supervision and conditions
based on the assessment results.
The Commission recommends that the City
build upon this foundation and create three new
risk assessment tools to be used at arraignment
with defendants who are not appropriate for
release on recognizance.
Each tool should be developed through a
participatory process and the factors used to
assess risk, and the relative weight given to
each, should be publicly disclosed. In general,
risk assessment tools should also be rigorously

Rethinking Incarceration

tested for bias. Tool developers should ensure
that their assessments are, empirically, just as
accurate in classifying risk within each racial or
ethnic group. They should focus especially on
the racial composition of the high risk subgroup,
recognizing that this subgroup is most likely
to be incarcerated. If Black individuals are
classified as high risk in substantially higher
proportions than others, tool developers should
consider adjusting their algorithms to avoid
a disproportionate impact. In short, given
legitimate, well-documented concerns in this
area, explicit steps should be taken to mitigate
racial bias.53
Tools should also be validated separately for
women and men, with risk formulas adjusted for
women if necessary, given prior research that
risk assessments developed with samples that
consist mostly of men may not as accurately
classify female defendants.54
Consistent with national best practices,
each of the following assessment tools should
have five categories: minimal, low, moderate,
moderate-high, and high risk.
Risk of Re-Arrest: This tool would be calibrated
to classify risk of any re-arrest.
Risk of Violence: Especially regarding tough
decisions over whether to release a defendant
who is currently facing violent felony charges, it is
important to have a finely calibrated tool to classify
defendants based on risk of future violence.
Risk of Domestic Violence: Research has
shown that domestic violence defendants have
specific risk factors—most importantly a prior
history of domestic violence—that do not tend


to be measured in other tools.55 To draw reliable
conclusions about this population’s future
behavior, a specially calibrated tool is necessary.
New York City should have a robust pretrial
services capacity.
The City’s current framework of pretrial services
is a mosaic of various agencies and providers.
Over the past four decades, the New York
City Criminal Justice Agency has interviewed
defendants prior to arraignment and assessed
their likelihood of failing to appear for scheduled
court dates.56 Several different nonprofit service
providers conduct pretrial assessments and
provide supervision for those in supervised
release, including CASES and the Center for
Court Innovation, in addition to the New York
City Criminal Justice Agency.
The Commission recommends that the City
invest in a comprehensive pretrial services
model, potentially increasing the resources
of the Department of Probation and nonprofit
providers. Pretrial services staff should be
responsible for administering risk and ability-topay bail assessments; maintaining a presence in
the courtroom to aid judges in making bail and
release decisions; helping defendants pay bail as
needed; and overseeing an expanded supervised
release infrastructure. Under this system, many
defendants will continue to be released on
recognizance. For all defendants—those released
on recognizance and those under supervision—
pretrial services can assist with transport to and
from court and court date reminders.
The current citywide supervised release
program should be expanded and enhanced.
Some types of cases and defendants are
currently ineligible for the City’s supervised
release program. During pilot operations, these
exclusions were understandable. Based on
the program’s demonstrated early success, the
Commission recommends expanding supervised
release to include some defendants charged with
domestic violence offenses, some who score as
high risk on the risk assessment tool, and some
charged with serious offenses.
Research demonstrates that treatment and
interventions are effective at reducing recidivism
among high-risk populations, including those
charged with offenses involving violence.57


Recent evaluations of New York State’s drug
treatment courts,58 and national research on the
effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy59 both
point to especially large recidivism reductions
with high-risk populations. Requiring these
defendants to engage in treatment and services
would help to address some of the problems that
underlie their criminal justice involvement.
Even as we expand supervised release to
this population, it is important to remember
that all participants in pretrial programming
are presumed innocent. Any effort to link a
pretrial population to mandatory services must
reckon with this reality. Nonetheless, numerous
cities, counties, and states across the country
successfully release defendants who are high
risk and charged with serious offenses and link
them to services.
The Commission recommends an expanded
range of pretrial supervision for these
populations, which could include requiring
treatment participation, electronic monitoring, or
house arrest. Agencies such as the Department
of Probation could help supervise high-risk
individuals, given the extensive experience of
the department in supervising defendants with a
wide range of risk levels and needs.
High-risk defendants. Many charge-eligible
misdemeanor and nonviolent felony defendants
are excluded from the City’s current supervised
release program due to a high-risk classification
on the City’s risk assessment. The Commission
recommends that these defendants be allowed
into the program.
Domestic violence. The Commission recommends that judges be given the discretion to
allow defendants charged with domestic violence
offenses to participate in supervised release.
Under the status quo, defendants who are held
in pretrial detention for misdemeanor domestic
violence only average 15 days in jail. Seen in this
light, ordering domestic violence defendants
to intensive pretrial supervision might afford
a greater opportunity to monitor and detect
order-of-protection violations than the status
quo, where many domestic violence defendants
make bail after a short stay in jail and then
experience no supervision at all—potentially
increasing the threat to victim safety. Allowing

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

for some defendants to be released and engaged
in treatment and programming, such as Moral
Reconation Therapy and other modalities tailored
toward addressing intimate partner violence,60
may be more beneficial to victims and more
productive to defendants than jail.61 Supervised
release providers can also monitor and detect
violations of existing orders of protection and
stay-away orders.
	 Recognizing that supervised release for
domestic violence populations is a relatively new
concept, we propose common sense limitations
on eligibility, such as ruling out those who pose
a high risk of future domestic violence based
on a validated assessment. We also propose
that policies and practices designed to provide
pretrial supervision to domestic violence
defendants be designed in collaboration with the
City’s victim advocacy community.
Serious cases. A wide array of offenses are
currently classified as “violent,” ranging from
homicide and rape to injuring someone while
trying to grab their cell phone. Of those currently
held in jail pretrial on violent felony charges,
one-third (34 percent) are youth ages 16 to 24.
Of these youth, almost half (49 percent) are held
on first or second degree assault, burglary, or
robbery charges. Many of the assault charges do
not involve a deadly weapon, and in many of the
robbery or burglary cases the young person was
acting as an accessory or accomplice. We believe
that many of these young defendants merit a
second chance. The Commission recommends
that at least some youth facing violent felony
charges should be able to enroll in intensive
supervised release. Specific eligibility could be
limited by charge and risk. In the more distant
future, if supervised release with carefully
selected 16-to-24-year-olds facing violent
charges proves effective, supervised release
could be expanded to older defendants with
similar charges.
	 In general, for cases in which the defendant
is not released on recognizance, misdemeanors
and nonviolent felonies should be assigned to
supervised release, with the specific intensity
of supervision determined by pretrial services
staff based on the specific risk level. Violent
felony defendants and defendants charged with
domestic violence offenses should be handled

Rethinking Incarceration

more vigilantly, but with expanded opportunities
for some defendants to participate in more
intensive supervised release.
Penalties for non-compliance, such as failure
to appear in court or to complete a condition of
release, should be graduated and proportionate.
Across all charge categories, first-time failures to
appear in which the defendant returns to court
within a reasonable period of time (e.g., 30 days)
might result in greater conditions of release, but
should not automatically elicit a quick resort to
traditional bail or detention.
Paperwork and logistics related to alternative
forms of bail should be streamlined.
Presently, for an arraignment judge to grant
a secured, partially secured, or unsecured
bond requires completing three separate
forms: a bail bond form, justifying affidavit,
and undertaking to answer. Each form elicits
different information, yet some of the same
items are required on all three. The defense
attorney and court clerk typically require 10 to
15 minutes to work with those posting bail to get
the paperwork completed—a long period of time
in arraignment courts that must process cases
To increase the use of these forms of bail,
pretrial services staff should step in to assist
with required paperwork whenever possible. The
three required forms should be consolidated
into one, with potentially different versions
for each alternative form of bail. And, in cases
where family or friends can make an unsecured
or partially secured bond, but need additional
time to gather the necessary paperwork and
proof (e.g., pay stubs), an alternative form of bail
should be set at arraignment, allowing for proof
and payment of the deposit (if applicable) to be
satisfied later.
All parties should facilitate rapid bail
Prior to arraignment, system players—including
the arresting officer, defense attorneys, and
pretrial services staff—should assist individuals
in recording the phone numbers of family or
friends that could help with bail payment.
The arresting officer should allow people to
manually record phone numbers from their cell


phones prior to vouchering. Where necessary,
defense attorneys should proactively contact any
identified friends or family members who have
not been notified of the pending arraignment.
Pretrial services staff should also help locate
friends and family members if they learn that no
one has been contacted. Signs should be posted
in the holding cells to clearly communicate
that efforts are underway to make contact with
friends and family and to provide an overview of
the bail payment process.
Building upon the efforts of the Mayor’s Office
of Criminal Justice’s Bail Lab, automatic bail
holds should be instituted for at least three hours
in all cases, with a two-hour extension to five
hours available upon request. Defendants should
not be transported to jail if court staff are told
that friends or family are in the process of securing bail fund support but need a little more time.
The Department of Correction should assist
bail payment at intake.
At the outset of jail intake, Department of
Correction staff should verify with the defendant
whether friends and family have been notified
of their detention. Correction staff should
immediately reach out to make contact if the
defendant requests it. In cases where friends or
family inform correction staff of their intention
to post bail shortly, staff members should pause
the intake process and prepare the defendant for
immediate release once bail is paid.
To be clear, we are proposing a fundamentally
new role for corrections officers stationed at
intake—one in which their very first interaction
with a defendant will consist of an effort to ask
questions and offer help. Proceeding in this
fashion can set the stage for a different type of
relationship between corrections officers and
the people they supervise.
“Second look” procedures should be
established to review whether bail was
appropriately set at arraignment.
As part of its standard intake process, the
Department of Correction performs a risk
of readmission assessment. Based on this
assessment, any individual in the lowest risk
category who is eligible for supervised release
and still detained several days following
admission should be scheduled for an immediate


bail review hearing.
Anyone still detained approximately three
months after admission who has no record of
disciplinary infractions on the current case
should also be scheduled for an immediate
bail review hearing—where the court should be
apprised of the person’s positive behavior.
These proactive steps will enable the
Department of Correction to bring to the judge’s
attention useful information about risk, as
well as about conduct inside the jail, that may
constitute new evidence justifying supervised
release in lieu of continued incarceration.
Finally, the courts should establish a policy
requiring an automatic hearing on bail at the
second court date for any misdemeanor or
nonviolent felony defendant who was unable
to post bail by that date and is technically
eligible for supervised release. This measure
builds on an existing bail review protocol for
District Attorneys should examine
prosecutorial strategies to mitigate racial
and ethnic disparities.
Prosecutors are responsible for deciding
charges, requesting bail, and extending plea
offers. These decisions have enormous influence
over the criminal justice process. Implicit bias
may result in more punitive plea offers for
Black and Latino felony defendants following
indictment, as was demonstrated in a recent
study.62 The Commission recommends regular
and ongoing training for implicit bias among
prosecutors. Elected district attorneys should
regularly review office practices and policies to
identify potential racial and ethnic disparities. To
mitigate disparities, prosecutors should explore
the use of a structured decision-making tool
which lays out the range of bail requests and
typical offers (“going rates”) for different types
of cases.
The processing of Desk Appearance Tickets
should be expedited.
Under the status quo, if a defendant who
receives a Desk Appearance Ticket appears in
court on the scheduled arraignment date, the
case will nearly always resolve without jail time.
Warrants, however, are issued for those who fail
to appear. Once brought in, those individuals are

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

then exposed to a real risk of jail time, even if the
original offense was relatively minor.63
To promote higher rates of appearance at
the initially scheduled Desk Appearance Ticket
arraignment date, appearances should be
scheduled for no later than two weeks following
the moment of arrests. Longer delays only serve
to increase the likelihood that defendants will
forget the date.64 Courts should ensure that DAT
defendants can have their cases heard after a
minimal wait, ideally no more than two hours
after walking into the courthouse.

Recommendations Requiring
State Legislation
New York’s bail statute, Criminal Procedure Law
Articles 500-530, was enacted in 1970 with the
express purpose of allowing judicial discretion
and, when setting bail, providing a range of bail
payment options that increase the chances of
pretrial release.65 When judges set bail, they
must consider factors such as the defendant’s
character, financial circumstances, criminal
record, and family ties.66 But under New York law,
judges are not currently allowed to consider a
person’s risk to public safety.
We join with other New Yorkers, including
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew
Cuomo, in voicing our support for reforming
our bail law. We believe that money should not
determine a person’s liberty. The Commission
endorses a system of pretrial justice that
maximizes release. All but a small number of
defendants can and should be safely released.
New York should eliminate money bail.
Given the unmistakable harms of traditional
bail, there is a growing movement to eliminate
money bail entirely. Washington, D.C. eliminated
bail in the early 1990s. New Jersey recently
enacted a similar approach. Each person
arrested in New Jersey is assessed for risk
for failure to appear, risk of re-arrest, and
risk of violent re-arrest. Based on the results
of all three assessments, a pretrial services
agency makes a recommendation for release,
supervised release, or preventive detention. The
attorneys can also offer evidence to support an
outcome that differs from the pretrial agency’s
recommendation, with the judge making the final

Rethinking Incarceration

The Commission believes that this is also the
correct approach for New York—getting money
out of the equation is the right thing to do. Any
effort to eliminate money bail through state
legislation must be mindful of the potential for
unintended consequences. In particular, if bail
reform efforts end up significantly increasing
the use of preventive detention—defined as
detention without chance of release on bail
during the pretrial period—they will be a failure.
Any acceptable legislative solution must contain
sufficient and extensive safeguards to avoid
this outcome. These should include stringent
limitations establishing a small number of
charges that can be subject to preventive
detention and, as is the case in Washington,
D.C., strict time limits on the duration of any
detention during the pretrial period.
Pretrial decision-making should prioritize
risk of future danger based on empirical
The pretrial decision to detain someone should
be reserved for those individuals who pose an
empirically-based, clear danger to an individual
or to the community during the pretrial period.
New York’s bail law should be amended to allow
judges to consider an individual’s potential risk
of harming others, with the presumption that
any risk of failure to appear can be addressed
through appropriate pretrial supervision.
Building upon the model used in Washington,
D.C., discretion favoring release should be
exercised in the majority of cases. For those
whose alleged offense and future risk indicates
that no amount of pretrial supervision or
monitoring could adequately assure the safety of
the community, there should be a very narrowly
prescribed set of charges and circumstances
in which pretrial detention is permissible. For
that narrow set of people who are deemed too
dangerous to release pretrial, due process,
procedural safeguards, and a strictly enforced
speedy trial clock are necessary to ensure that
detention is used rarely and, where used, lasts
for no more than a minimal period of time.
The assessment of risk should be conducted
using actuarial risk instruments that are
customized to be used on New York City’s
population to accurately predict whether


defendants pose a low, moderate, or high risk
of violence. As in New Jersey’s new bail statute
and consistent with the approach recommended
recently by Governor Cuomo, absent a
compelling justification, detention should only
be permissible for high-risk individuals.
The Commission also recommends that
risk tool developers test for whether their
assessments could have a disproportionate
impact on different racial or ethnic groups.
(Safeguards regarding the construction of risk
assessment tools were discussed previously,
where we introduced our recommendations
for using risk assessment within the existing
statutory framework.) Under any legislative
solution, it is especially important for risk
assessment tools to be developed, validated, and
assessed for disproportionate impact with great
diligence and rigor.
Create a statutory presumption of release for
misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
The Commission recommends a strong
presumption of release for all misdemeanors
and nonviolent felonies, which account for
over 3,300 people who are currently detained
on any given day. Broadly consistent with the
approach in Washington, D.C. and New Jersey,
these charges should be on the excluded list
from preventive detention, absent a compelling
justification that is proven in a special bail


hearing. Defendants with these charges—as well
as defendants facing violent charges but who do
not have a statistically-demonstrable high risk
of future violence—can and should be released
during the pretrial period, in some cases under
rigorous community supervision.
Current restrictions on bail funds should be
relaxed and judges should be required to set
at least three forms of bail.
Until cash bail is eliminated, some legislative
reforms can help ease the payment of bail.
Charitable bail funds step in to pay bail in
misdemeanor cases where the amount is no more
than $2,000. The Commission supports a bill, A.
4880, currently pending in Albany to make bail
fund assistance available at higher amounts of
$5,000 for both misdemeanors and felonies.
Furthermore, the law currently requires
judges to set at least two forms of bail, which in
practice are usually cash bail or an insurance
company bail bond. Requiring that judges set
a third form of bail would encourage greater
use of credit cards and unsecured and partially
secured bonds, reducing excessive upfront
bail amounts and making it easier for people
to pay bail.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Case Processing

Rethinking Incarceration

their schedules so that they can conduct
misdemeanor trials every Friday. The County’s
supervising judge personally presides over a
court part dedicated to resolving the oldest
pending cases. According to statistics reported
by the court system, these changes have
helped to increase the pace of misdemeanor
dispositions in Bronx County markedly. As
Chief Judge DiFiore reported, the total number
of pending misdemeanors has been reduced
by 32 percent in the Bronx. The court system is
now taking elements that have been piloted in
the Bronx and exporting them to other parts of
the City; the court system reports a dramatic
decrease in the oldest pending misdemeanor
cases in the Manhattan Criminal Court as well.
The Commission applauds the strides
that the courts have taken to date. The focus
of the Commission is on accelerating these
current positive trends and working with the
court system and its partners to meet already
established standards and goals, including that
indicted felonies should be resolved within 180
While the judiciary has to lead the way, all
parties have a role to play in reducing case
processing delay. The City of New York can
improve the production of defendants for court
appearances. Prosecutors can turn discovery
information over to the defense soon after it is
obtained and make better and earlier plea offers.
And defense attorneys can cease to use delay as
a tactic to obtain better plea deals.
In short, justice system leaders and
practitioners can and should unite over the
fundamental principle that justice delayed is
justice denied. Assuming good (but not perfect)
implementation, the recommendations in this


Case processing delay in New York City is not
a new problem. As far back as 1975, the state’s
Chief Administrative Judge, Richard J. Bartlett,
reported, “The unhappy fact is that there is
intolerable delay in the disposition of cases.”67
He established a new standard requiring
felonies to be disposed within six months of an
indictment. More than four decades later, this
remains state court policy.68
Upon assuming office just over a year ago
in February 2016, the state’s Chief Judge, Janet
DiFiore, made improving case processing a
focal point, establishing an Excellence Initiative
in courts statewide.69 According to Chief
Judge DiFiore, “We do not accept delays and
deficiencies in the courts as inevitable — not
in the Bronx, not in Manhattan, not in Nassau,
Suffolk, Erie, Monroe Counties or any other
part of our state. Our first responsibility is to fix
what’s broken.”70
To this end, the court system has focused
on monitoring key benchmarks for the timely
resolution of cases, examining the root causes
of delay, and creating new strategies to move
cases along. This has included establishing
new dedicated court parts, overhauling case
management processes, hiring additional staff,
and creating new case management tools to
measure court performance.
At her State of Our Judiciary address in
February 2017, Chief Judge DiFiore highlighted
some encouraging early results, particularly
in New York City. For example, in the Bronx,
the county with arguably the worst record of
moving cases through the system quickly, the
court system has moved aggressively to manage
cases more efficiently and expand trial capacity.
Criminal court judges are now asked to arrange


chapter would yield an estimated reduction in
the City’s jail population of 1,400 individuals,
absent any other reform.71

Current Performance
Research commissioned by the Mayor’s Office
of Criminal Justice suggests that the average
processing time for cases disposed in 2016
was almost three times longer for felonies than
misdemeanors. Looking deeper into how felonies
move through the system, after their arraignment
in the lower Criminal Court, close to one-third
(32 percent) are indicted and transferred up
to the Supreme Court for adjudication. The
remaining unindicted felonies are resolved
through early plea agreements or dismissals.
Indictment rates vary widely by borough—
and are especially high in Manhattan and the
Bronx—largely reflecting differences in the
practices of each borough’s District Attorney.72
The indictment rate is a key metric for case
processing reform, because indicted felonies
last an average 350 days from initial arraignment
to disposition, which is 2.28 times longer than
the average of 154 days for unindicted felonies.73
The court system’s official 180-day standard
for resolving felony cases refers specifically
to processing time in the Supreme Court with
indicted felonies only. Less than four in ten
indicted felonies met this standard. Seven out
of ten indicted felonies were disposed within a
year. There were some differences from borough
to borough; in the Bronx, only 57 percent of
indicted felonies were disposed within one
year. All told, indicted felonies in New York City
spent an average of 10.3 months pending in the
Supreme Court until reaching a disposition.
(There is some variation from borough to
borough. The Bronx averaged 12.6 months, a
more than a one-month improvement from 2014
to 2016.) Across all boroughs, Supreme Court
processing time barely varied based on whether
or not the defendant was detained.
Indicted felonies pending a resolution in
Supreme Court make up a significant share of the
City’s jail population. Of 9,753 individuals held
in jail on September 29, 2016, nearly half (49 percent) were indicted felonies in the pretrial stages.
Misdemeanor cases tend to be resolved far
more quickly than felonies, in large part because


almost half of all misdemeanors are disposed
right away at arraignment. Nine out of ten
misdemeanors in 2016 were disposed within 180
days (88 percent).
Very few cases in New York City are resolved
by trial. Of more than 250,000 criminal cases
disposed in 2016, only 797 felonies and 529
misdemeanors were ultimately resolved by trial
verdict. Our system is largely driven by guilty
pleas and dismissals reached without a trial.
Nonetheless, the few cases that are
decided at trial have sizable case processing
ramifications. Indicted felonies decided at
trial in 2016 averaged nearly two times longer
to resolve than cases not decided at trial. The
average processing time citywide was 20.8
months from initial arraignment to trial verdict,
ranging from 16 months in Staten Island to well
over two years in the Bronx. Misdemeanor cases
with bench trials (where the parties agree to
allow the judge to decide the verdict) averaged
450 days, or nearly 15 months, from arraignment
to verdict. Misdemeanor jury trials averaged 616
days, or more than 20 months.
In general, case delays are the result of
numerous factors, including:
Productive Court Appearances: All players
have a role to play in ensuring productive
court appearances. National best practices
identified by the National Center for State Courts
expressly link good case processing performance
to deliberate efforts by judges to assure
“meaningful court events,” including encouraging
the parties to reach a plea agreement, setting
a trial date due to the lack of an agreement,
encouraging the parties to limit adjournment
length, and reprimanding the prosecutor or
defense attorney for a lack of preparation.74
Discovery/Plea Bargaining: The Brooklyn
District Attorney’s Office has adopted an “open
file” or “discovery by stipulation” protocol under
which they provide the defense with discovery
material on an ongoing basis and consent
to certain hearings without a formal defense
motion. In a 2015 survey, defense attorneys
cited delays resulting from the lack of open file
discovery outside of Brooklyn, arguing that early
plea offers cannot be properly assessed without
seeing the prosecutor’s evidence. Prosecutors

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Indictment Rates For
Felonies Deposed (2016)
40% Bronx

27% Brooklyn

39% Manhattan

19% Queens

23% Staten Island

32% New York City

Time to Disposition for Indicted Felonies (2016)
Within 180 Days (Official Standard)

Within One Year




















Rethinking Incarceration




Staten Island

New York City


face some challenges in acquiring discovery
information, including bottlenecks at the New
York Police Department and the Office of the
Chief Medical Examiner (although the Office
of the Chief Medical Examiner has recently
revamped its procedures).75 After discovery is
complete and prosecutors have presented a
plea offer, delays are often a deliberate element
of defense strategy; often defense attorneys
decide that it is in their clients’ interests to wait
for better offers, disappearing witnesses, or other
favorable developments.76 As several judges who
testified before the Commission emphasized, a
commitment to good faith early plea bargaining by
all parties could help avert sizable delays later on.

Speedy Trial Requirements: Section 30.30 of
the New York State Criminal Procedure Law
states that the prosecutor must be ready to hold
most felony trials within six months, trials on “A”
misdemeanors within 90 days, and trials on “B”
misdemeanors within 60 days.79 Failure to meet
these speedy trial requirements is supposed
to trigger case dismissal. However, there are so
many exceptions to the “30.30 clock” that the
statute has been rendered largely meaningless.
For example, prosecutors may state on the
record in court that they are not ready for trial
in court, but then file a “statement of readiness”
days later, which effectively stops the speedy
trial clock until the next court date.

Adjournment Length: In a 2015 survey of 677
judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys,
respondents pointed to adjournment length as
the single reform area with the greatest potential
to reduce felony case processing delays.77
Research has documented that it takes an
average of slightly more than 10 appearances
in Supreme Court to resolve an indicted felony
case—and that there is an average of 37 days
between each Supreme Court adjournment. In
effect, every unproductive court appearance—
e.g., plea negotiations not held in advance,
parties not ready, motions pending, discovery
incomplete, psychiatric or DNA reports not
arrived—tacks on more than a month before the
next chance to resolve the case.

Serious Charges: As one might expect,
homicides require far more case processing
time than other cases, averaging 21.5 months
to disposition citywide in 2016. Sex offenses,
including rape and sexual abuse, ran second
with an average duration of 15.4 months.

The Bronx: As the New York Times and others
have documented, the Bronx has been the
“epicenter for many of the worst delays and
backlogs plaguing our justice system.”78 Any
effort to improve case processing must pay
special attention to the Bronx. As detailed above,
the New York court system is doing precisely
this. Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark has
been an active partner in reform, initiating a plan
for “vertical prosecution,” in which prosecutors
are assigned to cases from beginning to end,
replacing an old system in which prosecutors
would frequently hand off cases to colleagues in


Court Resources: New York City Criminal Court,
which handles misdemeanors to disposition,
as well as handling felonies prior to an
indictment, has long been overburdened. While
misdemeanor case volume has dropped since
2011, there is still a need for more resources,
particularly non-judicial staff. Whether more
Supreme Court justices are necessary to move
cases more quickly is a different question.
Felony caseloads have declined by 16 percent in
the past five years, increasing excess capacity.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

The New York court system should take the
lead in driving cultural change, particularly
with regard to cases involving pretrial
New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has
indicated that she is ready to take up this
challenge. According to DiFiore,

Everyone suffers when justice is delayed.
Crime victims and their families, as they
wait for justice to be done; prosecutors and
their cases, as key witnesses move away,
memories fade and evidence grows stale;
and defendants, presumed innocent under
the law, who must return to court over and
over again or, too often, sit in jail waiting for
their cases to be resolved.80
All players, not just the courts, should prioritize
the speedy processing of cases involving
detained defendants. The legal, ethical,
socioeconomic, and psychological ramifications
of case processing delays are greatest for
defendants held in pretrial detention. We
propose that all of the relevant criminal justice
agencies prioritize the expeditious handling of
these cases.80
Compliance with standards and goals for
resolving cases should be a priority.
The current problem is not the standards, but
lack of compliance. The National Center for
State Courts calls for resolving 75 percent of
indicted felonies within 90 days, 90 percent
within 180 days (New York’s official standard),
and 98 percent within one year.81 We recommend
aggressively monitoring compliance with all
three of these benchmarks.
Given their complexity, we recommend
establishing a more realistic 15-month standard
and goal, technically 460 days, for indicted
homicide and sex offense cases. For all cases,
we also recommend discounting time when a
defendant has absconded from court contact
or when fitness to stand trial issues arise under
Article 730.
Misdemeanors should be resolved within 90
days, with this standard achieved in 90 percent
of cases.

Rethinking Incarceration

“Best practice” calendar management
strategies should be followed in the courts.
Drawing on research in ten states,82 along
with recent research in New York City,83 we
recommend broader and more aggressive use
of the following practices, identified by the
National Center for State Courts:
Case Screening and Triage: Beginning as early
as Supreme Court arraignment, judges should
triage newly indicted cases, distinguishing those
that are likely to go to trial, those that pose
complex discovery issues, and those that may
be appropriate for alternatives to incarceration.
The least complex cases should be fast-tracked
for rapid disposition. When cases are adjourned
to a new judge in mid-processing, the new judge
should initiate a similar review out of court, prior
to hearing the case for the first time.
Timeline Management: Working with
attorneys, judges should move aggressively
to set reasonable due dates for key events,
such as completing motions and discovery,
receiving third party exam reports, finalizing
plea negotiations, securing expert witnesses,
and scheduling trials. According to the National
Center for State Courts, “Empirical evidence
from courts around the country supports the
proposition that the achievement of prompt and
affordable justice in criminal cases is promoted
by early court involvement and control of case



Standards and Goals Tracking: Since felonies
should be resolved within 180 days, judges
should seek to track the cases on their pretrial
calendar in order to become promptly aware
when cases are lingering close to the 180day mark. To aid judges, the court system has
created new case management tools, including
dashboards that enable administrators to review
a court’s caseload by judge, case type, and age
of case. In short, judges and administrators
should actively manage and control their
docket—and measure the impact.
Conferencing: A particularly useful tool is to
conference cases in between appearances to
discuss potential plea offers and determine
if the case is headed for trial. In Brooklyn, the


Administrative Judge in Supreme Court has
assigned a court attorney to begin regularly
conferencing cases out of court in order to probe
the viability of an expedited plea agreement.
When an agreement cannot be forged, the
Administrative Judge then takes proactive steps
to set prompt trial dates.
Second Calls: For cases that are close to
reaching a plea agreement, or have minor
discovery issues that are resolvable on the same
day, judges should hold “second calls”—i.e.,
another court appearance later on the same
day after giving the attorneys time to meet
out of court in the interim. In these cases, the
attorneys should be expected to return prepared.
Judges should make liberal use of “second calls”
whenever same-day progress is possible.
Firm Trial Dates: To the extent possible,
judges should set firm target trial dates.
Court administrators can help by encouraging
judges to schedule and hold trials in prompt
succession. For example, the Brooklyn Supreme
Court recently instituted an expectation that all
trial judges hold at least one trial per month.
Attorney Accountability: Attorneys should be
held accountable for moving cases. Judges can
remind attorneys of their duty to achieve speedy
justice. This includes urging prosecutors to take
a realistic look at their cases and the kinds of
outcomes that are likely; having court clerks call
defense attorneys who have not arrived in court
on time; and taking a hard look at scheduling
delays requested by defense attorneys.
It is imperative to provide training and technical
assistance to support judges in implementing
these kinds of changes.


Adjournments should not exceed 30 days.
Each adjournment should have a purpose,
and attorneys should be held accountable for
completing between-appearance tasks. There
is an inherent tension between completing
tasks in between appearances and limiting the
length of adjournments; judges, attorneys, and
administrators do need time to get essential
tasks done. Judges exercise discretion over the
lengths of adjournments. Recognizing this, the
Office of Court Administration has strongly
encouraged a 30-day adjournment cap for the
Supreme Court.85 Research suggests that all
boroughs have demonstrably improved since
the summer of 2016, yet, as of February 2017,
more than half of Supreme Court adjournments
citywide continue to exceed 30 days.86
In general, all adjournments should be set for
the soonest date possible to complete betweenappearance tasks, with 30 days best understood
as an upper limit.
Adjournments at both the beginning and end
of Supreme Court proceedings, respectively right
after the indictment and just prior to sentencing,
should not exceed 14 days. Demonstrating that
change is possible, the Brooklyn Supreme Court
saw a 307 percent improvement in meeting the
first of these two milestones when comparing
February 2016 to February 2017.87
Statutory guidelines should support speedy
case processing.
New York’s speedy trial law has not proven
effective in moving cases quickly to trial
and resolution. In particular, there are too
many exceptions to the speedy trial clock for
prosecutors. The Commission recommends the
passage of Kalief’s Law, a bill with bipartisan
support in the New York State Assembly and
Senate. One critical feature of the bill would
require the prosecution, when it claims to be
ready for trial, to also state that it has complied
with its discovery obligations.88

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Open file discovery and other policies should
be implemented to promote earlier case
Wherever possible, case resolutions prior to
indictment should be encouraged through early
discovery and good faith plea negotiations.
District Attorneys and the defense bar should
consider these steps:
Open File Discovery: Modeled after existing
protocols in Brooklyn, District Attorneys and
the defense bar should consider “open file”
or “discovery by stipulation” protocols in more
cases. Ideally, District Attorneys would provide
a packet of available discovery to the defense
bar as early as the Criminal Court arraignment.
Appropriate exceptions could be carved
out, where the safety of witnesses might be
compromised by premature discovery.
Aiding Prosecutors: New policies should be
instituted to help prosecutors obtain evidence.
For example, District Attorneys’ offices currently
obtain information from the New York Police
Department by going in-person to the arresting
police precinct. The DAs’ offices and NYPD
should collaborate on an electronic transfer
protocol as well as improving transfers of nonelectronic information.

Prosecutorial Plea Policy: To ensure that
plea bargaining remains viable throughout the
discovery period, prosecutors should leave
their “best offer” on the table until at least one
month after discovery is complete. Sometimes,
prosecutors end up making better plea offers as
cases get closer to trial. This practice may have
the unintended effect of encouraging delay by
defense attorneys.
Defense Policy: Defense attorneys should seek
to reduce delays in scheduling conferences
or next court appearances, especially when
discovery is complete and a reasonable offer is
on the table.
While not a panacea, early discovery and good
faith plea bargaining could increase early felony
dismissals and charge reductions by helping
all parties quickly realize when the evidence
is weak. As has been the case in Westchester
County, early discovery and plea bargaining
could also promote early felony Superior
Court Information outcomes (essentially, preindictment felony plea agreements) when all
parties realize that the evidence is strong. In
both of these examples, the result would be
fewer indictments and speedier processing.

Westchester County: A Model of Early Case Resolutions
A particularly effective way of avoiding delays in felony cases is to resolve them through
good faith plea bargaining at the outset of case processing. Westchester County has adopted
precisely such an approach. The parties, including the courts, defense bar, and Westchester
County District Attorney’s Office, work diligently to reach plea agreements soon after
arraignment. As a result, very few felony cases in Westchester County are indicted. Many cases
are resolved through a Superior Court Information, a felony plea agreement reached with the
defense that allows for an early case resolution without an indictment. Among those cases that
are indicted in Westchester, the average Supreme Court processing time was 134 days, and
82 percent of the cases were resolved within 180 days.89 Comparisons of Westchester to New
York City should be interpreted with caution, given differences in size and caseload. Still, it is
worth looking at the results in Westchester and other parts of the State to see if there are valid
lessons that can be applied in the City.

Rethinking Incarceration


The Bronx should continue to be the focus of
reform efforts.
For years, the Bronx Supreme Court has
performed worse than other boroughs on nearly
all case processing metrics for indicted felonies.
A no-blame policy looking backwards should be
paired with a no-excuses policy looking forwards.
There are some results to suggest that progress
has been made in the Bronx in the past year.
Reforms advanced by the court system, the Bronx
District Attorney’s Office, and the Mayor’s Office
of Criminal Justice should be continued and
strengthened. These efforts should be augmented
by frequent and candid reporting to the public.
An interdisciplinary taskforce should identify
strategies for reducing homicide case
processing time.
The Commission recommends establishing
an interagency taskforce to devise strategies
for reducing homicide processing times. As
a starting point, the taskforce could explore
why performance diverges across the five
boroughs, looking at what strategies are working
(or not) in each borough. Another avenue of
inquiry could be availability of attorneys. The
taskforce could make recommendations for
study or pilot projects, with a particular focus in
those boroughs (Queens and the Bronx) where
homicide processing times are the longest.


In misdemeanor cases, strategies should
be adopted to increase dispositions at
Almost half of all misdemeanors (47 percent) are
already disposed at arraignment. Nonetheless,
it may be possible to build on this strength
of the system, for instance by making brief
alternative-to-incarceration options more
widely available at arraignment. Since Staten
Island’s 2016 disposition-at-arraignment rate
for misdemeanors was only 31 percent, it may
offer a particularly ripe setting for creative new
sentencing options.
The court system should make a commitment
to procedural justice.
A trip to a criminal court in New York City can
be bewildering, whether you are a defendant, a
victim, a witness or a juror. Long lines at security.
Overcrowded elevators. A dearth of directional
markers. Officiously worded signs about court
rules. Long waits. Court appearances lasting just
a few minutes and including incomprehensible
jargon. Beyond efforts to produce quantifiable
reductions in case processing delay, procedural
justice reforms in courthouse signage, holding
cells, arraignment proceedings, court process
explanations, and assistance to victims could go
a long way in altering perceptions of the criminal
justice system.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Sentencing Reforms

On any given day, there are close to 1,300 people
serving jail sentences on Rikers Island. Most
of these sentences are exceedingly brief—more
than two-thirds involve 30 days or less of jail
time. Others spend long periods of time in
pretrial detention on serious charges and then
are released after pleading guilty to time served
or an equivalent plea because they have already
spent upwards of a year or more in jail awaiting
resolution of their case.
To be clear, there are cases in which no other
sentence but incarceration is appropriate. But
this is not true in most cases. On the low end,
the Commission believes that extremely short
jail sentences of 30 days or less represent a
wasted opportunity to address the underlying
issues that lead to criminal justice involvement.
The Commission also recommends that
some cases that currently receive longer jail
sentences can be replaced with a communitybased sanction that reflects accountability and
promotes rehabilitation. In the words of one

person who shared their views on the
Commission’s website, “jails may offer
temporary reprieve from whatever burdens
some people are creating for the community,
but if we are not actually addressing the
problems they have, they will just return from
jail doing the same thing.”
We recommend replacing incarceration in as
many cases as possible with evidence-based
alternatives that hold people accountable
for their behavior and promote rehabilitation.
The recommendations in this section could
reduce the daily jail population by close to
600 individuals, added to the jail reductions
reported in previous sections.

Current Practice
More than half of all jail sentences involve
misdemeanors. Most of these misdemeanor
jail sentences are for petty theft (19 percent),
possession of a small amount of drugs (17

Jail Sentences
Misdemeanors or Lesser (N = 11,193)
Felonies (N = 10,761)




0–30 Days

31–90 Days

Rethinking Incarceration

91–183 Days



184–365 Days


percent), disorderly conduct (12 percent), and
domestic violence (10 percent).
When an individual is convicted of a
misdemeanor and serves time in jail, 75 percent
of the jail stays are 30 days or less. Less 8
percent of jail sentences for either misdemeanor
or felony convictions involve stays of more than
180 days.
A growing body of research suggests that
short-term incarceration may actually increase
the likelihood of future criminal justice
involvement, especially for individuals who pose
a low risk of re-arrest.90 Accordingly, reducing the
use of short jail sentences can be an effective,
even an essential, public safety strategy.
New York City already has a diverse array
of alternatives to incarceration to build upon.
Non-profit providers like CASES, Center for
Community Alternatives, Center for Court Innovation, Center for Employment Opportunities,
Education & Assistance Corporation, Fortune
Society, Osborne Association, STEPS to End
Family Violence, and the Women’s Prison Association, among others, provide meaningful alternatives to incarceration to thousands of New Yorkers each year. The New York City Department of
Probation supervises 22,000 individuals at any
given time. And the New York State court system
has created a broad range of problem-solving
courts including the Red Hook Community
Justice Center and the Midtown Community
Court, the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, and
drug treatment courts. Very few, if any, other
cities can boast of resources like these.
Given this strong foundation, the Commission
believes that New York City has an opportunity
to implement a comprehensive, evidence-based
strategy for deciding who is safe and appropriate
for a community-based sentence. We endorse
an individualized approach to sentencing that
emphasizes accountability and rehabilitation.


A centralized alternative-to-incarceration
office should be created within each
borough’s criminal courthouse.
The City’s network of community-based
alternatives is an integral part of the success the
City has had in reducing the numbers of New
Yorkers sent to jail and prison over the past two
decades. The challenge going forward will be to
expand enrollment in these programs. Presently,
each alternative-to-incarceration agency has its
own representatives in the courthouse, often
scrambling to get new referrals and to intake
new cases.
The Commission recommends establishing
a centralized office in each borough in order
to expedite and systematize the assessment of
defendants and the coordination of services.
This is already effectively in place in the Bronx
Criminal Court, where Bronx Community
Solutions offers screening and services to
thousands of defendants each year. In creating
similar capacity in each criminal court, the goal
would be to provide brief social services onsite
and to refer defendants to community-based
providers for longer-term treatment.
Prior to implementing the new system, a
cross-agency working group composed of
representatives from the current alternative-toincarceration service providers in New York City
should provide input and recommendations.
The City should invest in expanding the
availability of treatment for underserved
populations and underserved problems.
Longer jail stays should also be reduced
through greater use of evidence-based
In May 2016, the New York City ATI Coalition,
a collaborative of ten nonprofit agencies that
collectively serve thousands of New Yorkers
in community-based supervision programs
each year, released a blueprint for reforming
alternatives to incarceration. In the blueprint,
they recognized that certain populations
remained underserved, including women;
young people; people who are LGBTQ; people
with mental illnesses; people who suffer from
an addiction and are convicted of property
crimes; and people charged with serious or
violent offenses. The Commission recommends

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

I’m a graduate from an ATI…I went to Common
Justice in Brooklyn…I was able to stay away
from Rikers and going upstate…what I learned
within that ATI is what changed me as a
person. It showed me that regardless of where
I am, I could be a different person. I feel if
they had more alternative-to-incarceration
programs, there’s a lot of other people that
could get the same kind of help I got and just
make a change.”
New community justice centers should be
established in neighborhoods with discrete
crime problems and low levels of public trust
in justice.
Several neighborhoods in New York City are
home to neighborhood-based justice programs
launched with the support of the New York
State court system. These include Red Hook,
Harlem, Midtown, and Brownsville. Each of
these programs is unique, but they all share an
emphasis of promoting the use of alternatives
to incarceration and engaging local residents in
improving local safety. The Red Hook Community
Justice Center and the Midtown Community
Court have both been documented to reduce
the use of jail and to increase community
confidence in justice.91
The City should contemplate opening new
community justice centers in neighborhoods that
have high crime rates, low levels of confidence in
justice, and local interest in establishing such a
program. Based on these criteria, possible sites
could include the South Bronx, Far Rockaway,
East New York, and Staten Island. The Staten

Rethinking Incarceration

Island District Attorney, Michael E. McMahon,
expressly urged the Commission to support
community courts in the borough and signaled
his readiness to serve as their champion.
Any new community courts should be
planned in close collaboration with the
community itself (including leaders, residents,
former defendants and victims, and service
providers). Eligible charges should reflect local
crime problems as well as resident preferences.
Services for victims should be included as well
as programs for defendants.
The City should invest in gender-responsive
interventions for women.
Justice-involved women are especially likely
to suffer from prior abuse and trauma, which
can precipitate other mental health problems
and, in some cases, increase risk for substance
abuse.92 A recent publication commissioned by
the New York Women’s Foundation identified
four examples of promising gender-responsive
treatment curricula for women in the criminal
justice system, Healing Trauma, Moving On: A
Program for At-Risk Women, Helping Women
Recovery: A Program for Treating Addiction, and
Beyond Violence. These programs range from
five sessions to 20 sessions in length; all four
programs are trauma-informed.93 Employment
programs for justice-involved women are also


expanding the availability of treatment for these
populations, with a special focus on defendants
with anti-social beliefs that are treatable
through cognitive behavioral approaches. The
Commission also supports the recommendation
of the 2014 Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral
Health and the Criminal Justice System to
provide supportive housing for vulnerable,
justice-involved individuals.
The Commission believes that it is possible to
replace incarceration with a system of evidencebased alternatives in a broad range of cases,
including serious offenses. A speaker at one
Commission community roundtable shared her

Jail stays of 30 days or less on nonviolent
offenses should be effectively eliminated.
The vast majority of jail sentences in New York
City, especially on misdemeanor convictions,
are far too short to produce any incapacitation
benefit but not too short to have lasting negative
effects on defendants. In the words of Elizabeth
Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal
Justice, using short jail sentences as a sanction
for nonviolent, low-level criminal behavior is
The Commission recommends that the
New York Court System, the Mayor’s Office
of Criminal Justice, the five elected District
Attorneys, and the defense bar work together to
develop a plan to ensure that this happens.


The Department of Probation’s capacity
to supervise defendants in the community
should be expanded.
In recent years, the Department of Probation
has taken many innovative steps to make
the sentence of probation a means to enact
behavioral change and promote positive
outcomes. For example, beginning in 2012, the
Department began administering a validated
risk and needs assessment to all probationers
at intake and, based on the results, assigning
individuals to one of three carefully designed
supervision tracks. The Department also
recently launched community-based probation
centers, called the Neighborhood Opportunity
Network (NeON), to improve service delivery. The
Commission believes there is an opportunity to
expand the role of the Department of Probation
to provide community-based sentences for
more serious cases and higher-risk individuals.
Based on a thorough risk and needs assessment,
the Department of Probation could place
participating defendants in a program that uses
electronic technology and frequent reporting to
ensure compliance, safety, and positive growth.
In short, Probation could provide meaningful
alternatives for many individuals serving a long
jail sentence in our current system.
Alternatives to incarceration should be
expanded for youth ages 16 to 24, including
those facing serious charges.
Greater alternatives are needed at the
sentencing stage to give youth a second chance.
As Brooklyn has already done, all five boroughs
should expand participation in the existing
Adolescent Diversion Program from ages 16
and 17 through age 24 and should extend
eligibility to youth facing both misdemeanor and
nonviolent felony charges, as well as carefully
selected youth facing violent charges. Promising
programs such as Common Justice, which serves
youth ages 16-24 years old charged with violent
felony offenses including robbery and assault
through restorative justice principles, should
also be expanded citywide.


New York State should reform “good time”
credit on city jail sentences.
By statute, people sentenced to jail at Rikers
Island currently serve two-thirds of their
sentence. The Penal Law should be amended
to allow inmates to earn additional “good time”
credit, making possible a standard time served
of one-half instead of two-thirds. This change
would promote positive engagement for those
in jail and provide an incentive to participate
in available services. Currently, release after
serving two-thirds of your sentence is virtually
automatic. We believe people should earn halftime off their sentence through good behavior.
New York State should raise the age of
criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years.
New York and North Carolina are the only states
in the country that automatically prosecute
16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Research shows
that adolescents are especially likely to age
out of delinquent or unlawful behavior when
they are allowed to remain engaged with family,
school, and work.94 Time spent in an adult jail or
prison can slow or interrupt the natural “aging
out” process, and adolescents prosecuted in
the adult criminal justice system are 34 percent
more likely to be re-arrested than those whose
cases are removed to family court.95 Youth
charged with a crime should be treated as
the young people they are. The Commission
recommends raising the age of adult criminal
responsibility in New York to age 18.
At sentencing, the courts should take
into account any actions of the defendant
that demonstrate positive steps to change
Beyond the current charge, the defendant’s prior
criminal history, and the prosecutor’s sentencing
recommendation, other factors that should be
considered at sentencing include underlying
circumstances (prior history of drug addiction,
childhood or adult victimization, trauma, or other
mental health problems) and recent steps to
seek or participate in treatment. Prosecutors
should be encouraged, and given discretion,
to calculate these factors when making a plea
offer. Judges should be given the discretion to
consider these same factors when imposing a
sentence. And the defense bar should be given

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

the resources necessary to gather detailed
mitigation information about their clients to
present to the prosecutor and the court.
New York State should revamp its sentencing
laws to restore discretion to judges and make
all prison sentences determinate—i.e., with a
clear end date from the outset.
Judges are currently required by law to impose
a state prison sentence in a wide array of cases
involving a felony conviction. For example, except
for drug felonies,96 judges’ hands are tied in
nonviolent felony cases where the defendant
has a prior felony conviction at any time in the
past ten years. In these cases, a prison sentence
is required regardless of the judge’s appraisal
of the facts of the case or circumstances of the
defendant. Similarly, all convictions on Class B
and Class C violent felonies, including robbery
in the second degree, must result in prison time.
The Commission recommends that sentencing
minimums be removed from the law so that judges
have discretion, in appropriate cases, to impose a
lesser sentence than required by law currently.
For those who are sentenced to prison, the
length of the sentence should be crystal clear
from the outset. A determinate sentencing
scheme for all sentences would mean that all
prison sentences have a clear start and end
date and no discretion is left to the Parole Board
to determine early release. The New York State
Permanent Commission on Sentencing endorsed
a move to a determinate sentencing structure;
this Commission also supports that approach.

force should regularly publish the results of its
findings on a public website.
New policies and programs should be
We believe that New York City can achieve
significant jail reductions without compromising
public safety. This conclusion should be
subject to scrupulous verification. High-quality,
independent evaluations should be conducted to
examine the outcomes of all new diversion, bail,
case processing, and sentencing strategies. All
evaluation reports should be made public on a
timely basis.
Researchers should look at more than just
statistics. They should also seek to solicit
perceptions of several key constituencies
through repeated-measures surveys, focus
groups, and other forums. For example,
going forward researchers should conduct
a representative phone survey of the City’s
residents, testing confidence in justice, support
for law-abiding behavior, and attitudes towards
various criminal justice agencies, such as
the police department, prosecutors, public
defenders, and the courts. Researchers should
also document the experiences, attitudes, and
perceptions of people held in jail and the City’s
correction officers.

A task force devoted to jail reduction should
be established.
We propose the establishment of a multidisciplinary task force that would bring together
representatives from relevant City and State
criminal justice agencies, local criminal justice
nonprofits, and communities that are most
profoundly affected by crime and incarceration
in the City to help guide and monitor jail
reduction efforts. The task force should conduct
formal, COMPSTAT-like reviews of performance
data, analyzing the progress that the City is
making towards reducing the use of jail. The
task force should also examine efforts to reduce
racial and ethnic disparities at each stage
of the criminal justice process. And the task

Rethinking Incarceration


1.	See, for example, Herman, S. (2010). Parallel Justice for
Victims of Crime. Available at:
2.	Alliance for Safety and Justice. (2016). Crime Survivors
Speak: The First-Ever National Survey of Victims’ Views
on Safety and Justice, Alliance for Safety and Justice,
2016, p. 13.
3.	Kane-Willis, K., Aviles, G., Bazan, M., & Narloch, V.F. (2014).
Patchwork Policy: An Evaluation of Arrests and Tickets for
Marijuana Misdemeanors in Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois
Consortium on Drug Policy; Chauhan, P., Fera, A., Welsh, M,
Balazon, E. & Misshoula, E. (2014). Trends in Misdemeanor
Arrests in New York. New York, NY: John Jay College.
Retrieved from:
images/10_28_14_TOCFINAL.pdf; Kane, R.J., Gustafson, J.L.
& Bruell, C. (2013). Racial Encroachment and the Formal
Control of Space: Minority Group-Threat and Misdemeanor
Arrests in Urban Communities. Justice Quarterly, 30 (6),
957-982, DOI: 10.1080/07418825.2011.636376.
4. 	 Rempel, M., et al. (2017). Op Cit.
5. 	Kutateladze, B. L., Andiloro, N. R., Johnson, B. D., & Spohn,
C. C. (2014). Cumulative disadvantage: Examining Racial
and Ethnic Disparity in Prosecution and Sentencing.
Criminology, 52(3), 514-551.

11. 	Wilkey, A., Jacobs, A., & Petrilli, D. (2016). Women InJustice:
Gender and the Pathway to Jail in New York City. New York,
NY: The New York Women’s Foundation, John Jay College of
Criminal Justice, and Prisoner Reentry Institute.
12. 	See O’Keefe, K. (2006). The Brooklyn Mental Health
Court Evaluation: Planning, Implementation, Courtroom
Dynamics, and Participant Outcomes. New York, NY:
Center for Court Innovation. Available at: http://www.
pdf; Rossman, S. B., Willison, J. B., Mallik-Kane, K., Kim,
K., Debus-Sherrill, S., Downey, P. M. (2012). Criminal
Justice Interventions for Offenders with Mental Illness:
Evaluation of Mental Health Courts in Bronx and
Brooklyn, New York. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.
Available at:
13. 	For additional information, see

6. 	Ketateladze, B. L. et al. (2014), Op Cit.; Mitchell, O. &
MacKenzie, D. L. (2004). The Relationship Between Race,
Ethnicity, and Sentencing Outcome: A Meta-analysis of
Sentencing Research. Available at:

14. 	Where not otherwise noted or cited, all data reported in
this part of the report was provided by either the New
York State Unified Court System or the New York City
Department of Correction and Mayor’s Office of Criminal
Justice. The data was analyzed by Commission staff.

7. 	See, e.g., Farole, D. J. (2007). The New York State Residents
Survey: Public Perceptions of New York’s Courts. New
York, NY: Center for Court Innovation. Available at: http://
NYS_Residents_Survey.pdf; Rottman, D. B. (2005). Trust
and Confidence in the California Courts: A Survey of the
Public and Attorneys. Williamsburg, VA: National Center
for State Courts. Available at:
documents/4_37pubtrust1.pdf; Tyler, T. R., & Huo, Y. J.
(2002). Trust in the Law: Encouraging Public Cooperation
with the Police and Courts. New York, NY: Russell-Sage

15. 	See, e.g., Pinto, N. (2015). “The Bail Trap.” New York Times.
Retrieved at:
magazine/the-bail-trap.html?_r=0; and Subramanian, R.,
Moreno, R., and Gebreselassie, S. (2014). Relief in Sight?
States Rethink the Collateral Consequences of Criminal
Conviction, 2009-2014. New York, NY: Vera Institute of
Justice. Available at:

8. 	Velazquez, T. (2013). Young Adult Justice: A New Frontier
Worth Exploring. The Chronical of Social Change.
Retrieved from
the-case-for-a-young-adult-criminal-justice-systemby-tracy-velazquez/2683; Monahan, K. C., Steinberg,
L., Cauffman, E., & Mulvey, E. P. (2009). “Trajectories
of Antisocial Behavior and Psychosocial Maturity from
Adolescence to Young Adulthood.” Developmental
Psychology 45, 1654-1668; Mulvey, E. P., Steinberg, L,
Fagan, F., Cauffman, E., Piquero, A. R., Chassin, L., Knight,
G. P., Brame, R., Schubert, C. A., Hecker, T., & Losoya, S.
H. (2004). “Theory and Research on Desistance from
Antisocial Activity among Serious Adolescent Offenders.”
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 2: 213-236.
9. 	Dowden, C., & Andrews, D. A. (1999) “What Works in
Young Offender Treatment: A Meta-Analysis.” Forum on
Corrections Research 11: 21-24.; Lipsey, M. W. (2009). “The
Primary Factors that Characterize Effective Interventions
with Juvenile Offenders: A Meta-Analytic Overview.” Victims
& Offenders, 4, 124–147.


10. 	Swavola, E., Riley, K., and Subramanian, R. (2016).
Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform. New
York, NY: The Vera Institute of Justice. Vera Institute of
Justice, 9. Retrieved from

16. 	In 2016, the pre-scheduled arraignment dates on DATs
came an average of almost two months (56 days) after
the initial arrest. Research draws an explicit link between
a longer scheduling delay and a higher rate of failure to
17. 	For classification purposes, Commission staff classified all
misdemeanors as nonviolent with the following exceptions,
which were reclassified as violent: misdemeanors
flagged as domestic violence; misdemeanors from
sections 120 through 135 of the New York State Penal
Law (e.g., encompassing assault, menacing, sex offenses,
kidnapping, and related); misdemeanors related to arson
(PL 150); misdemeanors involving criminal contempt or
other offenses related to judicial or other proceedings (PL
215); public order misdemeanors (PL 240, except loitering
offenses, which were deemed nonviolent); misdemeanors
related to children (PL 260 and PL 263); and weapons and
other public safety-related misdemeanors (PL 265 and PL
18. 	Rempel, et al. (2017), Op Cit.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

19. 	Office of the Mayor of New York City. (2016). “Mayor de
Blasio Signs the Criminal Justice Reform Act” [press
release]. Retrieved from:
20. 	City of New York. (2014). Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral
Health and the Criminal Justice System: Action Plan. New
York, NY: City of New York.
21. 	Tallon, J., et al (2016), Op Cit.
22. 	See, e.g., Collins, S. E., Lonczak, H. S., and Clifasefi,
S. L. (2015). LEAD Program Evaluation: Recidivism
Report. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.
Available at:
THZWrXr5nuU%3D; and Collins, S. E., Lonczak, H. S.,
and Clifasefi, S. L. (2016). LEAD Program Evaluation:
The Impact of LEAD on Housing, Employment,
and Income/Benefits. Seattle, WA: University of
Washington. Available at:
23. 	Judges remanded 0.8 percent of defendants directly to jail
(without chance of bail) and sent 1.5 percent to supervised
release, a new program that provides supervision in the
community as an alternative to bail.
24. 	Rempel, M., et al. (2017), Op Cit.; Human Rights Watch.
(2010). The Price of Freedom: Bail and Pretrial Detention of
Low Income Nonfelony Defendants in New York City. New
York, NY: Human Rights Watch.
25. 	Poll commissioned by the Center for Court Innovation,
26. 	Rempel, M., et al. (2017), Op Cit.
27. 	Lowenkamp, C. T., VanNostrand, M., and Holsinger, A.
(2013). The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention. New York,
NY: Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
28. 	Phillips, M. T. (2004). Research Brief: Release and Bail
Decisions in New York City. New York, NY: Criminal Justice
Agency; Phillips, M. T. (2012). A Decade of Bail Research
in New York City. New York, NY: Criminal Justice Agency;
Rempel, et al. (2017), Op Cit.
29. 	Phillips, M. T. (2012), Op Cit.; Rempel et al. (2017), Op Cit.
30. 	See Criminal Procedure Law of New York § 510.30 (a.2).
31. 	White, E., Labriola, M. Kerodal, A., Jensen, E., & Rempel, M.
(2015). Navigating the Bail Payment System in New York
City: Findings and Recommendations. Center for Court
Innovation. Available at:
32. 	The nine forms of bail authorized under New York law are
cash bail, insurance company bail bond, secured surety
bond, secured appearance bond, partially secured surety
bond, partially secured appearance bond, unsecured
surety bond, unsecured appearance bond, and credit card
bail. See Criminal Procedure Law of New York § 520.10.
33. 	People ex rel. McManus v. Horn, 18 N.Y.3d 660 (2012).
34. 	Phillips, M. T. (2014). Paying for Bail on Credit: Research
Brief. New York, NY: Criminal Justice Agency.

36. 	Rahman, I. (2017, forthcoming). Alternative Forms of Bail:
A New York City Experiment on Partially Secured and
Unsecured Bonds at Arraignments. New York: Vera Institute
of Justice.
37. 	Hahn, J. (2016). An Experiment in Bail Reform: Examining
the Impact of the Brooklyn Supervised Release Program.
New York, NY: Center for Court Innovation. Available
Phillips, M. T. (2012). Decade of Bail Research in New York
City. New York, NY: New York City Criminal Justice Agency.
38. 	Lowenkamp, C., VanNostrand, M., & Holsinger, A.
(2013). Investigating the Impact of Pretrial Detention on
Sentencing Outcomes. Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
Retrieved from
FNL.pdf; Williams, M. (2003). “The Effect of Pretrial
Detention on Imprisonment Decisions.” Criminal Justice
Review, 28; Devers, L. (2011). Plea and Charge Bargaining.
U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistances.
39. 	Rempel, M., et al. (2017), 89-92, Op Cit.
40. 	A few other exclusion criteria include not having an open,
unresolved case involving a violent felony offense, not
having a hold issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE); and not having a parole or probation
41. 	Hahn, J. (2016), Op Cit.
42. 	Solomon, F. & Ferri, R. (2016). Community Supervision as
a Money Bail Alternative: The Impact of CJA’s Manhattan
Supervised Release Program on Legal Outcomes and
Pretrial Misconduct. New York, NY: New York City Criminal
Justice Agency.
43. 	Solomon, F. (2015). Impact of the Queens Supervised
Release Program on Legal Outcomes. New York, NY: New
York City Criminal Justice Agency.
44. 	The supervised release programs in the Bronx, Brooklyn,
and Staten Island are run by the Center for Court
Innovation. The program in Manhattan is run by the Center
for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services
(CASES). The program in Queens is run by the New York
City Criminal Justice Agency.
45. 	These jail population reductions are much less than the
annual volume projections, since most participants would
otherwise have spent much less than a full year in jail, and
by simple math, one must save a full bed-year in order to
reduce the daily jail population by one.
46. 	New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. (2017).
Supervised Release Monthly Scorecard.
47. 	This is based on an internal analysis conducted by the
Center for Court Innovation.
48. 	New York City Criminal Justice Agency. (2016), Op Cit.
49. 	New York City Criminal Justice Agency. (2016), Op Cit.
50. 	This idea is broadly analogous to legislation recently
advanced by New York City Council Member Rory
Lancman, Chair of the Committee on Courts and Legal
51. 	Bonta, J., & Andrews, D. A. (2007), Op Cit.; Fritsche, S. et al.
(2017), Op Cit.

35. 	Jones, M. R. (2013). Unsecured Bonds: The As Effective and
Most Efficient Pretrial Release Option. Washington, D.C.:
Pretrial Justice Institute.

Rethinking Incarceration


52. 	Andrews, D. A., Bonta, J., and Wormith, S. J. 2006. “The
Recent Past and Near Future of Risk and/or Need
Assessment.” Crime and Delinquency 52, 7-27; Bonta,
J., & Andrews, D. A. (2007). Risk-Need-Responsivity
Model for Offender Rehabilitation. Public Safety Canada
and Carlton University. Available at: https://cpoc.; Fritsche, S., Rempel, M., Reich, W., Farley, E.
J., and Kerodal, A. 2016. Implementing Evidence-Based
Assessment and Treatment Matching: A Feasibility and
Impact Study in Three New York City Drug Courts. New
York, NY: Center for Court Innovation. Available at: http://
and%20Treatment%20Matching.pdf; Fritsche, S., Rempel,
M., Tallon, J. A., Adler, J., & Reyes, N. (2017). Demystifying
Risk Assessment: Key Principles and Controversies.
Center for Court Innovation; Available at: http://www.; Gendreau, P., Little,
T., & Goggin, C. (1996). “A Meta-Analysis of the Predictors
of Adult Offender Recidivism: What works!” Criminology,
34, 575-607; Hilton, N. Z., Harris, G. T., & Rice, M. E. (2006).
Sixty-Six Years of Research on the Clinical Versus Actuarial
Prediction of Violence. The Counseling Psychologist, 34,
400-409; Reich, W., Fritsche, S., Rempel, M., and Farley,
E. J. (2016). “Treatment Modality, Failure, and Re-Arrest: A
Test of the Risk Principle with Substance-Abusing Criminal
Defendants.” Journal of Drug Issues 46: 3: 234-246.
53. 	See, e.g., Chouldechova, A. (2016). Fair Prediction with
Disparate Impact: A Study of Bias in Recidivism Prediction
Instruments. Available at:
pdf; Kleinberg, J., Mullainathan, S., & Raghavan, M. (2016).
Inherent Trade-Offs in the Fair Determination of Risk
Scores. Available at:
54. 	Hannah-Moffat, K. (2009). Gridlock or Mutability:
Reconsidering ‘Gender’ and Risk Assessment. Criminology
and Public Policy, 8, 209-219.
55. 	Grann, M. and Wedin, M. (2002). “Risk Factors for
Recidivism Among Spousal Assault and Spousal Homicide
Offenders.” Psychology, Crime, and Law 8:5-23; Hilton,
N.Z., G.T. Harris, and M.E. Rice. 2001. “Predicting Violence
by Serious Wife Assaulters.” Journal of Interpersonal
Violence 16 (5): 408-423; Quinsey, V., Harris, G. T., Rice,
M. E., and Cormier, C. 1998. Violent Offenders: Appraising
and Managing Risk (1st ed.). Washington, D.C.: American
Psychological Association.
56. 	Feeley, M. M. (2013). Court Reform on Trial: Why Simple
Solutions Fail. New Orleans, LA: Quid Pro Books.
57. 	Lowenkamp, C. T., and Latessa, E. J. (2004). “Understanding
the Risk Principle: How and Why Correctional Interventions
Can Harm Low-Risk Offenders.” Topics in Community
Corrections. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of
Corrections; Lowenkamp, C. T., Latessa, E. J., & Holsinger,
A. M. (2006). “The Risk Principle in Action: What Have
We Learned from 13,676 Offenders and 97 Correctional
Programs?” Crime & Delinquency 52:77-92; Andrews, D.
A. et al. (1990). “Does Correctional Treatment Work? A
Clinically Relevant and Psychologically Informed MetaAnalysis.” Criminology, 28.
58. 	Cissner, A. B., Rempel, M., Franklin, A. W., Roman, J. K.,
Bieler, S., Cohen, R., & Cadoret, C. R. (2013). A Statewide
Evaluation of New York’s Drug Courts: Identifying Which
Policies Work Best. New York, NY: Center for Court
Innovation, and Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.
Available at:

59. 	Lipsey, M. W., Landberger, N. A., & Wilson, S. J. (2007).
Effects of Cognitive-Behavioral Programs for Criminal
Offenders. Oslo, Norway: Campbell Systematic Reviews.
60. 	Miller, M., Drake, E., & Nafziger, M. (2013). What Works
to Reduce Recidivism by Domestic Violence Offenders?
(Document No. 13-01-1201). Olympia, WA: Washington
State Institute for Public Policy. Radatz, D. L. & Wright, E. M.
(2015). “Integrating the Principles of Effective Intervention
into Batterer Intervention Programming: The Case for
Moving Toward More Evidence-Based Programming.”
Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 1-16.
61. 	Lipsey, M. W. et al. (2007), Op Cit.
62. 	Kutateladze et al. (2014), Op Cit.
63. 	Rempel, M., et al. (2017), Op Cit.
64. 	Ibid.
65. 	Human Rights Watch. (2010). The Price of Freedom:
Bail and Pretrial Detention of Low Income Non-Felony
Defendants in New York City. New York: Human Rights
66. 	New York Criminal Procedure Law § 510.30.
67. 	Quoted in Goldstein, T. (1975, October 2). “Time Limit is Set
on Felony Trials.” New York Times. Available at: http://www.
68. 	New York State Unified Court System. Standard and Goal
Guidelines. Retrieved from
69. 	DiFiore, J. (2016, February 8). Investiture Remarks.
Retrieved from
70. 	DiFiore, J. (2017, February 22). The State of Our Judiciary
2017. Address presented in the Bronx County Hall of
Justice, February 22, 2017, Bronx, NY.
71. 	If case processing reforms are added to the prior pretrial
recommendations, which would remove a large number
of defendants from pretrial detention in the first place,
improved case processing would still reduce the daily jail
population by approximately 850 more individuals.
72. 	Rempel, M., Fisler, C., Kerodal, A., Spadafore, J., Lambson,
S. H., & Berg, R. (2017). Felony Case Processing in New
York City: Findings and Recommendations. New York, NY:
Center for Court Innovation, see pages 22-23. Available at:
73. 	Unindicted felonies either had their charges reduced or
dismissed in the lower Criminal Court or reached a preindictment felony plea agreement, known as a Superior
Court Information or SCI.
74. 	Steelman, D. C. & Griller, G. M. (2013). Rethinking Felony
Caseflow Management to Create a Culture of High
Performance. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State
Courts. Available at:
75. 	Ibid., see page 70.
76. 	Hard data analysis to quantify the effect of discovery- or
defense-related delays was not possible.
77. 	Ibid., see pages 48-51.
78. 	DiFiore, J. (2017). Op. Cit.


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

79. 	See Criminal Procedure Law of New York § 30.30 (1) (a-d).
80. 	DiFiore, J. (2017). Op. Cit.
81. 	Van Duizend, R., et al. (2011), Op Cit. There are two
important differences between the Model Time Standards
proposed by the National Center for State Courts and the
Commission’s recommendations. The first difference is
that, consistent with the state court system’s longstanding
180-day standard, we allow the 180-day time clock to begin
ticking after indictment and to apply only to Supreme
Court processing, thus exempting up to several months of
pre-indictment case processing time in the lower Criminal
Court. The second difference is that the Commission is
not including unindicted cases in the standard, whereas
the National Center for State Courts includes all felonies,
regardless of whether or not they are indicted. These
divergences respectively make our proposed standard
easier and more difficult to meet than the Model Time
Standards, deviations that we believe largely cancel each
other out but that are logical, given the multijurisdictional
nature of felony case processing in New York State. A final
deviation is, of course, that we allow for a longer standard
for homicide and sex offense cases, whereas the Model
Time Standards does not allow for any variations based on
the charge.
82. 	Steelman, D. C. & Griller, G. M. (2013), Op Cit, see page 39
for the list of states whose practices were examined.
83. 	Rempel, M., Fisler, C. et al. (2017), Op Cit.
84. 	Steelman, D. C. & Griller, G. M. (2013), Op Cit.
85. 	Technically, the memorandum issued by Hon. Matthew
D’Emic proposed the slightly more ambitious standard of
four weeks (exactly 28 days).
86. 	Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. (2017). February 9, 2017
Case Processing Weekly Briefing.
87. 	Ibid. Demonstrating that change is possible, the Brooklyn
Supreme Court saw a 307 percent improvement in meeting
the first of these milestones when comparing February
2016 to February 2017.

92. 	Salisbury, E. J. and Voorhis, P. V. (2009). “Gendered
Pathways: A Quantitative Investigation of Women
Probationers’ Paths to Incarceration.” Criminal Justice and
Behavior 36: 6: 541-566. See, also, the extended discussion
in Wilkey, A., Jacobs, A., & Petrilli, D. (2016). Women
InJustice: Gender and the Pathway to Jail in New York City.
New York, NY: The New York Women’s Foundation, John Jay
College of Criminal Justice, and Prisoner Reentry Institute.
93. 	Wilkey, A., et al. (2016), Op Cit.
94. 	Holman, B. & Ziedenberg, J. (2006). The Dangers
of Detention: The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in
Detention and Other Secure Facilities. Washington, D.
C.: Justice Policy Institute (2006). Available at: http://
95. 	Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Effects
on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer
of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult Justice System:
Report on Recommendations of the Task Force on
Community Preventive Services; Raise the Age NY (2013).
National Campaign to Reform State Juvenile Justice
Systems, The Fourth Wave: Juvenile Justice Reforms for
the Twenty-first Century. Available at: http://raisetheageny.
96. 	Waller, M., Carey, S. M., Farley, E. J., and Rempel, M. (2013).
Testing the Cost Savings of Judicial Diversion: Final
Report. Portland, OR: NPC Research and Center for Court
Innovation. Available at:
97. 	New York State Permanent Commission on Sentencing.
(2014). A Proposal for “Fully Determinate” Sentencing for
New York State: A Recommendation to the Chief Judge
of the State of New York. Available at: http://www.courts.

88. 	See S.5988,
89. 	Data on Westchester County was provided by the New York
State Office of Court Administration.
90. 	Lowenkamp, C. T., VanNostrand, M, & Holsinger, A. (2013).
The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention. New York, NY:
Laura and John Arnold Foundation (2013). Available at:
LJAF%202013.pdf; Nagin, D. S., Cullen, F. T., & Johnson,
C. L. (2009). “Imprisonment and Reoffending,” in vol. 38
of Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, ed. M. Tonry.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 115-200; Villettaz,
P., Gillieron, G., & Killias, M. (2015). The Effects on Reoffending of Custodial vs. Non-Custodial Sanctions: An
Updated Systematic Review of the State of Knowledge.
Oslo, Norway: Campbell Systematic Reviews.
91. 	Lee et al. (2013), Op Cit.; Sviridoff et al. (2001), Op Cit.; and
Swaner, R. (2010). Community Perceptions of Red Hook,
Brooklyn: Views of Quality of Life, Safety, and Services.
Available at:

Rethinking Incarceration


of Jails


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Reducing the City’s jail population by half, as
detailed above, creates a unique opportunity
for New York City to realize a new vision for its
jail system. The Commission believes that the
use of Rikers Island must be phased out over
the next ten years and its facilities demolished.
Given Rikers’s remote location and history—and
the persistent culture of violence and loss of
humanity inherent to a penal colony—rebuilding
on the Island is not an option. The foundation
for a new, more efficient, effective and humane
system begins with building a smaller, boroughbased jail system to replace the isolated,
crumbling, and violence-plagued jails on Rikers
Island. Our goal is to provide a safe and healthy
environment for those detained as well as those
who work in our jails. We want to end the “out
of sight, out of mind” approach to corrections
by developing facilities that are more accessible
to families, employees, service providers, and
criminal justice agencies.
Building an entirely new correctional system
may sound daunting, but the costs of staying
on Rikers Island are far steeper in the long run.
The jails on Rikers Island are poorly designed,
old, and most have long passed the end of their
useful life. The design and deterioration of the
jails create dangers for everyone on the Island.
The fiscal costs of maintaining operations in
these facilities, both on and off the Island, are
staggering—more than $650 per detainee per
day—and far greater than any other comparable
jail system in the country. The Commission’s
vision for a new system would save the City
over a billion dollars a year. And the Island’s
redevelopment would make a significant
contribution to the City’s economy to the benefit
of all New Yorkers.

The Future of Jails

At least as important as any of the preceding
considerations, closing Rikers Island affirms our
values as New Yorkers—we believe in a system
that is fair, effective, humane, and just.
The Commission recommends building
facilities in each of the five boroughs, creating a
system capacity of 5,500 beds. These facilities
would be located in city centers near or adjacent
to courthouses and in close proximity to public
transportation. The new facilities would replace
existing, dilapidated facilities in Brooklyn,
Queens, and Manhattan, while City-owned land
should be identified for new facilities in the
Bronx and Staten Island.
In spelling out our vision on the pages that
follow, we seek to answer four questions in

What is wrong with the jail facilities
on Rikers Island?
What should the jails of tomorrow
look like?
What are the cost implications of
moving away from a penal colony to a
smaller, borough-based jail system?
Where should borough-based jails
be located and how can the site
selection process be both fair and
responsive to community concerns?



The Problems with
Rikers Island
All buildings begin to deteriorate at some point.
When jail facilities begin to deteriorate, the
impacts are significant, increasing the risk of
escape and violence.1
The first correction facilities on Rikers Island
were built in the 1930s. Some of the original
facilities remain in use today.2 Of the facilities
currently being used on Rikers Island, the
average age is 43 years old and only two were
built as recently the 1990s, both coming online
in 1991.




































West Facility




The jails on Rikers Island are plagued with
problems: rotting floorboards, malfunctioning
heating and cooling systems, sewage backups,
leaking roofs,5 broken showers, and flooded
bathrooms.6 A participant at our Bronx design
workshops who was formerly held on Rikers
explained, “My living situation was unfit for

a human, so I began to act inhuman, and
was treated that way too.”7 This is a common
reaction—as Mary Lynne Werlwas of the
Legal Aid Society noted, “There is an inexorable link between [jail] conditions and the
violence that occurs within jails. The conditions
send the message to those detained and the
workforce that ordinary rules of decency
don’t apply.”8
The physical plant on Rikers Island makes
everybody’s life miserable—detainees and staff
alike. It also undermines safety. Detainees have
been able to pop open their cells because the
locks do not work properly. Roof leaks have
caused malfunctions to the system used to
lock cell doors.9 And there have been numerous
examples of detainees fashioning weapons
from broken equipment.10 Indeed, a 2014 review
revealed that “the overwhelming majority of
weapons found in the jails are improvised
from materials already inside.”11 The poor
condition of the facilities provides detainees
with a veritable arsenal: plastic torn from
light fixtures, metal from radiators,12 and even
sprinkler heads offer raw material for weapons.13
As the Board of Correction concluded, to stem
the tide of violence, the “DOC must do more
to address the jails’ deteriorating physical
According to Commissioner Joseph Ponte,
Rikers’s outdated buildings have fundamental
design problems that limit the ability of the
Department to make improvements.15 The

Governor Cuomo on Rikers Island
In recent months, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been a consistent voice arguing for change
on Rikers Island. According to Governor Cuomo, “Rikers Island is one of those long-term
injustices and abuses that every New Yorker should be outraged about—every New Yorker.”
Among other things, Governor Cuomo has said the design of the complex is outdated
and unsafe.


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

The Future of Jails

Rikers Island is an Isolated Penal Colony
Borough-based jails, located near courthouses,
would significantly reduce the time and
resources needed to ferry individuals to and
from both the courts, lowering transportation
costs, improving court production rates, and
easing impact on detainees and staff.
Approximately 10 percent of the jail
population, more than 1000 people, is
transported off the Island each day for court
appearances and other appointments across
the five boroughs. This is a significant burden
for all concerned. Tina Luongo, of the Legal Aid
Society, testified before the Commission:

If you want to exercise your right to trial, then
every single morning you have to get up at 3
AM to get to court (with no breakfast). In one
case, if Legal Aid needed to talk to a person
or prep him because he needed to testify, he
had to stay late and get on the late bus back
to Rikers, only to get back up again at 3 AM.
This is why people plea out. They had to beg
correction officers to feed him breakfast
because he was starving.
Considering the difficulty of getting around New
York City, the Department of Correction does a
decent job of transporting detainees. But the
sheer volume of people needing to be ferried
means that inevitably mistakes happen. The
FY 2016 Mayor’s Management Report revealed
that the Department successfully produced
detainees to court only 84 percent of the time.
This has a significant impact not only on the
lives of detainees and their families but on the
efficiency of the justice system—the failure to
produce detainees for court contributes to the
problem of court delay.22 Towards the end of FY
2016, the Department made court production a
priority. In the first quarter of FY 2017, they were
able to raise court production to 98 percent.23
While this is a significant achievement, court
production remains a significant drain on
departmental resources.
The isolation of the Island also has the
unintended consequence of leading to
unnecessary and meaningless incarceration.
Forty percent of defendants with bail set are
able to pay it and be released. However, threequarters of those making bail are not able to pay


design of the jail facilities on Rikers—with cells
arranged along long corridors, connecting
to day rooms and program spaces at right
angles—mean that staff come into contact with
the incarcerated population only at irregular
intervals, and often around corners. It is difficult
for staff to detect tensions in the population
until after conflicts have begun. Often, additional
help can only be summoned after the fact.16 At
one of the Commission’s community roundtable
events, a panelist remarked, “In Rikers you have
staff getting to the scene of an incident not to
prevent or stop what's about to go down, but to
clean up the mess.”
As architect and national jail expert Ken Ricci
told the Commission, “jails as we know them are
obsolete—they are based on outmoded ideas
and are not suitable to current challenges. Jails
were originally meant for short-term detention,
but now all of society’s problems show up at the
front door of the jail, and the jails are not suited
to handle it.”
The outmoded nature of the facilities
on Rikers also interferes with therapeutic
programming and medical care. Detainees
must be transported down long corridors to
get to housing and programming, recreation,
healthcare, or visitation areas. Ronald Day
of the Fortune Society told the Commission,
“the way the facilities are currently structured
requires a significant amount of time to get
people to visits, which are the very things that
make people remember they are human.”17
Depending on security classifications, certain
populations are not authorized to pass each
other in the hallways, which can lead to
transport backups and significant delays.18
This is one reason why detainees often arrive
late (or not at all) to programs or appointments,
making it difficult for program providers to
operate effectively.19
More fundamentally, the buildings on
Rikers Island do not have enough private, safe
spaces to provide detainees with effective
on-site programming.20 This is particularly true
for mental health care.21 Many therapeutic
groups on Rikers take place in decidedly
un-therapeutic settings—in housing areas or
day rooms where there is little privacy and a
great deal of disruption and competition for
detainees’ attention.


Borough-based jails, located
near courthouses, would
significantly reduce the time
and resources needed to ferry
individuals to and from the
courts, lowering transportation
costs, improving court
production rates, and easing
impact on inmates and staff.







1. Rikers Island
Only accessible by the Q100 bus
2. Bronx Criminal and Supreme
Accessible by B, D, 2, 4, and trains,
and numerous buses
3. New York County Criminal
and Supreme Courts
Accessible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, A, C, J, R,
W, and Z trains, and numerous buses


4. Staten Island Criminal Court
and Richmond County Supreme
Accessible by Staten Island Ferry,
SIRR, and numerous buses
5. Kings County Criminal and
Supreme Courts
Accessible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, A, C, F, G,
J, and R trains, and numerous buses

6. Queens County Criminal Court
Accessible by E, F, and LIRR trains,
and numerous buses
7. Queens County Supreme Court
Accessible E, F, J, and Z trains, and
numerous buses

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

until after they have been transported to Rikers.
Many end up being held in jail for up to a week
only because their family or friends do not have
adequate time to make it to the courthouse and
pay the required bail before the bus to Rikers
departs.24 If the family is not able to post bail
at the court, they must go to a Department of
Correction facility to post bail. This is no simple
matter. Researchers from the Center for Court
Innovation have documented the difficulties of
posting bail at these facilities.25 Borough-based
facilities would make it easier for families to post
bail, potentially shaving hours, even days, off the
current process.
Rikers’s isolation also hinders the
effectiveness of defense attorneys. Currently,
defense attorneys who need to meet with a
client on Rikers must spend a full day out of
the office and away from court. This barrier
can inhibit attorney-client communication and
complicate efforts to provide effective advocacy.
Defense attorneys are hardly the only
service providers affected by Rikers’s isolation.
For a variety of reasons, it is often necessary
to provide detainees with treatment off the
Island. Unfortunately, these mental health
appointments are often not kept. According to
the Board of Correction, which only recently
began compiling data, detainees missed 9,127
appointments in April 2016; 9,524 in May 2016;
10,325 in June 2016; and 10,770 in July 2016.26
Rikers Island also creates significant barriers
for social service providers, who must travel
great distances to get to the Island. Boroughbased facilities would enable these providers to
increase programming opportunities, facilitating
successful reentry for those leaving detention
and returning to community life.
As painful as it is for service providers to
navigate travel to Rikers Island, it is worse for the
family members of detainees. We know that regular
contact with loved ones during a person’s time
in jail can improve outcomes.27 It is difficult to
achieve this kind of contact for many detainees at
Rikers Island. For women and young people held
on Rikers, this reality is particularly troubling.
As Ashley Viruet, of the grassroots
organization West Side Commons, highlighted
at a community roundtable, incarcerated women
are often the primary caregiver for their children,
making community-based facilities all the more

The Future of Jails

important: “To take that mother and caregiver
away, and then also to need the grandmother
or aunt or whoever is taking care of the kids
to bring them to Rikers Island is very difficult.
Having something closer would keep that
bond.”28 Angela Mamelka of Greenhope Services
for Women underscored the value of connecting
young people to sources of support outside of
Rikers: “It's very important for youth to be able to
see their parents, to know that somebody is still
there and that they haven't been forgotten while
they're so far away from home.”29
The vast majority of those detained on
Rikers Island will eventually return home to
their communities. Fewer than 10 percent of
those discharged will be sent to state prison.30
As we heard from correctional administrators,
a key challenge is how to facilitate successful
transitions back to community life. Historically,
detainees have either been released directly
from court or brought from Rikers to Queens
Plaza in the early hours of the morning and
handed a MetroCard with instructions to find
their way home.31 People with certain mental
health needs now have access to a more guided
reentry process, but these services are voluntary
and those without psychiatric issues often
decline them.32 When detainees are released
from court, they do not get their belongings
unless they return to Rikers at another point
within 30 days to collect their property.
We can do better than this.
The Island’s isolation limits reentry planning.
A borough-based jail system, in contrast, would
decrease travel time and expense, facilitating
visits with detainees and enhancing the
likelihood of successful reentry upon release.
Chris Watler of the Center for Employment
Opportunities, stressed the challenges
of delivering reentry programming to an
isolated location: “New York City used to have
community-based jails, and it would be much
easier to work with people if the men and women
we serve were closer to the community.”33
Over the past generation, many criminal
justice agencies—including police, prosecutors,
probation and the courts—have acknowledged
the importance of forging stronger bonds with
local residents and the difficulties that emerge



when agencies are dislocated from communities.
This is the idea behind community justice.
In New York, this impulse has given rise to a
broad range of innovative programs, including
the Probation Department’s Neighborhood
Opportunity Network (NeON) and local
courthouses like the Red Hook Community
Justice Center and the Midtown Community
The idea of community justice has touched
almost every part of the justice system in New
York City, save for the Department of Correction.
Would having jails based in the community
strengthen the sense of mission among staff
across the Department? Would it help forge
stronger connections between New Yorkers and
the Department? Would it improve the outcomes
the Department achieves? We will never find the
answers to these questions if we continue to
operate a penal colony on the outskirts of town,
far removed from New York City neighborhoods
and their residents.

A New and Better System
In speaking to the Commission, Reverend Al
Sharpton stated that “[The United States hasn’t]
really considered the model of incarceration
in this country since the nineteenth-century—
we need to update what twenty first-century
incarceration looks like.”34
The Commission attempted to take up this
challenge. We believe that building modern jail
facilities in each of the boroughs would help
create a safer, more humane, and more costefficient correctional system for New York.
One way or another, new jail facilities are
essential if New York City hopes to have a
modern correctional system that promotes the
safety of detainees and officers. Rather than
building on Rikers Island, the Commission
recommends developing state-of-the-art jails in
each of the five boroughs with a much smaller
system bed capacity of 5,500. (It is necessary
to construct a jail system with a slightly larger
capacity to account for separating certain
populations based on security classifications
and for ongoing maintenance.)35
Under this scenario, facilities would be
constructed in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens,
Staten Island, and Manhattan. These vertical

facilities would vary in size, based on the
expected population in each borough. According
to the Commission’s analysis, the largest facility
would be Manhattan and the smallest would
be Staten Island. Each of the facilities would
have varying capacities proportional to the
population held from each Borough. Ideally, the
jail facilities would be developed on City-owned
property and as close to the courthouse as is
practically possible to limit transportation needs
and case processing delays. This could include
replacing the existing borough facilities or
identifying other land near each of the borough
These new facilities would be designed to
serve not just detainees, corrections officers,
and other staff, but surrounding neighborhoods.
The exterior appearance of any jail facility
should inspire confidence in what happens
inside. There are many examples in the United
States and abroad of holding facilities that
manage to balance the demands of security
with the need to present a welcoming face
to the neighborhood. The exteriors of jail
facilities should reflect the look and feel of their
surroundings. They should also contain separate
units, to be accessed from the street, that house
services that offer programming to facilitate
rehabilitation and reentry. These spaces could
also be used to hold community meetings or
public services like a library, a job training
center, classrooms, as well as commercial and
retail businesses.
The Commission’s vision for a more humane
jail system in New York City is based on a facility
design that is as unrestrictive as possible while
still managing risk of flight, self-harm, and harm to
others. It is also based on re-engineering how the
Department of Correction conceives of its work.
The ideal jail environment maximizes freedom
of choice and movement, enabling detainees
to access a range of services—like counseling,
education, recreation, family visits, and health
care—and make choices about how they spend
their time with minimal intervention from staff.
In order for this model to function safely, the
Department of Correction will need to prioritize
training and employ a highly nuanced security
and needs classification system that takes into
account age, mental dexterity, maturity, and
gender preferences.36

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Design has a direct impact on behavior.
Traditionally, jails in the United States have been
designed using a ‘reactive’ versus ‘proactive’
approach; they are essentially built to respond
to negative behavior rather than to encourage
positive behavior.37 Even when they are wellmaintained, traditional jails tend to have low
ceilings, poor acoustics, artificial lighting, and
other elements that make for an oppressive
environment.38 A formerly incarcerated
participant at a design workshop in the Bronx
reported that the noise on Rikers Island was so
loud and pervasive that he could still hear it in
his head after his release.39
Traditional jails are typically designed using
a linear, intermittent surveillance model. On
Rikers, single or multiple-occupancy cells are
lined up along corridors that typically meet at
right angles, offering limited opportunities for
monitoring by corrections officers. Even more
dangerous, many detainees on Rikers are housed
in large group rooms with little to no privacy.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We know
that jail design can actually help achieve
better outcomes. Certain European countries

have invested in facilities with progressive
programming strategies and therapeutic
environments. Facilities like the Bastoy and
Halden prisons in Norway, as well as Heidering
prison in Germany, acknowledge the reality
that incarcerated individuals will eventually be
released back into the community.40 Though
prisons, the facilities do occasionally hold pretrial detainees. The philosophy does not change
for either population. These facilities provide
apartment-style housing, including shared
kitchens and individual cells with televisions,
computers, showers, and bathrooms. With the
exception of those requiring closer supervision,
the general population is permitted to move
freely throughout the facilities. Many of the
buildings incorporate safety glass on their
exteriors to maximize natural light, as well as
soft furnishings inside to create normalized,
comforting interiors.
In keeping with the space design, staff in
these facilities rely on communication skills and
de-escalation tactics to maintain order, rather
than remote supervision and the use of force.
In Germany specifically, corrections officers

Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center
Denver Sheriff Department

The Future of Jails


undergo a two-year program that includes
communication skills training, criminal law, and
educational theory in addition to self-defense.41
This approach professionalizes corrections
officers, helps them see their role within its
social and political context, and gives them the
interpersonal skills necessary to maintain safety
in open, free-movement settings.
Inspired in part by the examples of good
practice that we have learned about in other
parts of the world, the Commission believes that
a state-of-the-art jail system for New York should
incorporate the following elements:
The use of a direct supervision design and management model that improves relationships between
staff and detainees and relies on clear sightlines
and communication skills to maintain order
Social services housed together in a town
center, including courtrooms for early
appearances, allowing individuals the freedom to
access programming in a central location
An emphasis on clustered housing that
groups detainees together thoughtfully, with a
special focus on the unique needs of special
populations, including women, adolescents,
transgender detainees, and those with mental
health issues
The use of regular fixtures and furnishings,
as well as natural light, softer artificial lighting,
better acoustics, and temperature control to
reduce stress and encourage good behavior
An evidence-based admissions process that
begins planning for reentry at the moment of intake
Humane visiting procedures that encourage
family members, loved ones, and communitybased service providers to remain connected to
those behind bars
A new approach that emphasizes mental health
care for those struggling with behavioral health
An investment in high-quality staff training for
corrections officers, including a new training


A commitment to improving perceptions of
legitimacy as a means to promoting compliance
with jail rules
A sense of mission that is spread throughout
the entire Department of Correction and
incorporated into everything the Department
Each of these elements is described in more
detail below.
Direct Supervision
A “direct supervision” jail design provides
improved sightlines for officers and more options
for successfully managing detainee behavior.
It reduces the physical barriers between staff
and detainees. And it facilitates constant staff
interaction with detainees, enabling problems to
be identified and resolved as quickly as possible.42
The direct supervision model is a state-ofthe-art approach specifically designed to relieve
these issues. In this layout, officers are posted
within residential units that are arranged like
pods, with cells wrapping around central living
areas. Spending the majority of their time within
these living areas, officers can monitor all
detainees at once and use relationship-building
and de-escalation skills to keep violence at
bay. In high-rise buildings, direct supervision
functions by managing each floor as its own
unit in order to minimize the vertical movement
of detainees. Former corrections officers who
attended the Commission’s design workshops
stressed the importance of facility design that
allows for the supervision of more detainees
at once to improve their approach to inmate
behavior management. They also reinforced the
need for a more efficient layout that relieves the
stress and dangers of transporting detainees
from one area of the facility to another.
The original direct supervision facilities in
the United States were federal facilities opened
in the 1970s. The goal was to provide a more
humane experience for residents while allowing
staff to exert minimum effort in supervising the
incarcerated population.43 Over the last several
decades, a number of new direct supervision
facilities have opened up across the United
States. Members of the Commission were able to
visit several of these facilities, including the Van

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Las Colinas Jail in San Diego
Media Relations Office/San Diego County
Sheriff's Department

Cise-Simonet Detention Center in Denver, which
connects directly to a courthouse. Designed
to look like any other civic building, the facility
blends in completely with the surrounding
neighborhood.44 Arlington County Jail in Virginia
is another direct supervision facility that is
unimposing from the outside and also directly
connected to a courthouse.45 At Arlington,
staff actively manage detainee behavior and
are encouraged to teach detainees to be selfsufficient.46 The Westchester County Detention
Facility in Valhalla, New York operates several
direct supervision units. Its staff have reported
an improvement in detainee behavior by ensuring
there are clear sightlines into all areas of the
housing units, and by incorporating humancentered design elements, including natural light,
soft acoustics, and a light color palette.47
Direct supervision is not just a design
concept. It is an operational philosophy that
relies on proper detainee classification, staff
training, and institutional leadership to succeed.
If properly implemented, the evidence suggests
that direct supervision facilities can significantly
reduce violent incidents.48

The Future of Jails

A primary goal of direct supervision is to
increase safety for both officers and detainees
alike. Though the absence of physical barriers
between staff and detainees may raise initial
anxiety for officers, research suggests that
the presence of a properly trained officer in a
dayroom reduces conflict between detainees
and staff while limiting opportunities for
detainees to create weapons and form gangs.49
If management and officers are committed to
direct supervision and properly trained, officers
become intimately familiar with behavior
patterns of the population they supervise,
allowing them to respond to detainees’ basic
needs while also holding people accountable for
their behavior.50 When officers are consistently
present and building relationships with those
they supervise, it is easier for them to establish
their authority and maintain safety.
In fairness, the direct supervision model is
not a brand new idea for New York City. The
City used similar principles to redesign the
Manhattan House of Detention, a local jail
known informally as “The Tombs,” in 1983.51
In the early 2010s, the City commissioned the


design of direct supervision facilities on Rikers
Island52 and in Brooklyn53 to replace existing
facilities, but the designs were never built.
The New York City Department of Correction is
currently incorporating a revamped classification
system54 as well as direct supervision training into
its educational programming for staff.55 However,
in order to be truly successful, the model requires
adherence to the core design principles—
residential pods with cells arranged around
dayrooms, access to outdoor recreation from
residential units, and clear sightlines throughout
the entire unit. True direct supervision will require
brand-new facilities.
To maximize safety, all new facilities in New
York City should also be designed to include
complete video surveillance coverage and other
technology, such as body scanners, as per the
Nunez consent decree.56 New construction
should also adhere to all guidelines outlined by
the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the American
with Disabilities Act, and other laws governing
the design and use of space.57 The goal should
be to ensure that there are no blind spots in the
facilities where people can be harmed out of view.
Town Center
While much of the conversation about Rikers
Island focuses on the relationship between
corrections officers and detainees, there
are, in fact, multiple actors on the Island.
NYC Health + Hospitals provides a myriad of
clinical, mental health, substance abuse, and
therapeutic programs. Other service providers
include Fortune Society, Osborne Association,
Center for Economic Opportunities, Friends
of the Island Academy, the Department of
Education, and the Center for Alternative
Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES).
These providers offer a range of services such
as education, workforce development, case
management, mental and behavioral health,
reentry, substance abuse treatment, and
family support programs. In addition, defense
organizations like The Legal Aid Society,
Bronx Defenders, New York County Defenders,
and Brooklyn Defenders, to name only a
few, provide legal counsel and assistance to
incarcerated individuals within the jail.58
Here’s how social services typically work at
Rikers Island:


Since there is not nearly enough dedicated
space to go around, services are often provided
within the day room of the residential unit.
Service providers describe this arrangement as
akin to intruding into someone’s living room—the
dayrooms are where detainees go to unwind and
watch television, and they are often situated
within view of the bathrooms and showers.
Carrying out programs in this environment
compromises detainees’ privacy, limits their
freedom of choice, and creates distracting
and potentially unsafe conditions for staff.59
Service providers also lack the kind of space
they need to communicate privately, away from
the incarcerated population and correctional
We know there is a better way.
Ideally, what this looks like is the creation of a
“town center” or a central space in the facility
that allows individual detainees to move about
freely as long as they stick to their scheduled
plans.61 In general, programs—be they religious,
medical, educational, or recreational—should
be centralized in the core of a facility, where
eligible individuals can access them throughout
the day.
The town center area of each facility should
include a centralized clinic space for physical
and mental health needs, as well as a pharmacy,
dining hall, and space specifically designed for
programming. Program spaces should be flexible
enough to allow for new programs and new
technologies as they evolve. Flexibility is also
crucial to accommodating the diverse spiritual
and cultural needs of detainees.
Incarcerated individuals should be able
to access the town center directly from their
housing units in order to minimize transport
needs within the jail and provide greater
freedom of movement. Programs in the town
center should positively engage detainees
and connect them with the kinds of care and
resources designed to facilitate their transition
to law-abiding behavior in the community.
Finally, the town center should include
courtrooms for arraignments and preliminary
hearings, which would ease operational
burdens for the Department, reducing the
number of trips to external courthouses.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Ken Ricci, Achitect and Founding Principal of Ricci Greene Associates64

Clustered Housing
Our research revealed that the best approach to
housing detainees is “clustered housing,” where
units are located in close proximity to areas
for dining, case management, programs, and
recreation. Ideally, housing unit capacity should
fall between 32 to 56 beds, enabling corrections
officers assigned to steady staff posts in the
units to develop relationships with the residents
and work with them to maintain order.62
Providing single cells for each detainee offers
privacy that many dormitory-style and linear jails
lack. Detainees should have the ability to be by
themselves in their cell. Apartment-style housing,
as is employed in some European facilities, takes
this idea once step further. Perhaps this brand
of housing could serve as a transitional housing
program for City-sentenced detainees.
Any thoughtful housing system groups
individuals at a similar risk level in a
demographically balanced space. A strong
Inmate Behavior Management (IBM) plan is
critical. Developed by the National Institute of
Corrections, IBM plans recognize that basic
human needs shape behavior. If a person’s
needs are not met, he or she is likely to break
rules in order to fulfill those needs. On the other
hand, a person whose needs are satisfied is
more likely to comply with established codes of
The IBM model classifies needs into
four basic categories: (1) physical needs,
(2) safety needs, (3) social needs, and (4)
emotional needs.63 To create a safe and
secure environment, the Department of
Correction must take care of each of these
needs. Crucially, this means not just providing
food and shelter, but also creating space for
detainees to build positive social and emotional
bonds with each other and with relevant service

The Future of Jails

Historically, the Department has overrelied on punitive segregation as a response
to detainee misconduct. Without a range
of disciplinary responses for low-level
misconduct, staff often see little choice but
to employ punitive segregation. Developing
structured sanction grids can help staff select
less restrictive responses to misconduct
such as revoking TV and recreation privileges,
restricting commissary access, assigning a
less desirable work shift, or requiring anger
management classes. The Department has
ceased the use of punitive segregation for
detainees 18 and under and has begun
implementing promising new incentive
programs to encourage positive, safetyoriented behavior in both detainees and staff.
Even with a well-developed range of
disciplinary sanctions and strong incentive
programs, we acknowledge that jail facilities
must include some segregated units to be
used as a true last resort, or for temporary
de-escalation during a crisis. New jails could
include spaces that look and feel nothing
like segregated housing looks today by
including natural light, normal furnishings,
and a comfortable acoustic and temperature
environment. The primary purpose of these
spaces would be to temporarily isolate a
detainee, or to protect a detainee who explicitly
seeks isolation, not to further punish through
inhumane conditions.
Another important piece of the puzzle is an
evidence-based classification system, where detainees are assessed using validated assessment
tools to determine both the risks they pose and
the needs they present. This information should
be used to craft individualized plans for housing,
supervision, and service provision. Programming
should include vocational training, education,
substance use treatment, cognitive-behavioral



therapy, and parenting courses. Programming to
address individual needs must be responsive to
sub-populations and their circumstances, particularly women, young adults and adolescents,
and those facing mental health challenges.
"Indeed, these populations (and others)
require dedicated spaces designed to meet their
unique needs. For example, dedicated space
and programming for women should be tailored
to sexual assault victims, pregnant women, and
mothers who need contact with their children.
Transgender-specific units should be designated
in both women’s and men’s areas to protect the
safety of all transgender individuals held.
Fixtures and Furnishings
Humane jails systems are outfitted with
normalized furnishings—porcelain toilets with
seats, upholstered furniture, carpeting, and the
like. New jail facilities in the boroughs would
present an opportunity to work with acoustics
specialists to reduce noise. We know from
research that better acoustics can decrease
anxiety, stress, and frustration and create a more
peaceful environment.
Maximizing natural light can also make
a difference, creating a sense of calm and
openness keeping both detainees and staff
connected to the real world.66 Access to natural
light has been shown to decrease fatigue,
improve mood, and reduce eyestrain. Natural
light is also crucial to regulating circadian
rhythms, improving sleep patterns.67 When

artificial lighting is needed, using softer lighting
and dimming it at night can also add to a
healthier environment.
Furnishings and fixtures send a message
to the incarcerated population about what kind
of behavior is expected of them. Traditional jail
facilities tend to be furnished with indestructible
items made of steel and bolted to the floor.
Artificial light is used 24 hours a day. Excessive
and unpredictable noises are a daily fact of life.
All of these factors communicate non-verbally
to detainees that they are expected to behave
dangerously and cannot be trusted to use
normalized spaces.68 They effectively encourage
At our design workshops, we heard criticisms
of existing jail environments from staff and
detainees. Workshop participants also stressed
that staffers who work in jails are affected by jail
interiors. As Elias Husamudeen of the Corrections
officers Benevolent Association put it, “When
you build new jails, that’s good for corrections
officers. Corrections officers live where detainees
live.”69 Providing comfortable, high-quality work
environments demonstrates to staff that they
are valued, which in turn will help to recruit and
retain qualified personnel. Staff-only areas—
offices, entrances, bathrooms, break rooms, etc.—
should be designed and maintained according to
typical workplace standards.70 Additional spaces
like wellness centers, staff lounge, locker rooms,
and dining and meeting areas would further
increase well-being at work.71

I went to Rikers Island several times as a teenager. The first time, I was there with a friend,
who knew the ropes. When two guys came up to take my sneakers, my friend vanished. I
thought my friend and I would fight together, but I was on my own.
They wound up getting one of my sneakers, and I had a black eye and busted lip, and
everything. After it was over, I went to my friend and asked, "What happened?" He said, "I
had to know that you could stand up for yourself before I stand up for you." So, that was my
induction into the way things ran on Rikers. It was total chaos. It was violence.
The criminal justice system crushes your spirit. Now, that's a very dangerous thing to do to
a human being. You know, they always talk about the most dangerous thing in the world is a
person with nothing to care for. That was me back when I was in and out of Rikers.
—Barry Campbell


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

You feel like cattle because you get pushed against the wall and get yelled at and you never
know what items you’re allowed to bring. Even if I follow the list on the web site, they still
might confiscate something. And the lockers for valuables are often broken and if I ask a
question, they say, “Shut up and pay attention!”
You get just one hour to visit in a freezing room and everyone is screaming to try to get
their conversations across. The process of traveling by public transportation and hours
of searches and waiting and waiting to get that one hour visit is very deteriorating for any
human to endure.
– Anna Pastoressa

Admissions Process
The design of a jail’s admissions process sets
the tone for the rest of your stay in the facility.
A more humane experience acknowledges that
most people entering jail have not yet been
convicted of a crime, and are therefore presumed
The current intake process in New York City
is long and arduous. Prior to arriving at Rikers
Island, defendants go through a two to threeday process of arrest, booking, and arraignment.
Once they arrive on Rikers, they are then held
in a series of bullpens while a risk assessment
is performed and they are assigned to a bed. It
is not unusual for a defendant to go six or seven
days without a shower or hot meal.72
In the future, admissions areas should be
built with separate spaces for incoming and
outgoing defendants, with sufficient staff
to address the needs of each population.
The goal should be to expedite the process,
using technology as appropriate to facilitate
information sharing not only with corrections
staff but programming staff as well. The intake
processing area should use an open seating
arrangement rather than holding cells to
demonstrate to incoming defendants that they
are trusted to cooperate with jail staff rather
than expected to misbehave.
The detainee’s housing location should
be determined by a validated classification
system. An objective classification system is

The Future of Jails

a management tool that maintains safety and
helps staff do their jobs by assessing risks posed
by detainees as well as their specific needs. In
2015, the Department of Correction began using
a new, empirically-developed tool that employs
an ‘if, then’ decision tree to classify detainees
according to age, mental health history, number
of prior arrests, gang affiliation, charge severity,
and history of violent conduct under DOC
custody.73 A strong classification and housing
strategy is critical to behavior management.
Planning for release should also begin at
the moment of intake using an evidence-based
risk and needs assessment. Assessments of
defendants should be shared with service
providers capable of providing responsive
programming. This can also improve behavior
in the facilities and facilitate meaningful
linkages upon release. As advocated by the
Transition from Jail to Community model, a
guided decision-making matrix can help match
individuals to various interventions, based on
risk level, offense, length of stay, and disposition
status.74 Given the large volume and generally
short stays of individuals under Department of
Correction custody, delivery of comprehensive
services to each person coming through can be
challenging. Evidence-based screening tools can
guide the deployment of time and resources.
Whenever possible, case managers and jail
staff should make referrals to community-based
organizations using the information gathered


I visited my son every week for almost 6 years on Rikers Island. Each time it took me nearly
7 hours to go door to door, and each time was painful and humiliating. I was searched and
sniffed by dogs, and I’ve even been body searched. I had to unzip my pants and expose parts
of my body, which was embarrassing and undignified.


Elias Husamudeen, President of the Corrections officers Benevolent Association in NYC
from the individual’s risk and needs assessment.
Facilitating these relationships increases the
likelihood of sustained engagement after an
individual has been released and helps to ensure
continuity of care.
For those sentenced with determined release
dates, longer term reentry planning is possible,
targeting those determined to be at higher risk
of recidivism. This kind of approach is currently
being tested, with encouraging results, in
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Allegheny
County is working to improve the reentry
process, with a particular focus on mediumand high-risk detainees sentenced to at least
six months in jail. As part of the program,
participants received targeted programming in
preparation for reentry as well as twelve months
of services following their release. An evaluation
documented that just 10 percent of program
participants were rearrested, while a comparison
group experienced a 34 percent probability of


At times during the visit the officers try to
get attention by screaming aloud that the
detainees who don’t wish to go through the
count should end their visit now.76
The Department of Correction is understandably
concerned about the potential exchange of
contraband between visitors and detainees. In
an effort to preclude this possibility, the search
procedures on Rikers often involve dogs and
strip searches.77
Though the Board of Correction standards
allow children under the age of 14 to sit on
their incarcerated parents’ laps during visits,
the visiting areas are designed in such a way
that makes them inhospitable for children.
Children are required to pass through other
people’s visits, around tables, to reach their
parents.78 Beyond this, the spaces for visitors
are uninviting—cold, noisy, and harshly lit. One
mother described the experience this way:

Visiting Procedures
“Chaotic.” “Confusing.” “Painful.” “Humiliating.”
“Frightening.” “Traumatic.” These are not
descriptions of being locked up on Rikers Island.
These are adjectives that family members used
to describe the experience of visiting Rikers
Island to see a loved one. This testimony was
typical of what we heard:

My children’s father has had no-contact visits
for over a year now, and it's been unbearable
for our family. I watch my three-year old try to
‘unlock’ the glass window with the locker key,
and I have to explain to her she can't do that.
Her father can't touch her, hug her, smell her,
kiss her, tickle her, or throw her up in the air
as she smiles. This form of punishment for
their father is actually torture for us.78

Officers scream out rules and treat visitors
like cattle, pushing them against a wall to
be sniffed by dogs . . . When visitors ask
questions, they are told to shut up and pay
attention to instructions, yet officers seem
to make up their own rules according to their
daily mood or their own frustrations. After
hours of being moved around like cattle,
yelled at, going through metal detectors,
and being searched, the visitors finally
have a one-hour visit with their loved ones
in an uncomfortable freezing room full of
detainees and their families, screaming
to try to get their conversations across.

We know that visits are a crucial lifeline to the
outside world for many detainees. The Board
of Correction has highlighted visits with family
and friends as critical to positive outcomes for
incarcerated individuals, helping them maintain
relationships with people from the community
who can support them upon release.80
In order to take advantage of these positive
effects, jails should actively encourage visits.
Visiting spaces and procedures should be
designed to facilitate rather than limit parentchild interaction. Toys, books, and games can
help. So can natural light and using a variety of
softer materials. Technology, such as an online

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

visiting appointment calendar can allow families
to plan visits around work, school, and child care
needs, while also making the visiting process
more efficient for jail staff. Just as important, staff
working in the visitors’ area should be specially
selected and trained to ensure that they interact
with visitors respectfully and skillfully. Tanya
Krupat, Director of the Osborne Center for Justice
Policy and Practice, urges the Department to
hire officers “who actually want to interact with
visitors and who have been trained to do this
respectfully, effectively, and skillfully.”81
Finally, as a supplement to—and never a
replacement for—in-person visits, detainees
should be afforded an opportunity to visit with
loved ones using technology, including tablets
within their cells.
Mental Health Care
Nearly 40 percent of the population on
Rikers Island are flagged for possible mental
health needs. This adds up to more than the
number of adult patients in all of New York
City’s psychiatric hospitals combined.82 The
Commission estimates that nearly 20 percent of
the incarcerated population suffer from serious
and persistent mental health conditions, such as
schizophrenia and major depression.83
Attempting to provide appropriate care
for these individuals in a jail is an incredibly
difficult task. It is fair to say that none of the
jails on Rikers Island were designed to provide
the level of care that these individuals require.
Too often, the criminal justice system is
used as the primary response to individuals
with mental health issues who might be better
served by links to mental health treatment in
the community. In 2014, the Mayor’s Task Force
on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice
System released an action plan for providing
more effective care for those with mental illness,
including more diversion options, earlier and more
effective screening, dedicated mental health
observation units within jails, more effective
reentry planning, and increased supports in
the community.84 The Commission commends
this work. We recognize the need to support a
community-based mental health care system.
New, borough-based facilities could play a
role here. In those cases where diversion is a
more appropriate response, a drop-off center (as

The Future of Jails

discussed in the Rethinking Incarceration section
above) can be co-located with other providers
in a separate unit in the non-secure side of the
facility. Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)
teams can provide a more effective sentencing
option than jail. Ultimately, the City could build
on the work of the Behavioral Health Task Force
to make a meaningful investment in communitybased care, reducing the number of people held
in jail and providing a reprieve to a system that is
neither staffed nor designed to serve individuals
with these needs.
Even as the City creates new approaches
to behavioral health, we know that some
individuals with mental health issues will still
find themselves in the criminal justice system.
Those who do need to be incarcerated should
be housed in units designed specifically with
treatment and mental health programming in
mind. Each new facility should include topquality clinic space to address the medical
and mental health needs of those who are
Quality Staff Training
Following Nunez v. City of New York,85 a
class-action lawsuit calling for an overhaul
of the Department of Correction, Mayor de
Blasio and Commissioner Ponte announced a
14-point agenda to reduce violence on Rikers.
In the short-term, the Department plans to
limit incoming contraband, improve detainee
classification and housing systems, expand
security camera coverage, increase programming
to reduce idle time, and build capacity of
crisis intervention teams to de-escalate
violent situations. Longer-term goals focus on
improving leadership development and culture,
redefining the Investigations Division, improving
recruitment and performance management,
measuring operational performance, training
staff, and improving facility conditions.86
In addition to the 14 point plan, the
Department is actively engaged with a federal
monitor to implement reforms on use-of-force
training, anonymous and accurate reporting
and investigation procedures, increased video
surveillance, and greater accountability for
staff.87 Thus far, the monitor has noted a strong
commitment to departmental reform, particular
in terms of risk management, direct supervision


training, use-of-force investigations, and the end
of punitive segregation for detainees ages 18 and
Make no mistake: corrections officers have
incredibly stressful jobs. Work-related stress
can negatively impact officers’ health, their work
performance, and the lives of their families—not
to mention the incarcerated population. Many
officers complain that they have not been
adequately prepared for the challenges they
face. This adds to the stress they experience on
a daily basis.
The Commission commends the work the
Department has undertaken in order to see
improvements in these areas. The Commission’s
recommendations seek to support and enhance
these reforms.
Many of the Commission’s recommendations
rely on the positive actions of staff to provide
care to those behind bars. Care can take many
different forms. The Commission recommends
the Department double the length of the training
academy, prioritizing training in communication
skills, direct supervision principles, deescalation, and procedural justice over use-offorce training. All officers should also receive
training in mental health and adolescent brain
development. Officers assigned to unique
settings (e.g. visitors areas, young adult facilities,
mental health units, and women’s facilities)
should receive specialized training for those
posts. Officers should also receive regular inservice training and they should be encouraged
to pursue higher education.
Just as importantly, corrections officers need
high quality space in which to develop and
practice these skills. Currently, staff training
happens in facilities that are cramped and totally
inadequate. This sends a powerful non-verbal
message that corrections officers are not valued
and that the training is not important.
Going forward, the training of corrections
officers must be optimized for effective learning.
This means investing in a state-of-the-art
training academy. This means providing space
for ongoing officer training within each jail
facility. And this means securing high-quality
curricula and trainers.
When people think rules and procedures are
legitimate and fair, they are more likely to


comply with them. In recent years, this common
sense wisdom has been buttressed by research
that has documented that a commitment to
improving legitimacy can encourage law-abiding
How might this insight play out in a
jail setting? Researchers have found that
correctional environments that incorporate
legitimacy-building efforts (e.g. are more
humane and more fair) experience less disorder.
Perceptions of legitimacy are formed through
both direct and indirect experience. How you
are treated in jail matters. But your perception
of how others are treated also matters. Both of
these factors combine to determine how you feel
about the legitimacy of corrections officers.
Ultimately, we want detainees to comply
with the rules of our jails not because they are
subject to the use of force, but because the
rules are fair and morally justified and they are
administered by honest and competent officers
who are invested in their success.
The idea of procedural justice must be hardwired into the operations of the Department
of Correction. This includes rethinking how
corrections officers are trained and assessed.
And it means looking at the eentire apparatus
of the correctional system—signage, site
design, procedures, and so on—with an eye
toward how these elements are perceived by
both incarcerated individuals and the general
public. It also includes a more direct and
streamlined relationship, including access to
data and documents, between the Department
of Correction and its oversight body the
Board of Correction. The function of the
Board of Correction is to set standards for the
Department and hold them accountable to these
standards—at present, there are no mechanisms
in place to ensure that the Board has access
to the information to provide the necessary
A focus on procedural justice also means
focusing on how the Department treats
corrections officers—making greater efforts
to provide meaningful opportunities for
advancement, promoting a fair disciplinary
process, giving officers a voice in policy
decisions, etc. When officers feel supported
and identify with the Department, they are more
likely to reflect the values of the Department.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

A Sense of Mission
Police departments across the country are
transforming the role of officers away from being
a “police force” to becoming a “police service.” As
part of this, individual officers are asked to think
of themselves as guardians rather than warriors.
In other words, police departments are
changing how they view their relationship with
the community, seeing them as a constituency
that officers serve instead of control. And they are
broadening their purview beyond law enforcement
to include an increased emphasis on crime
prevention and problem-solving activities.
New York is a case in point. In 2015, the
New York Police Department launched a
“Neighborhood Policing” plan that encourages
officers to look for opportunities to engage
with community members in new ways that are
not enforcement- or response-related and are
non-confrontational.90 The underlying idea here
is that public safety is not something that the
police can achieve by themselves—it must be coproduced with the help of the public.
What is true in our neighborhoods is also true
inside our jails.
What might it look like to adapt these ideas
to a correctional setting? Is it possible for
corrections officers to engage detainees in
addressing quality-of-life issues and the kinds
of conditions (e.g. lighting and blind spots)
that permit crime to flourish? Would this help
incarcerated individuals to feel more ownership
of the facility and take better care of it? Would
it reduce the stress that corrections officers
experience on a daily basis?
There is evidence to suggest that many
corrections officers are confused about their
roles. There is good reason for this. Corrections
officers receive contradictory messages about
whether the role of correctional facilities is to
punish or rehabilitate (or both). The current
job description for correction officer in New
York City lists a number of duties, but it offers
little guidance about how to care for those
incarcerated and it does not communicate
the values of integrity, respect, compassion,
inspiration, and transformation that members of
the Department are expected to uphold, per the
Department’s values statement.91
Going forward, the Department of Correction

The Future of Jails

must communicate clearly to staff what is
expected of them. The goal here should be to
create an organization with a clear mission that
attempts to live up to its highest ideals each
and every day. A sense of mission must suffuse
everything the Department does, from crafting
job descriptions to creating performance metrics.
We have spelled out many of the elements –
physical, programmatic, and procedural – that
we think should comprise a state-of-the-art
correctional system in the 21st century. Our goal
in doing so is to change the culture of New York
City jails. This will only happen if these changes
are embraced by the leadership of New York
City and the Department of Correction and are
aggressively spread throughout the system.

Cost Implications
The Commission estimates that the development
of the state-of-the-art correctional system
that we have proposed would take ten years to
develop at a cost of $10.6 billion.92 Assuming
that the City’s debt service would be 6 percent
a year for the next thirty years, the annual debt
service cost of five new jail facilities (one for
each borough) would be approximately $770
million, adjusting for inflation.
Additionally, the Commission recommends
the construction of a new training academy
to provide corrections officers with the skills
needed to be successful in the new facilities.
The Commission estimates the new academy
would cost $320 million to build, or (using the
same debt service estimates described above),
$23 million a year in additional debt service. In
addition to a new facility, we think resources
should be devoted to improving the quality and
quantity of the trainings offered at the academy.
Doubling the length of Department of Correction
training would cost $24 million annually.
Additionally, the Commission estimates that the
cost of providing the diversion programs and
alternatives to incarceration (discussed in the
Rethinking Incarceration section) would add
approximately $260 million a year.
Finally, the existing facilities cannot be
ignored as new facilities are built. The City
has already allocated $1.6 billion in the capital
budget for ongoing maintenance of the existing
facilities. That maintenance should certainly


continue in the interim. Furthermore, the
Commission also recognizes, in the interim,
the City may need to develop new temporary
facilities for sufficient swing space as the new
facilities are built. The city has also already
allocated $430 million in the capital plan,
which could fund temporary facilities to provide
sufficient bed space during the transition into
the new jail system.93
These costs are not insignificant, but they
must be weighed against the benefits of our
approach. An entirely new correctional system
designed on the principles we have described
above would be manifestly more just, more
humane, and more effective. It would also have
enormous cost savings.
With the development of new, modern
jails built around best practices, it should be
possible to reduce Department of Correction
staffing levels along with the jail population.
Currently, there are 1.08 uniformed officers for
every 1 detainee in custody, or 10,500 budgeted
uniformed positions for the current average daily
detainee population of 9,700. Total budgeted
staff for the Department numbers 12,515 with
2,000 civilian staff, which translates to a total
staffing ratio of 1.29 employees for every 1
detainee (1.29:1).
According to the National Institute of
Corrections, direct supervision jails like the
ones we envision have lower staffing costs
than traditional facilities: “Operational costs
were lower for the direct supervision cases.
Staffing costs were . . . 33 percent lower for
the direct supervision jail.”94 Accordingly, we
have estimated that the necessary uniformed
officer to detainee staffing ratio in the new
facilities could be decreased by at least 33
percent to a ratio of 0.73 uniformed officer
for every 1 detainee (0.73:1.).95 This translates
to approximately 3,700 uniformed staffers to
supervise a population of 5,000 detainees.
Given our desire to promote positive, prosocial programming for those incarcerated, we
recommend no reduction in civilian personnel
at the Department of Correction despite the
substantial decrease in detainee population.
(Indeed, we recommend dedicating further
funding to support detainee programming,
including support for non-profit service
providers, at an annual cost of $29 million.)


Maintaining civilian positions at 2,000
employees to go along with 3,700 uniformed
officers, the Department of Correction would
remain an extremely well-staffed system, with
significantly more employees than detainees
(1.14 employees for every 1 detainee).96
The Commission believes that this uniform
staffing ratio of 0.73:1 is not only attainable but
is conservative. Many modern, direct supervision
facilities across the country have significantly
lower staffing ratios. For instance, the downtown
Arlington County Jail has approximately 0.33
uniformed officer for every 1 detainee, Denver’s
Correctional System has approximately 0.37
uniformed officer for every 1 detainee, and San
Diego’s Las Colinas Correctional Facility has
an approximate uniformed staffing ratio of 0.33
uniformed officer for every 1 detainee.
This staff restructuring would also decrease
the annual cost of uniformed personnel to
$720 million— a significant reduction from the
current Department of Correction preliminary
budget, which projects uniform personnel costs
of $2.1 billion, including salary, fringe benefits,
and pension contributions.97 This amounts to a
savings of $1.6 billion annually.
Additionally, despite the daily detainee
population decreasing by half, the Commission’s
estimated cost-savings also do not decrease
funding for the “Other than Personnel Services”
spending at the Department of Correction,
leaving this funding constant at $160 million
a year. This savings estimate does not include
any corresponding decreases in overtime. This
coupled with the projected system’s conservative
staffing ratio of 1.14 employees for every 1
detainee leaves the Commission confident that
annual savings in the realm of $1.6 billion are
conservative, realistic, and attainable.
The Commission believes that the best
way to achieve these staffing goals is through
attrition over time as the Department shifts
into the new facilities.98 This means that the
associated cost savings would be realized
gradually. The estimated $1.6 billion in annual
savings would not be fully realized until the
uniformed workforce had been reduced to the
recommended levels. It will also be important to
continue to hire and train new staff during this
transition, and the Commission’s fiscal model
assumes hiring 300 new Corrections officers

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Number of Employees and Inmates

Uniformed Staff Per Inmate

1.13 Current DOC Correctional System



0.73 Proposed Borough-Based DOC System





0.33 Arlington County Devention Facility

0.37 Denver Correctional System

Million of net annual
benefit savings a year

0.33 San Deigo Las Colinas Correctional Facility

Total operating savings from increasing staffing ratios and
the decreasing inmate population (mid-level estimate)

per year.
Reducing correctional spending by $1.6 billion
is not inconsequential. But when calculating
these savings over time—these savings will
continue year after year—the result is budgetary
savings of tens of billions. This kind of money
can enable huge investments in health care,
libraries, education, and other essential city
The savings that could be realized by
rebuilding jail facilities on Rikers Island
would not be the same order of magnitude, as
operational inefficiencies related to operating
a penal colony (maintaining security on the
bridge, transporting detainees to court facilities
in the boroughs, etc.) would persist. Creating
entirely new jails on Rikers Island would also be
significantly more expensive to build. According
to the New York City Department of Design and
Construction, the cost of building on Rikers
Island is generally 8-15 percent more expensive
than construction in the boroughs. The process
is further complicated by delay; construction
workers are typically able to work only 3-4 hours
a day due to challenges transporting both people

The Future of Jails


and materials onto the Island. Additionally, if
new permanent facilities were developed on the
Island, the City would need to demolish all 14
existing jail facilities to make room for these new
facilities, at an estimated cost of $735 million.99
And, of course, in this scenario, there is no
repurposing of Rikers Island.
The Commission estimates that the
construction of 4 large jail facilities (totaling
5,500 beds) on Rikers Island would take 12 years
and cost $ 12.9 billion—approximately $2.0 billion
more than building in the boroughs.100 Rebuilding
on the Island would also fail to address the
significant barriers to developing a humane and
transparent jail system that we have identified in
the preceding pages.


Costs and Savings
Total Capital Cost
including inflation

Annual Expense Budget Cost/Savings
over thirty years, inflation adjusted****

5 New Borough Facilities (5,500 beds)

$10.6 billion

$770 million*

New Training Facility

$320 million

$23 million*

Reform Project

Reinvest in Expanding Correctional Academy Training

$24 million

Increase Funding on Detainee Programming

$29 million

Cost of ATIs/ATDs
Total Cost

$260 million
$11.0 billion

Operational Savings
Total operational savings from improved staffing
ratios and the decreasing detainee population
Net Annual Benefit***

$1.11 billion
Potential Annual Operating Savings
$1.6 billion**
$540 million a year

*Approximate annual cost of debt service over a thirty-year time period
**Approximate annual savings attainable after fully completing the move to the new system
***Actually benefits and costs will not run concurrently due to the delayed implementation of cost savings
**** This charts annualizes the cost/savings of the new correctional system over a thirty-year term. The coupon rate of the debt is
calculated at 6%, while inflation for budgetary costs/savings (such as increased funding on training or reduced spending on staff)
is inflated using the average CPI of 1.1% over the last four years (2013-2016) as described above.


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Costs and Savings Over Time
Population Reduction


Borough-Based System Opens


Site Development and Design

































The Future of Jails


Judge Alex Calabrese, Red Hook Community Justice Center104

Siting and Planning Process
The Commission recommends locating new
facilities in the boroughs on city-owned
land in civic centers as close as possible to
courthouses and public transportation, with
adequate off street parking for Department of
Corrections support vehicles. Our goal here
is to simultaneously reduce the burden of
transporting individuals to court while improving
access to families, providers, and attorneys.
According to New York State Chief Administrative
Judge Lawrence K. Marks, “If defendants were
detained closer to the courthouse, production of
defendants would be easier.”101
Transportation of individuals to court is a
significant operational burden and a contributor
to case delay. The Department of Correction
moves more than 1000 individuals to and from
court each day, largely by bus. In FY 2016, $31
million was allocated for this function.102 Locating
jails near the city’s criminal courts would greatly
reduce these expenditures.
In advocating for a new borough-based jail
system, the Commission acknowledges that
building jails in New York City is a difficult task that
would likely trigger the City’s extensive Uniform
Land Use Reform Process and other land-use
issues. We know from hard experience that Not
In My Backyard (NIMBY) opposition can pose a
significant challenge for projects like these.
The Commission believes that the siting and
planning process for any jail facility should be as
transparent as possible. The City should create
platforms for local residents and organizations
to voice their concerns and feedback. It is in
the City’s best interests to begin conversations
with the community as early as possible, before
the formal legal processes begin. Above all,
imparting a sense of trust to the community is
vital: the City should have regular and reliable
contact with residents, and maintain a visible


presence, particularly when facing challenging
conversations or meetings.103
Throughout the siting and planning process,
the City should seek to educate the community
on the full scope of issues related to Rikers
Island, sharing data and other resources that
can help address fears and dispel myths. For
example, a common grievance with many new
projects is the fear that it will cause home
values to decrease. The Brooklyn House of
Detention, located in a high-value neighborhood
in Downtown Brooklyn with a mix of residences
and retail, and the Manhattan Detention
Complex in Lower Manhattan are proof that the
presence of a jail does not necessarily lower
real estate value. There is also a perceived risk
that dangerous members of the incarcerated
population could potentially escape into the
community. This almost never happens.
New jail designs should not merely provide
benefits to offset the burden of having a jail in
the neighborhood—they should aim to redefine
the relationship between communities and
the criminal justice system. Design workshop
participants called for buildings that felt and
looked like others in their neighborhoods. The
exterior should not resemble a typical jail, and
the visitor area should include a comfortable
and welcoming waiting area so that visitors
can wait in a dignified and private space rather
than lining up around the block. Even better,
the visiting procedure should incorporate
technology, including perhaps an option to book
visit appointments in advance and check-in
electronically in order to speed up the process.
The main entrance to the facility should have
a welcoming, civic design that communicates
that the facility is a public building for use by
its neighbors, and the first floor of the building
should include a mixture of secured and nonsecured spaces. These non-secured spaces

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

could include a mix of supportive, mental
health, and probation services to streamline the
diversion and reentry process. Participants at
our workshops explained how challenging it can
be for people to navigate reentry upon release,
and that the integration of these services into
the neighborhoods around jail facilities would
improve chances of a successful life postincarceration.
These spaces should also provide options
for unrelated uses that benefit the community.
These uses could include community meeting
space, such as a the multi-purpose room found
in the design proposal for a new 40th police
precinct in the Bronx,105 art-based re-entry
programs focused on integrating newly released
incarcerated people back into their communities,

like The Guild initiative of Philadelphia’s
Mural Arts program,106 or retail space for local
businesses that can contribute to the economic
development of the immediate area, similar
to a 2010 proposal for a new Brooklyn House
of Detention.107 Other supportive services for
the formerly incarcerated, as well as more
general social services like medical and child
care, could be located outside the building in
nearby storefronts and office spaces. This would
establish broader relationships between social
services and the neighborhood, and blend
the facility and its uses into the fabric of the
neighborhood. Finally, using sections of the jail
site for green spaces like community gardens or
local gathering areas like farmers’ markets would
add assets to the local community.

Case Study: Red Hook Community Justice Center
Founded in 2000, the Red Hook Community Justice Center is the nation’s first multijurisdictional community court, providing alternative interventions – ranging from community
service and group programming to educational services and individual counseling – to
individuals coming through the court. The Center for Court Innovation’s siting process for the
Justice Center, which included a comprehensive community engagement process to solicit and
incorporate local voices into the planning process, can be used as a model for the locating of
future jail facilities.
Over the course of five focus groups, the Center engaged over 50 local residents and
stakeholders at the Red Hook Public Library to discuss community expectations, priorities, and
perceptions for the project. Through the conversations, participants expressed their desire to
be included throughout the entirety of the planning process and identified specific needs—
such as a meeting space and public services—that were lacking in the community. Participants
articulated the sentiment that the Justice Center should not confine itself to the “criminal
element,” but that the Justice Center could contribute positively to the neighborhood through
programming and services, rather than “just taking the person off the street who committed the
crime.” Likewise, multiple residents underscored the importance of youth services, including
educational programming and job training. Community members quickly identified needs
that the Justice Center could address, making clear that an institution of public safety could
not only fulfill its stated purpose, but also actively support the local community. Following
discussions with community members, the Center agreed make services available on a walk-in
basis to all residents, in addition to clients coming formally through the court.
The Center similarly engaged the community in selecting a physical location for the Justice
Center. After identifying ten possible locations within Red Hook, the Center chartered a bus for
Red Hook residents to view each location. While Center staff had originally favored a different
site, community members unanimously selected a former Catholic School building in the heart
of the neighborhood, where the Justice Center is located today. Engaging the community early
on in the programming and physical design of the Justice Center fostered community support,
allowed the Center to respond meaningfully to identified needs, and ultimately positioned the
Justice Center as a positive contributor to the Red Hook community.

The Future of Jails


To determine how new facilities could most
benefit surrounding neighborhoods, neutral
neighborhood advisory committees should be
established in areas where siting is proposed.
Committee members would have established
ties to the community and would facilitate the
engagement process by providing a venue for
residents’ voices to be heard. These committees
would provide platforms for community members
to share underlying concerns that can then be
addressed during the siting process.

A smaller, borough-based jail system, anchored
by state-of-the-art jail facilities will provide a
safe and healthy environment for detainees and
staff alike. New facilities can be developed to be
an asset to the criminal justice system and the
surrounding communities alike.
Building a new jail system will carry upfront
cost. But the savings inherent in developing a
fair, effective, humane, and just jail system will
far outpace any cost. New modern, efficient
jails will result in savings year after year that can
enable huge investments in education, health
care, libraries, and other essential city services.
Closing the facilities on Rikers Island also
provides a unique opportunity to redevelop the
island. Together, they will provide a benefit to all
New Yorkers.

Case Study: The Castle
The Fortune Society’s effort to locate a reentry facility for formerly incarcerated individuals in
New York City similarly illustrates the capacity of a thoughtful siting process to successfully
engage with and dismantle NIMBY opposition. After considering over 20 locations throughout
the city, the Fortune Society selected an abandoned building known as “the Castle” in West
Harlem, a decision that elicited intense opposition within the community, which had negative
experience with previous facilities sited in their neighborhood.108 In an effort to collaborate
with residents and gain support, despite the initial backlash, the Fortune Society launched a
comprehensive community engagement initiative, which included hiring a community liaison
and public relations consultant, convening multiple public meetings, and undertaking outreach
with a wide range of stakeholders in government and the community.
Among other strategies, the Fortune Society sought to educate the local community on the
realities of the reentry process and their clients. Through a public awareness process grounded
in facts and evidence, they confronted stereotypes and explained the need for reentry housing
programs.109 The process depended on transparency about the security and general protocols
that would be in place at the facility, and after continued conversation with residents, the
Fortune Society agreed not to accept level three sex offenders at the facility—a compromise
that communicated Fortune Society’s willingness to hear and work with the community.110
Additionally, Fortune Society was proactive in communicating its desire to be a positive
contributor to the neighborhood through actions like eliminating the drug activity occurring on
the buildings premises, eliminating garbage that had collected on-site, and lighting the area to
increase the feeling of safety, all before construction began.111
Actions like these sent an early message that the facility would work in partnership with the
community. After the facility was in operation, Fortune Society regularly made space available
to community groups for meetings and launched a community advisory board to solicit ongoing
feedback and guidance.112 When Fortune Society began developing the conjoining parking lot,
they included affordable housing for community members to address the community’s need for
affordable housing. From start to finish, the Fortune’s Society’s careful efforts to acknowledge
and meet the needs of residents enabled a siting process that not only overcame opposition,
but allowed the Castle to emerge as a positive community presence.


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

1.	U.S. Government Accountability Office. Key Issues: Federal
Prison System. Retrieved from:
2.	NYC Department of Corrections. n.d. Facilities Overview.
Retrieved Dec. 7, 2016, from:
3.	The City of New York. Facilities Overview - About –
Department of Corrections. Retrieved from: http://www.
4.	HR&A Advisors, Inc. (February 6, 2017) Rikers Island
Reuse Planning, NYC Department of Correction Existing
5.	Hamilton, B. (2013). Cell damage: Rikers in Ruins After
Years of Neglect. New York Post. Retrieved from: http://

24.	Glazer, E. (2015). New York City’s Big idea on Bail.
The Marshall Project. Available at: https://www.
25.	White, E., Labriola, M., Kerodal, A., Jensen, E., & Rempel,
M. (2015). Navigating the Bail Payment System in New York
City: Findings and Recommendations. Center for Court
Innovation. Available at:
26.	Izaguirre, A., Blau, R. (2016). City detainees are frequently
missing mental health appointments because they can’t
get officer escorts. New York Daily News. http://www.


Van Alen Workshops—Justice by Design p. 7.


September 14th Commission Meeting.

27.	De Claire, K. & Dixon, L. (2015). The Effects of Prison
Visits From Family Members on Prisoners' Well-Being,
Prison Rule Breaking, and Recidivism: A Review of
Research Since 1991. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 18(2).
pp, 185 – 199. Available at:


Hamilton, B., (2013) Op. Cit./

28.	Ashley Viruet roundtable discussion.

6.	Surico, J. (2016). How Rikers Island Became the Most
Notorious Jail in America. Vice. Retrieved from: http://

10.	Blau, R. (2016). Three Rikers Island Detainees Trash
Their Cells, Causing $10.5G in Damage. New York Daily
News. Retrieved from
11.	The City of New York Board of Correction. (2015). Violence
in New York City Jails: Slashing and Stabbing Incidents.
12.	Ibid.
13.	Cranston, M. (2015). Rikers’s Big Problem: It’s Falling
Apart. Detainees Can Literally Make Weapons Out
of the Deteriorating Physical Plant. New York Daily
News. Retrieved from:
14.	The City of New York Board of Correction. (2015). Violence
in New York City Jails: Slashing and Stabbing Incidents.
15.	June 10th Commission Meeting.
16.	Nelson, Ray W. et al. (1983). New Generation Jails, National
Institute of Corrections. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.
17.	 December 13th Commission Meeting.
18.	Susan Gottesfeld, Osborne Association, Future of Jails
subcommittee meeting July 19, 2016.
19.	Alethea Simon, Future of Jails subcommittee meeting July
19, 2016.
20.	D’Inverno, Ashley. (2015). Preliminary report on DOC’s
implementation of Enhanced Supervision Housing as of
March 3, 2015 [Memorandum]. The City of New York Board
of Correction.
21.	While there are specially designed units under the
Program to Accelerate Clinical Effectiveness (“PACE”)
that have proven more effective in providing on-site
mental health services, each PACE unit houses only
twenty to twenty-five detainees and therefore can only
accommodate the most seriously ill. Lewis, C. (2016). NYC
to invest in mental health at Rikers Island jail. Modern
Healthcare. Retrieved from http://www.modernhealthcare.
22.	Shorris, A., & Tarlow, M. (2016). Mayor’s Management
Report September 2016. Available at:

29.	Angela Mamelka roundtable discussion.
30.	This is based on the Commission’s analysis of Department
of Correction data, discharges from 2014 to 2016.
31.	Maloney, C. (2003). Discharge Plan for Rikers’s prisoners
Urged, Rather Than Single Drop-Off Site at Queens Plaza.
Retrieved from
32.	Fortune Society. (2016). Discharge Planning is no Enough.
Retrieved from
33.	December 13th Commission Meeting.
34.	September 14th Commission Meeting.
35.	County of Los Angeles. (2014). Los Angeles County
Jail Plan Independent Review and Comprehensive
“Consistent with the Los Angeles County Jail Plan
Independent Review and Comprehensive Report, typical
jail management practices include a peaking and
classification factor of 10% be applied to the number of
additional beds required.”
36.	Ken Ricci of Ricci Greene Associates and Steve Carter of
CGL Companies, December 13th Commission Meeting
37.	Fowler, M. (2015). The Human Factor in Prison Design:
Contrasting Prison Architecture in the United States
and Scandinavia. Association of Collegiate Schools of
Architecture. Available at
38.	Wener, Richard. (2012) The Environmental Psychology of
Prisons and Jails: Creating Humane Spaces in Secure
Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
39.	Van Alen Bronx workshop.
40.	It is worth noting that these facilities hold comparatively
few pre-trial detainees because the criminal justice
system in the respective countries treats pre-trial
detainees differently.
41.	Chammah, M. (2015). The Stiff Competition to Work
in German Prisons. The Marshall Project. Available at

23.	Shorris, A. & Tarlow, M. (2016). Op. Cit.

The Future of Jails


42.	National Institute of Corrections, Direct Supervision Jails.
43.	The Invention of Direct Supervision. Wener, Richard.
Corrections Compendium; Mar/Apr 2005; 30, 2; ProQuest
Social Sciences Premium Collection, pg. 4.
44.	OZ Architecture. Portfolio—Government—Architecture—
Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center. Retrieved from
45. (2010). A look Inside Arlington County
Jail. available at https://www.arlnow.
46.	Arlington County Sheriff’s Office. https://sheriff.
47.	Meeting with Westchester County Department of
48.	Wener, R., Frazier, F. W., & Farbstein, J. (1993). Direct
supervision of correctional institutions. In National
Institute of Corrections (Ed.), Podular, direct supervision
jails (pp. 1-8). Longmont, CO: NIC Jails Division.
49.	Gettinger, S. H. (1984). New generation jails: An innovative
approach to an age-old problem.Longmont, CO: NIC Jails
50.	Bogard, D., Hutchinson, V.A., & Persons, V. (2010). Direct
Supervision Jails The Role of the Administrator. U.S.
Dept. of Justice, national Institute of Corrections, p. 28.
Available at:
51.	Surico, J. (2015). The Legacy of Violence at the Manhattan
Jail Known as the 'Tombs'. Vice. Available at https://www.
52.	City of New York Corrections Department. (2013). New
York City Breaks Ground on a New Jail on Rikers Island.
Available at:
53.	Dickson, Elizabeth. (2008). The Future of Incarceration.
Architect Magazine.
54.	Martin, S. J. (2016). First Report of the Nunez Independent
Monitor. p. 93.
55.	Martin, S. J. (2016). Second Report of the Nunez
Independent Monitor. p. 49.
58.	Other defender organizations include Assigned Counsel
First and Second Departments, Appellate Advocates,
Battiste, Aronowsky & Suchow, Staten Island, Center for
Appellate Litigation, Neighborhood Defender Services of
Harlem, Office of the Appellate Defender, and Queens
Law Associates.
59.	B. Cauthen, B. and S. Gottesfeld, Osborne Association,
Future of Jails subcommittee meeting, July 19 2016.
60.	A. Simon, Future of Jails subcommittee meeting July 19,
61.	December 13th Commission Meeting
62.	December 13th Commission Meeting
63.	Hoke, S. & Demory, R., op. cit., 6-9.
64.	December 13th Commission Meeting.
65.	Wener, R. (2012). The Environmental Psychology of Prisons
and Jails: Creating Humane Spaces in Secure Settings.
Cambridge University Press, P. 199.


66.	Evans, J. B. (1995). What Should a Prison Sound Like?
Texas Architect, 45(1). Available at: http://www.jeacoustics.
67.	Edwards, L. & Torcellini, P. (2002). A Literature Review
of the Effects of Natural Light on Building Occupants.
National Renewable energy Laboratory. Available at:
68.	V. Hutchinson, V., Keller, K. Reid, T., (2009). Detainee
Behavior Management: The Key to a Safe and Secure Jail.
P. 9.
69.	July 14th Commission Meeting.
70.	Wener, R. (2012). The Environmental Psychology of Prisons
and Jails: Creating Humane Spaces in Secure Settings.
Cambridge University Press.
71.	December 13th Commission Meeting
72.	S. Richards, Fortune Society, December 13th Commission
73.	First Monitor’s Report p. 93.
74.	Warwick, K., Dodd, H., & Neusteter, R.S. (2012). Case
Management Strategies for Successful Jail Reentry.
National Institute of Corrections and Urban Institute,
Justice Policy Center, 2
75.	Program Profile: Allegheny County (Penn.) Jail-Based
Reentry Specialist Program. (2016). National Institute
of Justice. Available at
76.	January 12th Commission Meeting
77.	Ibid.
78.	Ibid.
79.	Speaker at January 12th Commission Meeting
80.	City of New York Board of Correction Minimum Standard
§ 1-09 (a).
81.	January 12th Commission Meeting
82.	Winerip, M. & Schwirtz, M. (2015). For Mentally Ill Inmates
at Rikers Island, a Cycle of Jail and Hospitals. The
New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.
83.	The Commission determined that 44.3 percent of
individuals held in jail on September 29, 2016 had an “M”
flag, meaning that they received mental health treatment
at some point during their confinement. The “M” flag,
however, is not diagnostic and tends to capture people
with widely varying problem severities. An analysis by the
Council of State Governments determined that 43 percent
of those with an “M” flag, and by implication 19 percent of
those held in jail on September 29, 2016, have a serious
mental illness (SMI). See Council of State Governments.
(2012). Improving Outcomes for People with Mental
Illnesses Involved with New York City’s Criminal Court and
Correction Systems. Available at: https://csgjusticecenter.
84.	Ibid.
85.	U.S. Government Court Filings in Rikers Case. The New
York Times. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.
86.	Office of the Mayor. (2015). Mayor de Blasio,
Commissioner Ponte Announce 14-Point Rikers AntiViolence Agenda [Press release]. Retrieved from http://
87.	U.S. Attorney to Honorable James C. Francis, IV, June 22,

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

88.	Second Report of the Nunez Independent Monitor p. 3
89.	Tyler, T.R. (2003). Procedural Justice, Legitimacy, and
the Effective Rule of Law, Crime and Justice, Retrieved
90.	Bratton, W. (2015). The NYPD Plan of Action and the
Neighborhood Policing Plan: A Realistic Framework for
Connection Police and Communities. Available at http://
91.	On the DOC recruitment website the values statement
reads: “To be BOLD is to lead honorably and selflessly
serve your community. As bold and faithful members of
the New York City Department of Correction we pledge
to: Act with integrity; Respect our fellow citizens; Serve
with compassion; Inspire correctional change nationwide;
Transform the lives of those in our care.” See City of
New York Department of Correction, DOC Overview:
Mission—Values. Available at
92.	This estimate is a per-bed cost estimate that is based on
recent city estimates and informed by the construction
costs of modern, direct supervision jails across the United
States. This midpoint estimate includes construction hard
costs, soft costs, and the demolition costs of the three
existing Borough based correctional facilities with an
escalation rate of 3% occurring throughout the duration
of the project. This estimate includes all of the demolition,
procurement, and assumes that land use review,
procurement, and construction will all be fully completed
within 10 years. This estimate assumes no cost for land
acquisition as they city would utilize city owned land.
Finally, total project costs and annual debt service costs
account for inflation.

99.	HR&A estimated that demolition would cost approximately
$145 per square foot.
100.	This estimate is a per-bed cost estimate that is based on
recent city estimates and informed by the construction
costs of modern, direct supervision jails across the United
States. This midpoint estimate includes construction
hard costs, soft costs, and the demolition costs of the
14 existing Rikers Island facilities with an escalation rate
of 3% occurring throughout the duration of the project.
This estimate includes all of the demolition, procurement,
and assumes that land use review, procurement, and
construction will all be fully completed within 12 years.
Additionally, this estimate assumes no cost for land
acquisition as they city would utilize city owned land.
101.	 September 14th Commission Meeting
102.	City of New York FY 2016 Annual Operating budget,
which excludes the associated fringe benefits and
pension contribution costs of employees involved in
103.	In our Backyard: Overcoming Community Resistance
to Reentry Housing (A NIMBY Toolkit). (2016). John Jay
College of Criminal Justice and the Fortune Society, 16.
104.	December 13th Commission Meeting
105.	Bjarke ingels group reveals plans for stacked concrete
police station in the Bronx. (2016). Designboom. Retrieved
106.	The Guild: Programs. Available at https://www.muralarts.
108.	In our Backyard: Overcoming Community Resistance to
Reentry Housing (A NIMBY Toolkit), op. cit., 7.

93.	Nicholas, J.B. (2016). De Blasio Resumes Bloomberg’s
Plan for Yet Another Jail on Rikers Island. Village Voice.
Retrieved from

109.	Ibid. at 9.

94.	Jay Farbstein & Associates, & Wener, R. (1989). A
Comparison of “Direct” and “Indirect” Supervision
Correctional Facilities. National Institute of Corrections.
Available at
Although significant, the results are descriptive in nature
and not from a nationally representative sample.

113.	Ibid. at 12.

110.	Ibid.
111.	Ibid at 10.
112.	Ibid.

95.	Many modern, direct supervision facilities have
significantly lower staffing ratios. For instance, the
downtown Arlington County Jail has approximately
0.33 uniformed officer for every 1 detainee, Denver’s
Correctional System has approximately 0.37 uniformed
officer for every 1 detainee and San Diego’s Las Colinas
Correctional Facility has an approximate uniformed
staffing ratio of 0.33 uniformed officer for every 1 detainee.
96.	Despite the daily detainee population decreasing by half,
the Commission’s estimated cost-savings conservatively
do not decrease funding for “Other than Personal
Services” spending at DOC, leaving funding constant at
$160 million a year. Furthermore, this savings estimate
conservatively does not include any corresponding
decreases in overtime, further budgeting in a contingency
into the Commission’s savings estimates. This coupled
with the fact that the projected system’s conservative
staffing ratio of 1.14 employees for every 1 detainee, leaves
the Commission confident that annual savings in the
realm of $1.6 billion are both realistic and attainable.
97.	City of New York FY 2018 Preliminary Budget.
98.	The Commission assumes that the Department of
Corrections would continue to attrite 900 officers, but
would hire 300 replacements hires a year.

The Future of Jails


the Island


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

The potential redevelopment of Rikers Island
presents an exciting opportunity for New York.
It is rare that over 400 acres of land becomes
available in the City. In developing specific reuse
plans for Rikers Island, the Commission adopted
four guiding principles:

Promoting Public Benefit: Rikers
Island offers a unique opportunity to
generate broad public benefits for all
New Yorkers and specifically to the
communities that have been most
negatively affected by jails. Public
benefits should include creating
accessible well-paying jobs, promoting
equity, improving the environment, and
increasing resiliency.
Engaging the Community: Given
the Island’s symbolic importance,
the Commission sought input about
redevelopment options from a broad
range of policymakers, thought
leaders, industry experts, and other
stakeholders, including those who had
previously thought about Rikers Island’s
future and those who hadn’t.
Thinking Long Term: Redeveloping
Rikers Island is not a short-term
project. Any plan will take a decade
or more to achieve. Accordingly, the
Commission sought to develop a
Reimagining the Island

long-term vision that would be flexible
and responsive to shifting conditions
and public goals. In short, we sought
to create a roadmap for more detailed
future planning. Because of the long
time horizon to redevelop the Island,
immediate improvements to Rikers
facilities that better the lives of those
on the Island should not be ruled out.
Addressing History: The Commission
recognized that Rikers is not a routine
redevelopment project. The uses of
the Island have historically inflicted
harm on specific New York City
communities such as Central Brooklyn,
Southeast Queens, the South Bronx,
and Upper Manhattan. These harms
must be addressed through criminal
justice reforms and tangible acts of
remembrance and investments in
the affected communities, including
job training, re-entry programs, and
participation by minority-owned
businesses in the redevelopment of the
Any redevelopment on Rikers Island is, of
course, dependent on the timing and successful
implementation of the criminal justice reforms
detailed in the previous chapters, specifically
the reduction of the current jail population to


Rikers Island (Today versus 1890)

approximately 5,000 people, the closure of the
jail facilities on Rikers, and the relocation of
the remaining jail population into modernized,
community-based facilities.

Beginning in 1664, Rikers Island was privately
owned by the Rycken family, Dutch settlers, who
later changed their surname to Riker. Over many
generations, the Rikers amassed a fortune, in no
small part through the use of slave labor.1 In the
early 1800s, Richard Riker served as New York
City’s Recorder and was specifically responsible
for transporting to the South fugitive slaves, as
well as kidnapped free Blacks.2
The Rikers family eventually sold the Island to
New York City in 1884. At the time of purchase,
the Island comprised about 90 acres of low
hills and marshy land. Once purchased, the City
began expanding Rikers Island, using it as a
landfill for New York City’s waste. Much of the
material was derived from subway construction,
municipal refuse, and ash from coal heating
and incinerators. Filling continued until about
1943, expanding the Island to its current size.3


Jail facilities have continuously operated on the
Island since 1932.
The New York City Department of Correction
is charged with overseeing and operating Rikers
Island. The Department has treated the entire
Island as a correctional facility, altering its
landscape and constructing new facilities on an
as-needed basis. While there are currently nine
operating jails, the Island is considered a single
site. There are no City “mapped” streets on the
Island; streets, sewer, water, and electricity
infrastructure are generally maintained by the
Department of Correction or are subject to
unique agreements with utility companies.
Originally, detainees were transferred by
ferry from the Bronx; as a result, the Island is
technically part of the Borough of the Bronx.
In the late 1960s, the Rikers Island Bridge, now
the Francis R. Buono Memorial Bridge was
constructed to connect the Island to Queens,
placing the Island under the jurisdiction of
Community Board 1 in Queens. Rikers Island is
a single tax and zoning lot; it is zoned C8-2, in
which jails are a permitted use (Group 8D), and
has a Floor Area Ratio of 2.0.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Our Approach
In weighing both the possibilities and the
challenges presented by redeveloping Rikers
Island, The Commission sought to develop a
“conceptual master plan’—a vision for longterm redevelopment that identifies feasible
opportunities for reuse based on unique
physical and geographical conditions, economic
and social contexts, and political realities.
Study Process
New York City is no stranger to large-scale
planning and redevelopment projects. The
most successful among them share a common
approach: a master plan with public and civic
purposes at its core; an understanding of the
needs and goals of stakeholders; a balance
between public and private roles; an analysis
of the benefits, challenges, and impacts; and a
plan for potential phasing and implementation.
Large-scale master plan projects typically
originate in one decade and are realized
many decades later. Inevitably, these plans
are modified over time to account for new
needs, shifting industry trends, or changes in
conditions. The proposed reuse alternatives
outlined in this chapter are meant to illustrate
feasible uses; they are not intended to advance
construction design or any public review
To help us in our deliberations, the
Commission assembled a team of professionals
in the fields of large-scale master planning,
economic analysis, transportation planning, and
civil, aviation, environmental, and geotechnical

engineering, among others. The team, led
by HR&A Advisors with close support by
FXFowle Architects and Stantec, was tasked
with identifying uses that would be physically
feasible on the Island, identifying costs and
benefits, and developing conceptual plans for
Island redevelopment.
The Commission recognized from the outset
that there are many stakeholders invested in
and affected by the future of Rikers Island.
The general New York City population, nearby
residents, Rikers detainees, their families and
communities, various governmental entities, and
many other private and public actors all have a
stake in the future of the Island. Developing a
viable reuse plan for land of this size, with the
unique restrictions and complications of Rikers,
requires community buy-in, industry expertise,
and public sector leadership.
Because of these realities and challenges,
the Commission made a concerted effort to
reach out to a broad array of stakeholders to
gain feedback and input, and regularly followed
up with government and industry leaders and
other subject matter experts. Equally important,
the Commission sought feedback and input
from individual New Yorkers throughout its
process. During its research, the Commission
held roundtables, clergy breakfasts, design
workshops, and other meetings throughout
the City to solicit public input. This is only the
beginning of the public outreach process, and
deep engagement around community needs and
priorities must continue to be a vital component
of any future redevelopment process.

Study Process



Shortlist &
Assess Reuse


Select Preferred
Options & Test

Conduct Stakeholder Outreach

Reimagining the Island


Concept Designs
& Cost/Benefit


Island Size Comparison





432 Acres

516 Acres

172 Acres

253 Acres

100-Year (Gray) and 500-Year (Dark Blue) Floodplains


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Based on analysis of the Island’s existing
conditions, our outreach to stakeholders, and
an assessment of long-term needs and priorities
for the City, the Commission identified the
following opportunities and challenges:
Any redevelopment plan must recognize Rikers’s
unique history. For nearly a century, Rikers has
been an open wound, placing thousands of New
Yorkers, both detainees and corrections officers,
in conditions that were substandard at best and
inhumane at worst. We cannot undo this history.
But we can acknowledge it and attempt to make
some amends.
The Island’s size and location offer unique
opportunities. At 413 acres (more than two
and a half times the size of Governors Island),
the Island can physically accommodate a wide
variety of uses and presents a rare opportunity
in a land-constrained city such as New York to
site large-scale facilities, including those that are
difficult to site due to neighborhood adjacency.

The Island’s location and comprehensive utility
network support integration into existing water,
sewer, waste, and power systems. The Island’s
elevation, with the majority outside the 100-year
and 500-year floodplains, can support resilience
to climate change for new facilities.
Proximity to LaGuardia creates and constrains
redevelopment options. Being next door to
LaGuardia presents a rare opportunity to
improve operations at one of the nation’s most
challenged airports and to meet the region’s
need for additional flight capacity. The same
proximity dampens the potential value of other
uses, including housing, hospitality, health care,
and recreation, due to maximum height limits of
145 to 150 feet across the Island (approximately
the equivalent of a 15-story building) and
elevated noise levels. The portions of the Island
closest to LaGuardia’s runways are limited to
lower heights and subject to greater noise,
limiting density in the southwestern and far
eastern portions of the Island.

Height Limitations due to LaGuardia Airport

Majority of the island is
subject to a 150' height limit

Reimagining the Island


Noise Impacts from LaGuardia Airport

Existing and Proposed Transit Lines


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Transportation is a key limiting factor
for redevelopment. Any major residential,
commercial, or institutional development
would require new transit connections, and
any large-scale industrial use would require
improved highway access. Currently, the Buono
Bridge has three lanes, with access controlled
by the Department of Correction. A single bus
route, the Q100, serves the Island; the closest
subway station is two and a half miles away.
Transportation enhancements carry high costs,
and options are limited by available rights of way
and traffic impacts. The most suitable future
use of the Island would benefit from the Island’s
relative isolation rather than try to overcome it.
Redevelopment costs will be atypically
high. Deep bedrock, weak soil, and methane
deposits resulting from the history of fill on the
Island will require construction methods that
increase building costs, especially for peopleintensive uses such as residential, office, or
retail development, and especially in the eastern
portion of the Island, where the fill is newer and
has not fully settled. Demolition of jail facilities,
due to likely asbestos and lead contamination
in older buildings and construction techniques,
will be costlier and take longer than in typical
circumstances. Feasible uses must be able to
offset these extraordinary costs with tangible
public benefits.
Phased redevelopment would ideally begin
in the west. The Island’s oldest correctional
facilities, which also tend to be the least flexible
in terms of their capacity to house various
detainee populations, are located at the west
of the Island, suggesting a preferred phasing
strategy that begins west and moves eastward.
The western and northern portions of the Island
also feature the least restrictive height limits,
better soil quality, and lower noise levels.
In all, the Commission considered more than
30 distinct uses for the Island. Based on the
observations above, we then narrowed the list
to several focused scenarios and assessed the
feasibility, costs, and public benefits of each,
resulting in one preferred vision.

Reimagining the Island

Equitable Growth
in a Global City
New York City added more than 400,000
residents between 2000 and 2015. The City
population is expected to grow by an additional
600,000 people by 2040.4 This growth presents
a major opportunity for New Yorkers, but also a
set of challenges that must be confronted.
In 2015, the City of New York released its
plan to address the City’s long-term equity,
sustainability, and resiliency challenges. Titled
“One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just
City,” the plan set forth a number of goals that
are relevant to the future of Rikers Island. In
addition, the State of New York has launched
major initiatives to reconstruct the region’s aging
infrastructure and modernize the energy network
that powers the City.
City and State priorities of relevance to the
redevelopment of Rikers Island include:
Growth. The City plans to add 700,000 jobs by
2040, focusing on traditional sectors such as
finance, entertainment, and higher education,
as well as growth sectors such as advanced
manufacturing, clean tech, biotech, and life
sciences. To support this growth, as of 2015
the City and regional agencies had budgeted
approximately $266 billion in capital spending
through 2024, including billions of dollars in
planned spending by the State on road and
aviation infrastructure. Over $7 billion has been
committed by the Port Authority of New York and
New Jersey to improvements at LaGuardia and JFK
Airports through 2026.
Equity. The City plans to add up to 660,000
new housing units by 2040, including creating
and preserving 200,000 affordable units by
2025, with the aim of reducing the number of
rent-burdened New Yorkers, approximately 56
percent of the City’s population.5 In addition, the
City is committed to expanding access to quality
employment by training workers to participate in
growing industries, creating industry partnerships,
increasing the living wage, and promoting
opportunities for formerly incarcerated residents.
Sustainability. The City intends to reduce
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent
by 2050 (the 80x50 goal) and increase the


combined sewer overflow (CSO) capture rate,
improving environmental quality and the City’s
capacity to withstand extreme weather events.
Supporting initiatives include elimination of all
waste sent to landfills (the Zero Waste goal) and
production of 1,000 megawatts of solar energy by
2030. Similarly, the State’s energy plan commits
to generating 50 percent of all electricity from
renewable sources, including solar, wind, and
hydropower by 2030.


Resiliency. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy,
the City has identified more than $20 billion in
projects to rebuild impacted areas and reduce
climate risks to New York communities. Forwardlooking investments include more than $2.5
billion to harden critical utility and infrastructure
facilities and an equal amount to develop green
infrastructure that will address future risks from
flooding and storm surge.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Reimagining Rikers Island
The Commission believes that Rikers Island represents a singular opportunity to
plan for the future of New York City. The Island could accommodate an expanded
LaGuardia Airport that could serve as many as 12 million more passengers annually.
It could be a base for energy infrastructure that would power nearly 30,000
homes and support a broader renewables network. And it could house critical
environmental infrastructure that would greatly reduce landfill waste and help divert
hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated water from our waterways. These uses
could generate $7.5 billion of annual economic activity and more than 50,000 jobs.
Further, relocating existing public facilities to the Island could free up sites for
redevelopment, generating more public benefits in the form of new jobs, housing,
open space, or other public uses.

The proposed new LaGuardia Terminal
and the historic Marine Air Terminal
Building overlook a new runway and
other infrastructure facilities on Rikers
Island, seen here in the background.

Reimagining the Island


LaGuardia Airport Expansion
The problems of the three major airports
serving New York City are no secret. These
antiquated facilities suffer from worst-inthe-nation delays and generally fail to reflect
New York’s stature to residents or visitors.
Spearheaded by the State through the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey and other
agencies, major improvements are underway,
including ambitious projects to modernize
terminals and improve transportation to JFK
and LaGuardia, as well as to Newark. However,
New York’s major airports are currently at full
capacity, and regional planners anticipate
nearly 40 million passengers will go unserved by 2030 at a cost of $17 billion in
annual economic activity.6 Even with recent
funding commitments, the expected increase
in passenger demand and the need to reduce
delays will require the construction of one or
more new runways—a prospect that is extremely
challenging at all three airports.
Rikers Island is strategically positioned to
accommodate a third runway for LaGuardia
Airport, as well as a new, modern terminal that
could increase capacity by an estimated 12
million passengers annually (or an additional
40 percent over existing LaGuardia capacity)
and improve the regional air network. The new
runway would be located on the northern half of
the Island and connect to the existing airport by
taxiways built on overwater platforms, much like
the existing runways. Built at 20 to 25 feet above
sea level, a new runway on the Island would be
the highest elevation among the three major
airports and bolster the resilience of the regional
system. A new terminal could be located on
the footprint of the existing airport, connected
to the historic Marine Air Terminal building,
to create seamless passenger and vehicular
connections with minimal traffic impacts to
the surrounding residential neighborhoods and
ensure ongoing use of a historically significant
asset. An extension of the planned LaGuardia
AirTrain would connect the new terminal to the
other LaGuardia terminals and to subway and
commuter rail connections at Willets Point in
Queens, further leveraging the State’s recent
This opportunity is not without challenges.
Aviation experts have reviewed the physical


viability of the construction and operations
of a new runway and terminal at LaGuardia,
but a key barrier to any increase in flights in
the region is the crowding that occurs in the
City’s airspace, which is among the busiest
and most complicated in the country. Planned
improvements in air navigation systems by the
federal government known as “NextGen” are
expected to trigger a rethinking of regulations
governing airspace around New York City, which
will present an opportunity to accommodate
added capacity at LaGuardia. Building a new
runway would also create environmental
impacts in the waters surrounding Rikers that
would need to be addressed. Noise impacts will
need to be studied further, but are not expected
to be significant: because the additional
runway would run in an east-west orientation,
takeoffs and landings will largely fly over water
bodies and industrial zones rather than nearby
residential neighborhoods, minimizing noise
A detailed cost-benefit analysis of this
scenario follows, but the airport expansion
would grow the local economy by creating
thousands of new permanent jobs both on
and off the airport. In addition, a new stateof-the-art terminal would provide a completely
updated travel experience in line with other
planned improvements at LaGuardia, benefitting
millions of local residents as well as the millions
of visitors who pass through New York City
Critical Infrastructure
New York City is supported by a complex
network of tunnels, cables, and routes that are
responsible for transporting the City’s water,
power, waste—and people—through the streets,
rivers, and skies. While most New Yorkers have
minimal direct interaction with this network, it
is vital to the City’s operations and its growth.
Unfortunately, much of our infrastructure was
built in the first half of the last century or earlier,
and is therefore antiquated and in need of costly
upgrades. Moreover, our existing infrastructure
is ill-equipped to meet the City’s goals and
mandates to reduce climate impacts and
provide cleaner air and water. Rikers Island can
support critical improvements to the City’s vast
infrastructure in several areas:

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform


The City’s Department of Sanitation collects
more than 3 million tons of waste from
households and institutions each year. About
two-thirds ends up in landfills as far away as
Virginia and Ohio. Between the truck exhaust
from hauling waste and the methane released
during decomposition, the City’s waste system
contributes dramatically to its climate impacts.
Improvements are crucial to the City’s plans
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact,
the City has committed to sending zero waste
to landfills by 2030, an ambitious goal that will
require new policies and investments including
increased recycling rates and reduced use of
non-recyclable materials such as styrofoam.
Realizing the goal of zero waste will also
require constructing two new facilities that have
historically been difficult to site: 1) a composting
facility that can handle some of the estimated
1.2 million annual tons of food scraps and yard
waste we send to landfills, and 2) an energyfrom-waste facility than can convert the 20 to 30
percent of City waste that cannot be recycled or
otherwise repurposed into electricity or gas.
Rikers Island presents a compelling solution
to this siting challenge. It already houses a small
composting facility and could accommodate a
larger, more modern facility that could process
up to 1,000 tons of organic waste per day,
equivalent to the total expected load from
Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. An energyfrom-waste facility on the Island could process
as much as 2,000 tons per day of otherwise undisposable waste, making use of emerging clean
technologies that reduce the environmental
impacts traditionally associated with waste-toenergy uses and providing a critical resource for
the City’s Zero Waste goals.
Siting waste facilities on Rikers Island
converts its physical characteristics from
challenges into strengths. Both organic and
standard waste could be transported to the
Island by barge from marine transfer stations,
thereby reducing truck traffic, preventing
adverse impacts on surrounding communities,
and supporting the movement to shift the
method of moving freight from long-haul
trucking to more environmentally friendly marine
transport. These shifts in waste management
practices made possible by siting facilities on

Reimagining the Island

Rikers would also contribute up to $65 million in
annual operating savings for the City. In addition,
output generated by the composting facility
would include high- to low-grade soil that could
be sold locally or regionally, and output from
the energy-from-waste facility could include
electricity or gas products able to help the City
further address its GHG reduction targets.

New York City, like many older cities, is
predominantly served by a combined sewer
system, in which the tunnels and pipes that
collect wastewater from homes and other
buildings also collect rainwater and melted
snow. In periods of heavy rain or snow, the
excess flow can exceed the capacity of the
network, resulting in discharge of untreated
wastewater into the City’s waterways. This is
known as combined sewer overflow, and despite
significant investments since the 1980s, the City
still discharges 27 billion gallons of untreated
water annually,7 prompting legal settlements
with both the federal government and the State’s
Department of Environmental Conservation
mandating reduction in overflows. In response,
the City’s Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) has budgeted billions of dollars
to upgrade its network of wastewater treatment
plants and build new tunnels and facilities that
will capture and store overflow before it enters
the City’s waterways. Priority cleanup areas
include Flushing Bay, adjacent to Rikers Island.
Rikers is able to house a number of facilities
that could help the City improve local water
quality faster and at lower cost. Rikers is of
a sufficient size to house a new wastewater
treatment plant that could replace the four
existing facilities that treat wastewater and
stormwater from nearly all of the Bronx, upper
Manhattan, and northern Queens—a total of 40
percent of the City’s capacity. Three of the four
facilities, all in close proximity to the Island,
will reach their 100th year by 2040 and need
major reconstruction. While adding incremental
capital costs to the expected long-term plan
for plant upgrades, siting a new plant on Rikers
would allow for a seamless phase-out of existing
facilities, improve treatment capacity and
efficiency, and generate an estimated $10 million
of annual operating savings. It would also open


up the current facility sites for redevelopment,
which could generate additional public benefits
in the form of new jobs, housing, open space, or
other DEP uses, such as “wet weather facilities,”
which specialize in treating stormwater from
nearby watersheds and reduce the amount of
overflow. On Rikers, a likely complement to the
treatment plant would be anaerobic digesters,
which break down organic waste into biogas that
can be used to generate electricity or heat for
more than 5,000 households.


As the City and State set out to reduce GHG
emissions by 80 percent by 2050, with interim
plans of reducing emissions by 40 percent by
2030, a critical component will be increasing
the percentage of electricity produced from
renewable sources such as solar, wind, and
hydropower. New York State’s Clean Energy
Standard Mandate requires 50 percent of
electricity to be generated from renewable
sources by 2030, and New York City has a
target of generating at least 1,000 megawatts

A marine-transfer station supports
infrastructure uses on the Island,
weaving seamlessly into the city’s
waterways and existing barge-based


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

of daily solar capacity by 2030—enough to power
250,000 households. Key challenges to the
City’s and State’s goals include limited land area
within New York City for large-scale generation
and the intermittent nature of renewable energy
production, which creates an imbalance between
when power is needed and when it is available.
Rikers Island presents an opportunity to
address both challenges by providing open land
area for a large-scale solar energy installation
and a strategic site for an energy storage system.
While both solar arrays and battery storage are

Reimagining the Island

modular technologies that could exist at a range
of sizes on Rikers Island, in consideration of
other potential uses, the estimated high-end
capacity that could be sited is approximately 90
megawatts of solar production—enough to power
nearly 25,000 households—and 300 megawatts of
energy storage. Growing the City’s solar capacity
would reduce its reliance on fossil fuel-producing
power plants. The ability to efficiently store power
generated by renewable sources would also help
eliminate the need to build and run expensive
conventional power plants to meet peak demand.



City and regional priorities are constantly
adapting, subject to emerging technologies
and changing environmental and economic
conditions. With 413 acres, the Island can
support a wide array of potential complementary
uses, including technologies still proving their
viability. These might include commercial urban
agriculture facilities that offer green collar job
training or distribution centers for advancing
technologies such as autonomous vehicles or
Complementing next-generation
infrastructure uses, the Island could support
research and development or academic uses
that could make the Island a living laboratory.
For example, an academic and research center,
developed by an interested institution such
as the City University of New York (CUNY),
could offer training and education to advance


scientific research, and harness on-site
technologies to advance innovations in energy
production, waste and water management, and
food uses, or offer other educational programs
conducive to the more isolated environment of
the Island.
Finally, if infrastructure uses are found to
be compatible neighbors, a greenway along
portions of the waterfront could offer public
access to a new swath of the City while
enhancing edge protections to preserve the
Island’s climate resiliency. With access over the
Buono Bridge, the open space could support
bicycle and walking trails, providing unregulated
public access to Rikers Island for the first time
and creating a truly unique setting for active
Ultimately, the City and other stakeholders
will determine the appropriate uses to locate on
the Island in response to evolving needs.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Design Concepts

The vision for an island addressing New York
City’s critical infrastructure needs can take
many shapes, and will necessarily evolve with
future needs and priorities. To advance this
conversation, the Commission developed two
design concepts to highlight how potential uses
might be co-located on the Island, as well as
the range of benefits and costs associated with
redevelopment. These concepts are meant to
illustrate, rather than prescribe, potential uses
on the Island.

Reimagining the Island


Concept 1
Concept 1 proposes a third runway and new terminal for LaGuardia
Airport, wastewater treatment facilities, a large-scale composting
facility, a 20-acre solar field, and a public greenway and memorial.
This concept would enable significant regional economic and
sustainability benefits.

LaGuardia Airport Expansion


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Third Runway
Positioned on the northern
half of the Island to minimize
environmental and noise
impacts, a new runway could
expand flight capacity at
LaGuardia by 40 percent. New
platforms over the water would
link the runway to existing
New Terminal
A 1.5 million-square-foot
modern terminal could
accommodate 12 million
additional passengers
annually. It would also
transform the LaGuardia
experience. Connected to the
existing historic Marine Air
Terminal building, the terminal
would require overwater
construction in Flushing Bay.
AirTrain Extension
The terminal would be
accessible through an
extension of the planned
LaGuardia AirTrain to Willets
Point, connecting the terminal
to the existing terminals as
well as subway and commuter
rail lines in Flushing. Extension
of the AirTrain would require a
1.5-mile spur from the site of
the new Central Terminal.
Water Treatment Facilities
The Island could serve a
variety of wastewater and
stormwater treatment uses
that would improve water
quality in New York, such as
a consolidated wastewater
treatment plant to replace up
to four nearby facilities that
are reaching the end of their
useful life.

Reimagining the Island

Composting Facility
A 25-acre indoor composting
facility on the western edge
of the Island would process
1,000 tons of organic waste
per day, or all expected organic
collections from Manhattan,
Queens, and Brooklyn. Waste
would travel to the Island by
barge from marine transfer
stations in the same three
boroughs to a new barge
facility on site, minimizing
truck traffic and air quality
Solar Field
A 20-acre solar field, together
with solar panels on the roofs
of the composting and water
treatment facilities, could
power more than 10,000
Public Greenway
A greenway along portions
of the waterfront could
accommodate public access
via the Buono Bridge.
A physical marker located
in public space along
the waterfront could be
incorporated into the design of
both concepts to acknowledge
the suffering and pain
associated with Rikers Island
and support the process of
healing for communities.


Concept 2
Concept 2 proposes wastewater treatment facilities and a largescale composting facility, in addition to a large-scale energyfrom-waste facility, a 115-acre solar field, a power storage facility,
urban agriculture, a research campus, and a public greenway and
memorial. This concept would advance key sustainability and
resiliency goals and support new green industries.

Critical Infrastructure


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Water Treatment Facilities
and Composting Facility
The Island would be able to
accommodate a variety of
wastewater and stormwater
treatment uses that can
support the City’s clean
water goals, and a 25-acre
composting facility on the
Island, processing 1,000 tons
of organic materials per day.
Energy-from-Waste Facility
At 40 acres, a modern energyfrom-waste facility could
process 2,000 tons of waste
per day; this concept proposes
one of the largest wasteto-energy facilities in North
America that can help the
City to achieve Zero Waste. As
with the composting facility,
all waste would arrive to the
Island via the new barge
facility, minimizing traffic and
air quality impacts.
Solar Field
An enlarged solar field,
along with additional panels
installed on compatible
facilities, could power nearly
25,000 households—close to
10 percent of the City’s target
for solar capacity by 2030.
Power Storage
An 18-acre facility on
Rikers Island could store
approximately 300 megawatts
of power.

Reimagining the Island

Urban Agriculture
With 13 acres of space, an
urban farm on Rikers Island
would be one of the largest
in the City, with the ability
to scale commercial food
production and accommodate
a variety of food production
Academic and Research
A 400,000-square-foot center
could be developed by an
institution such as CUNY to
provide training, education,
and research centered around
innovative energy production,
waste and water management,
and food uses, and serve as
a testing lab for researchers,
scientists, and students.
Public Greenway
A greenway encircling portions
of the Island, with access
over the Buono Bridge, would
support bicycle and pedestrian
access to the Island.
A physical marker is a critical
piece of both concepts to
acknowledge the suffering
and pain associated with
Rikers Island and to support
the process of healing for


Cost-Benefit Analysis
Each of the two redevelopment concepts
presents significant benefits for the City and the
region, including job creation, economic growth,
reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and
improved water and air quality. These uses benefit
all New Yorkers, but are especially important
in addressing the needs of the people and
communities that have experienced the most
harm in relation to the jail system on Rikers.
The largest economic benefit is associated
with the expansion of LaGuardia Airport,
which generates benefits both through jobs
supporting the aviation industry on and off
the airport, as well as benefits from increased
passenger throughput to the City and region.
The new runway and terminal could generate
up to $7.5 billion in total annual economic
activity, including up to $4.3 billion from airport
operations and employee spending, and up
to $3.2 billion generated through new visitor
spending and spin-off effects. An airport
expansion would create up to 52,000 new
jobs. Of these, roughly half would be generated
through increased airport operations, and the
other half through visitor spending in a variety of
industries across the City and region.
In the concept without an airport expansion,
uses would generate an estimated $340 million
in annual economic activity, as well 1,500 jobs.
Not included in these totals are the impacts
of modernizing critical pieces of the City’s
infrastructure network, which, while difficult to
quantify, are critical in enabling future growth
in population and economic activity. Further,
redevelopment schemes that include a new
wastewater treatment facility would allow the
City to decommission up to four existing plants
in the surrounding area, freeing up land to meet
other City needs such as affordable housing,
job creation, public open space, and other
Redeveloping Rikers Island in the ways
we have described above would significantly
advance the City and State’s sustainability
and resiliency goals by helping divert up to 40
percent of current landfill waste and replace
aging facilities to improve overall water quality,
and generating and storing renewable energy.
In total, the concepts would have benefits


equivalent to taking more than 150,000 cars off
the road and powering up to 30,000 households
with renewable energy. These uses would
generate annual cost savings for the City of up
to $75 million from improved water treatment
and sanitation uses, not including any revenue or
other benefits from the re-use of existing water
treatment sites.
It is also important to note that this new infrastructure would be built to withstand changing
climate conditions. In a post-Superstorm Sandy
New York, the potential to lose billions of dollars
of investment and infrastructure is very real.
Projects on Rikers would be situated outside of
the 100-year and 500-year floodplains, making
them more reliable during extreme weather.
There are several ways redevelopment can
help address the Island’s past and present
harms. Airports are generators of accessible and
well-paying jobs. More than 80 percent of the
nearly 10,000 direct jobs created at LaGuardia
Airport and in aviation support industries are
accessible with only a high school diploma,
including 20 percent that require no formal
education. Mean hourly wages for jobs that do
not require postsecondary education are over
$17, exceeding living wage standards for New
York City. These jobs include ticket agents,
freight and materials movers, security guards,
cargo agents, retail and restaurant workers,
and government employees. Creating dedicated
career and job training and placement programs
for formerly incarcerated individuals and for
those in communities most harmed by Rikers
should be a top priority.
In addition to airport employment
opportunities, Concept 1 would generate
120,000 construction “job-years” (a 10-year
project requiring 100 workers a year creates
1,000 job-years), and Concept 2 would
generate 80,000 job-years, opening additional
opportunities within the construction industry.
These jobs would have average wages of $74,000
per year. Given that much of the construction
effort would be implemented through City and
other public agencies, contracts would include
significant requirements for use of Minority- and
Women-Owned Business Enterprises and other
firms whose participation is intended to support
asset creation in historically underserved

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Total Project Benefits

Concept 1	

Concept 2

Economic Benefits

Annual Economic Activity	
Permanent Jobs	

$7.5B	$340M
52,000	1,500

Environmental Benefits

Renewable Energy Generated	
(Equivalent to households powered)
% to Zero Waste Goals	
Greenhouse Gas Emissions	
(Equivalent to cars taken off the road)

The redevelopment of Rikers Island will carry
significant costs and complexity. For the two
concepts above, many of the proposed uses
address critical needs that will require planning
and capital budget commitments from the
City and other public entities in the coming
years, whether or not Rikers is the site of such
The total cost of the concepts detailed
above is estimated to range from $15 billion to
$22 billion,8 including the substantial costs of
demolishing existing facilities and reshaping
Rikers to accommodate new uses. Not all costs
would be incremental costs to the public,
however. Several uses, including the airport
expansion, energy uses, and potentially waste
facilities, would attract investment from private
sources, estimated at $1 to 2 billion. Other
uses, including the new wastewater treatment
plant, would avert at least $3 billion, but
likely significantly more, of capital spending
that DEP would otherwise need to allocate to
reconstruction of existing plants and other

Reimagining the Island

20,000 households	

30,000 households

15%	40%
65,000 cars	

150,000 cars

improvements. Thus, the estimated incremental
cost to the public is approximately $11 billion to
$17 billion.9
While these costs may seem high, they
represent approximately 5 percent of the
total 10-year spending budget for regional
public agencies. In the context of essential
regional infrastructure projects, it is an
amount consistent with the cost of complex
infrastructure projects, and proposed uses
would drive considerable new revenue for the
region; future regional tax revenues from the
LaGuardia expansion, for example, including
from associated visitor spending, are estimated
at up to $450 million annually, or $8 billion
in present value over 30 years. City operating
budget savings from water- and waste-related
uses are estimated at up to $75 million
annually, or $1.4 billion in present value over
30 years. These costs must also be viewed in
the context of the significant quantifiable and
unquantifiable benefits of supporting the City’s
existing and growing population and meeting the
needs of future generations.


Total Project Costs by Category
Demolition & Site Preparation

Transportation & Open Space


Next-Generation Infrastructure



$1B $9B







Total Project Costs by Funding Source
Net Public Cost

Revenues & Averted Costs








A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Mixed-Use Development on Rikers Island
As a reuse option, several stakeholders proposed a mixed-use neighborhood including housing,
retail, offices, education or health institutional uses, and open space. The Commission and
its planning team studied this option at length, primarily because of the potential to site new
affordable housing and an anchor academic or other institution that could generate well-paying
jobs. Several key challenges make this use difficult to achieve:
Height restrictions and noise due to proximity to the airport and distance from population
centers would limit rents for new housing and the total amount that could be built. The Island’s
deep bedrock, methane deposits, and noise levels would increase building costs to nearly twice
the typical cost. Thus, it is unlikely that any new development would be financially feasible
without extraordinary public subsidy.
While the City or State could provide subsidy to support development, and set aside new
apartments as affordable housing, the amount of subsidy needed would be higher than nearly
anywhere else in the City: the subsidy required for each affordable apartment on Rikers Island
could instead fund almost three typical affordable apartments elsewhere. Additional costs of a
new mixed-use community, in the form of government investment in schools, public safety, and
similar amenities, would increase public costs further.
Finally, introducing any substantial new population to the Island for a residential or mixed-use
development would require major investments in transportation, including new ferry terminals,
one or more new bridges, and ideally an extension of an existing subway line or other mass
transit line. The costs required to bring transit to the Island, including the physical constraints
to extending subway access, greatly increase the amount of subsidy required to support
affordable housing, well beyond what the City typically provides.
Despite the environmental challenges and outsized investment required, the Island has the
potential to house thousands of affordable or mixed-income apartments and to support a
home for a significant institutional or commercial use. Therefore, if there were a substantial
commitment and funds dedicated to extending mass transit to the Island and if a major
institutional or commercial anchor were identified, such as CUNY, the option of
a mixed-use neighborhood may be appropriate for further study.

Reimagining the Island


Project Timeline




Criminal Justice Reform, Borough Development, and Rikers Phase-Out


Planning / Permitting



Achieving the Vision
A redevelopment project of the scale and
complexity described above will require
coordination among numerous City, State,
Federal, and private sector entities, and
would be preceded by a lengthy period of site
planning, public engagement, environmental
review, and land use and other approvals.
Important considerations for the next stage
of planning include, but are not limited to: 1)
identifying a lead entity or entities to manage
the Island’s transformation through planning,
environmental and public review and approvals,
and development; 2) creating a detailed plan that
phases the depopulation and demolition of the
jail facilities, the preparation and remediation
of the Island, and the development of new uses,
while minimizing and mitigating the impacts of
overwater construction and any traffic or noise
impacts related to the potential expansion of
LaGuardia Airport; and 3) developing a funding
and partnership strategy to make the greatest
use of private investment and value capture.


As noted earlier, committing to a new vision
for the Island does not lessen the immediate
need to create more humane conditions for
detainees and corrections officers at Rikers
facilities today. Similarly, the continued use of
the Island for correction use in the near term
should not delay planning for the future. Nearly
all proposed uses will require a minimum of five
years, and as many as 10 years, of advanced
planning, design, and approvals before shovels
enter the ground. The Commission envisions this
pre-development work proceeding parallel to the
legislative and administrative actions outlined in
earlier chapters.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

1.	De Novi, W. (2016). “Renaming Rikers.” Pacific Standard.
Available at:
2.	De Novi, W. (2016), Op Cit. For a more detailed account
of this kidnapping ring, see Foner, E. (2016). Gateway
to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground
Railroad. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
3.	See HR&A. (2016). Rikers Island Reuse Planning Initial
Phase Report, iii, 17 (Oct. 4, 2016); Report of Mueser,
Rutledge Consulting Engineers, 2 (Oct. 5, 2016).
4.	City of New York. (2016). One New York: The Plan for a
Strong and Just City. New York, NY: The City of New York,
Mayor Bill de Blasio. Retrieved from:
5.	New York City Department of Housing Preservation and
Development. (2014). New York City Housing and Vacancy
6.	Regional Plan Association (2011). “Upgrading to World
Class: The Future of New York Region’s Airports.”
7.	New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
(2015). Report on the Fiscal 2016 Preliminary Budget and
the Fiscal 2015 Preliminary Mayor's Management Report.
New York, NY: The Council of the City of New York.
8.	All costs and financial benefits in this chapter are
expressed in today's dollars, as if project components
were undertaken today. This approach is distinct from
the approach used in the preceding chapter, due to the
uncertainty on overall project timeline for new uses. For
capital budgeting purposes, actual project costs would
need to be adjusted upward to account for construction
cost inflation.
9.	Net public cost refers to the amount of money that has
not already been allocated for funding from the state,
federal, and local governments and excludes private

Reimagining the Island




A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

On the proceeding pages, we have attempted
to articulate a vision for a more just and more
effective criminal justice system in New York
City—as well as a roadmap for how to achieve it.
Even as we look to the future, it is necessary
to acknowledge the history of Rikers Island and
the heavy mark it has left on our City. While we
cannot undo the damage, we can act now to
repair and to honor those most affected.
Acknowledging that the profound harms
of Rikers Island have been disproportionately
concentrated in a small number of
neighborhoods—including Central Brooklyn,
the South Bronx, and upper Manhattan—the
Commission recommends making tangible
investments where past damage has been
greatest. This could include prevention
programs for youth; job placement services;
and a range of economic development
strategies, including affordable housing, parks
and recreation, and greater access to credit
for local businesses.
Another way to remember what happened
on the Island is to build a memorial and/or
museum that would honor the men and women
whose lives were affected by their time on
Rikers. This would include both those who
have been jailed on the Island and those who
have worked on the Island. The goal would be
to document a specific local story (the history
of Rikers) and explore themes that resonate
globally (the meaning of justice). Ultimately,
the effort should spark fundamental questions
about what our values are, why we incarcerate,
and how we can move toward a better, truer
form of justice.1
Finally, the name, Rikers Island, is an
internationally recognized symbol of violence

Moving Forward

and brutality. If we wish to build new uses for
the Island, it may make sense to complete its
rebirth with a new name.



New York City stands apart from the rest of the
country in many respects. We have spent the
past 20 years proving that it is in fact possible to
reduce both crime and incarceration at the same
time. Today, we are one of the safest big cities in
the country. And we have cut the jail population
in half since the 1990s.
Building on these historic achievements,
New York City now has another chance to be a
beacon to cities around the world. Rather than
resting on our laurels, we can take the next step
forward. We can close Rikers Island.
The 27 members of the Independent
Commission on New York City Criminal Justice
and Incarceration Reform represent a variety of
perspectives and professional backgrounds. We
don’t agree on everything. But we do agree on
this: an isolated, dilapidated, and dangerous penal
colony has no place in today’s New York City.
We look forward to hearing your response to
our recommendations—and to working with you
to forge a more just New York City.

1.	The Commission did not examine potential sites for a
memorial or a museum, which could, in fact, be located


Appendix A:
Our Process


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Our Process
Over the course of its one-year mandate, the
Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform
engaged in a rigorous, evidence-based inquiry,
which included reviewing prior literature,
conducting primary research, hearing expert
testimony, and holding community forums.
After convening in April 2016, the Commission
assembled as a group on a monthly basis.
Concurrently, the Commission organized three
subcommittees, which met each month to
examine relevant data, engage with leaders
in the field, and explore national models and
best practices. Commission meetings included
presentations from a wide array of experts
and stakeholders—including elected officials,
City leaders, community leaders, the advocacy
community, victim services providers, alternative
to incarceration programs, state court officials,
prosecutors, defense attorneys, and formerly
incarcerated individuals and their loved ones,
among others.
The Commission toured justice system
facilities within and outside of New York City.
Shortly after its inception, the full Commission
visited Rikers Island and spent a day touring the
facilities. A smaller group from the Commission
also toured the Brooklyn Detention Complex and
the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Beyond
New York City, groups from the Commission
visited Washington D.C.’s Pretrial Services
Agency, the Arlington County Jail in Virginia,
Westchester County Jail in New York, and the
Denver County Jail in Colorado, as part of the
Commission’s study of national best practices in
pretrial services and jail design.

Appendix A: Our Process

The Commission regularly convened
public events to engage the broader New
York City community and solicit input. The
Commission hosted roundtable discussions in
each of the five boroughs, offering a forum for
community members to share their concerns,
recommendations, and hopes for a better system
of justice. In total, almost 650 New Yorkers
participated in these public events.
The Commission held three breakfast events
with 75 faith leaders in Brooklyn, the Bronx,
and Staten Island to share the Commission’s
process and gather feedback from local faith
communities. The Commission also hosted a
series of discussions and individual meetings
with key audiences, including families of
incarcerated individuals, reentry services
providers, civil rights advocates, the business
community, faith-based leaders, and corrections
Finally, the Commission launched a
website, “A More Just New York City” (http:// to solicit public input.
Hundreds of visitors to the site shared their
opinions about justice reform.
The Commission partnered with the Van
Alen Institute to convene three community
design workshops in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and
Queens. A project team made up of architects,
environmental psychologists, designers, and
incarceration experts sought to gather a wide
range of perspectives on design principles for
a modern jail system. Participating community
members included former corrections officers,
individuals who were formerly incarcerated at
Rikers, local business groups, residents, and
service providers.


The Commission met, either as a group or
individually, with a wide range of individuals and
agencies to solicit their feedback and guidance:
Federal Officials
Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern
District of New York
Hakeem Jeffries, Congressional District 8
Yvette Clarke, Congressional District 9
Local Officials
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Speaker
Margaret Chin, Council Member
Corey Johnson, Council Member
Andy King, Council Member
Ritchie Torres, Council Member
Rafael Salamanca Jr., Council Member
Costa Constantinides, Council Member
Rory Lancman, Council Member
Karen Koslowitz, Council Member
Stephen Levin, Council Member
Brad Lander, Council Member
Jumaane Williams, Council Member
City Council Democratic Caucus
Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President
Rubén Díaz Jr., Bronx Borough President
Matthew Washington, Manhattan Deputy
Borough President
Melva Miller, Deputy Chief of Staff,
Queens Borough President
New York City Leadership
Joseph Ponte, Commissioner, NYC Department
of Correction
Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office
of Criminal Justice
Ana Bermudez, Commissioner, New York City
Department of Probation
Martha King, Executive Director, NYC Board
of Correction
Deputy Commissioner Dermot Shea, New York
Police Department
Jeff Thamkittikasem, Chief of Staff, Department
of Correction
Frank Doka, Deputy Commissioner,
Financial, Facility and Fleet Administration,
Department of Correction
Frank Eilam, Assistant Commissioner,
Capital Planning and Construction
Development, Department of Correction


Trish Marsik and Reagan Stevens,
Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health
and the Criminal Justice System
Dr. Feniosky Peña-Mora, Commissioner, NYC
Department of Design and Construction
David Burney, Former NYC Department of Design
and Construction Commissioner
Angela Licata, Deputy Commissioner of
Sustainability, New York City Department
of Environmental Protection
Angela Licata, Deputy Commissioner of
Sustainability, Department of Environmental
Kathryn Garcia, Commissioner, City of New York
Department of Sanitation
Euan Robertson, Executive Vice President
and Chief Operating Officer, New York City
Economic Development Corporation
Daniel Zarrilli, Senior Director, Climate Policy
and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer,
Office of Recovery and Resiliency
Mark Chambers, Director of the Mayor’s Office
of Sustainability
Superintendent Timothy F. Lisante, Alternative
Schools and Programs, NYC Board of
James Patchett, Former Chief of Staff, Office
of Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic
Development Alicia Glen
Dr. Elizabeth Ford, NYC Health + Hospitals
Patrick Alberts, NYC Health + Hospitals
Dr. Ross MacDonald, Correctional Health
Services, NYC Health + Hospitals
Patsy Yang, Correctional Health Services,
NYC Health + Hospitals
Kristine Ryan, New York City Office of
Management and Budget
Office of the Public Advocate
Adam Giambrone, Director, Brooklyn-Queens
Connector (BQX) Streetcar Project
David Ehrenberg, President and CEO, Brooklyn
Navy Yard
Bryan Grimaldi, Chief Operating Officer and
General Counsel, NYC & Company
Department of City Planning, Queens Office
Workforce Development at the NYC Department
of Correction

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

New York State Leadership
Hon. Lawrence Marks, New York State Chief
Administrative Judge
John George, Chief of Administration at the
Office of Court Administration
Michael Blake, New York State Assembly
Dan Levin, Senior Counsel, State Senator
Jeff Klein
Martin F. Horn, Executive Director, New York
State Sentencing Commission/Distinguished
Lecturer in Corrections, John Jay College
Rick Cotton, Special Counsel to the Governor,
Governor’s Office
Richard Kauffman, Chairman of Energy &
Finance for New York (Office of Governor
Andrew M. Cuomo) and Chair of the
Karim Camara, Executive Director and Deputy
Commissioner, Governor’s Office of Faith
Based Community Development
Deputy Commissioner Steven Claudio, Deputy
Commissioner Steven Claudio, New York State
Department of Corrections and Community
Pat Foye, Executive Director, Port Authority
of New York & New Jersey
Justice System Stakeholders
Darcel Clark, Bronx County District Attorney
Cyrus R. Vance, New York County District
Richard A. Brown, Queens County District
Michael E. McMahon, Richmond County District
Eric Gonzalez, Kings County Acting District
Nicole Keary, Supervising Assistant District
Attorney, Bronx County District Attorney
Nitin Savur, Executive Assistant District Attorney
for Strategic Initiatives, New York County
District Attorney
Elias Husamudeen, Correction Officers’
Benevolent Association
Hon. Alex Calabrese, Red Hook Community
Justice Center
Honorable George A. Grasso, Supervising Judge
of New York City Arraignments and Bronx
Criminal Court
Tina Luongo, Legal Aid Society

Appendix A: Our Process

Mary Lynne Werlwas, Legal Aid Society
Justine Olderman, Bronx Defenders
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Brooklyn Defender Services
Stanislaw German, New York County Defender
Matt Knecht, Neighborhood Defender Service
of Harlem
Service Providers
Joel Copperman, Center for Alternative
Sentencing & Employment Services
Anne Patterson, STEPS to End Family Violence
Chris Watler, Center for Employment
Ronald Day, Fortune Society
Tanya Krupat, Osborne Association
Elizabeth Gaynes, Osborne Association
Susan Gottesfeld, Osborne Association
Brad Cauthen, Osborne Association
Dr. Jessica Klaver, Center for Alternative
Sentencing & Employment Services
Yvette Quinones, Center for Alternative
Sentencing & Employment Services
Vivian Nixon, Executive Director, College
and Community Fellowship
Christopher Bromson, Crime Victims Treatment
Center and Downstate Coalition for Crime
Catherine Shugrue dos Santos, Anti-Violence
Laura Fernandez, Sanctuary for Families
David Condliffe, Executive Director of the Center
for Community Alternatives
Sebastian Solomon, Legal Action Center
Barry Campbell, Fortune Society
David Rothenberg, Fortune Society
Casimiro Torres, Fortune Society
Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims


Private Sector
Con Edison
Karen Karp & Partners
Splish Splash
Andrew Kimball, CEO, Industry City
Gifford Miller, Signature Urban Properties
Cushman Wakefield
CBRE Group
Zamperla Group
Jonathan Rose Companies
Farbstein & Associates, Inc.
Global Gateway Alliance
Real Estate Board of New York
Civic Organizations
Tom Wright, President, Regional Plan Association
Gina Pollara, President, Municipal Art Society
Lynn B. Kelly, Executive Director, New Yorkers
for Parks
Sharon Greenberger, President, YMCA
New York Urban League
Hispanic Federation
Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, NYC
Environmental Justice Alliance
Adam Friedman, Pratt Center for Community
James Milliken, Chancellor, City University
of New York
Dr. Rudolph Crew, President of Medgar Evers
College at the City University of New York
Antonio Pérez, President of Borough of
Manhattan Community College
Mary Cavanaugh, Ph.D., Dean of the Silberman
School of Social Work, Hunter College
Dr. Gail Mellow, President of LaGuardia
Community College
Dr. William J. Fritz, President of the College of
Staten Island
Preeti Chauhan, Director of the Misdemeanor
Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal


Reverend Al Sharpton, National Action Network
Donna Lieberman, Executive Director, New York
Civil Liberties Union
Kristin Miller, Corporation for Supportive
Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice
Dalvanie Powell, President, United Probation
Officers’ Union
Steven Martin and Ann Friedberg, Exiger
Associates LLC, Federal Monitor under
Nunez v. City of New York
Thomas Summers, Correction Officer (ret.)
Wayne Lamont, Correction Officer (ret.)
Kevin Johnson, Correction Officer (ret.)
Ken Ricci, President, RicciGreene Associates
Frank Greene, Principal, RicciGreene Associates
Stephen Carter, Executive Vice President and
Global Strategic Development Officer,
CGL Companies
Richard Wener, Professor of Envioronmental
Psychology, New York University
Anna Pastoressa
Michelle Jenkins
Working Families Party
Women’s Community Justice Project
Beyond New York City
District of Columbia Pretrial Services Agency
National Association of Pretrial Services
Bexar County Department of Behavioral and
Mental Health, TX
Atlanta/Fulton County Police Assisted Diversion
Initiative, GA
Hon. Lynn Leibovitz, District of Columbia
Superior Court, Washington, D.C.
Hon. Truman A. Morrison III, District of Columbia
Superior Court, Washington, D.C.
LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), WA
Chief Elias Diggins, Denver Sheriff’s Office
Captain David Bowers, Arlington County
Sheriff’s Office
Commissioner Kevin Cheverko, Westchester
County Jail

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Appendix A: Our Process


Appendix B:
Data and


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

The Commission engaged in extensive data
analysis to inform its recommendations. This
appendix provides an overview data sources,
measures, and methods.

Data Sources and Measures
Office of Court Administration
The Office of Court Administration provided
case-level data for all criminal cases either
arraigned in court or disposed in New York City
from January 1, 2014 through December 31,
2016. Although three years of data was made
available, the Commission generally relied on
data from the most recent 2016 calendar year for
its analysis.
As a general rule, when analyzing events
towards the outset of a criminal case (e.g.,
arrest, arraignment, and initial pretrial release
decision), Commission researchers isolated one
full year of cases first arraigned in 2016. When
analyzing events that required the case to have
concluded (e.g., time to disposition, whether
case was decided at trial, and sentencing),
researchers isolated cases disposed in 2016,
including cases that may have initially been
arraigned in earlier years.
Court data included the following types of
Key Dates: The data included arrest date,
arraignment date, indictment date (where
applicable), and disposition and sentence dates.
Charges: Data included the top charge,
respectively at arrest, initial arraignment,
Supreme Court arraignment (if indicted), and

Appendix B: Data and Methodology

disposition. Researchers constructed a flag for
whether the charges involved a violent felony
offense, based on Article 70.02 of the New York
State Penal Law.
Domestic Violence Flag: Although it is known
to be imperfect, available data enabled creating
a flag for whether each case involved domestic
Desk Appearance Ticket Flag: The data
clarified whether the defendant received a Desk
Appearance Ticket and, if so, how many days
after arrest was the scheduled arraignment date.
Demographics: Data included defendant age,
sex, race/ethnicity, and borough of arrest.
Release Status: Data enabled coding the release
status at both arraignment and disposition
into four basic categories: (1) released on
recognizance (ROR), (2) bail set, (3) remanded
without bail, and (4) assigned to supervised
release. For those who had to make bail, the data
also indicated the precise bail amount as well as
whether the defendant successfully made bail
at arraignment or, if not, whether the defendant
made bail subsequently.
Case Processing: Data enabled creating
measures for the number of days from
arraignment to disposition as well as between
key interim milestones, including time in the
lower Criminal Court; time in Supreme Court
(if the case was indicted) to disposition; and time
in supreme court from disposition to sentencing.
Warrant time and time involved in fitness-to-


stand-trial proceedings were subtracted from
case processing time utilizing pre-set time
measures created by researchers at the Office
of Court Administration. Data also included
numbers of court appearances, both in Criminal
Court and Supreme Court.
Disposition: Measures were created for case
disposition (e.g., pled guilty, dismissed, or
adjourned in contemplation of dismissal) and
whether the disposition was reached at trial.
Sentencing: Data enabled classifying the
sentence as prison, jail, jail/probation split,
straight probation, fine, conditional discharge,
and other common categories; as well as
computing the length of any prison, jail, or
probation sentence.
Merged Court and Jail Data
Researchers from one of the Commission’s
partner agencies also utilized its access to
several additional datasets maintained by the
Office of Court Administration, which merge
select court and Department of Correction
fields. The court system’s Division of Technology
staff created these merged datasets in
conjunction with the citywide case processing
initiative that was jointly launched by the
Office of Court Administration and the Mayor’s
Office of Criminal Justice in April 2016. These
merged datasets include cases that are in jail
and/or pending in the Supreme Court as of set
one-day snapshots (with data on new one-day
snapshots uploaded weekly to a secure site). The
Commission used this data to determine, overall
and by charge, the number of indicted cases
held in jail on September 29, 2016 while pending
in the Supreme Court.1


Department of Correction
The Department of Correction and the Mayor’s
Office of Criminal Justice provided case-level
Department of Correction data for nearly ten
years of admissions and discharges from city
jails. For most purposes, the Commission worked
with three datasets:
1. Jail Population: A one-day snapshot dataset
for the jail population as of September 29, 2016,
the most recent time point made available
2.	Admissions: A cohort of all jail admissions for
the period October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016
(N=62,203); and
3.	Discharges: A cohort of all discharges
between October 1, 2015 and September 30,
2016 (N=62,219).
The Department of Correction data included the
following measures:
Key Dates and Charges: The data included
admission, discharge, and sentence dates as
well as the top charge at both admission and
(where applicable) sentencing.
Violent Felony Status: Commission researchers
did not rely on any preset flag but conducted an
original computation of whether a defendant was
in jail on a violent or nonviolent felony, based on
Article 70.02 of the New York State Penal Law.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Status: The data included jail status (e.g.,
detainee, city sentence, parole violator, etc.).
Status data was extremely complex, particularly
as there was not a preset status category that
reliably isolated whether individuals were in
jail pretrial or after disposition or sentencing.
Commission researchers themselves drew on
multiple data fields (status, warrants, charges,
etc.) to establish five basic status categories that
we believe accurately identify why someone is in
jail, summarized as follows:2

• Pretrial: Held prior to a conviction (or
sentencing), with this category sub-divided
based on the top charge (e.g., violation or
lesser, misdemeanor, nonviolent felony, and
violent felony);


• Sentenced to Jail: Sentenced to a city jail
sentence (also sub-divided based on charge
severity and type);


• Parole Violation: Sentenced to state prison,
released on parole, and held in jail on a
parole violation (either prior or subsequent
to the formal violation hearing);

• Sentenced to State Prison: Sentenced to state
prison and either currently serving time in jail
while awaiting transfer to prison or returned
from prison to jail temporarily (e.g., to be
present for another local court case); and


• Other Status: A miscellaneous number of
other statuses including holds pending
transfer to another jurisdiction or other
miscellaneous holds.

Defendant Background: The data included
borough of origin, defendant sex, age, race/
ethnicity, “M” flag status (indicating a possible
mental health problem, though this flag is not
diagnostic), and risk of re-admission based on a
Department of Correction risk assessment tool.
Length of Stay: The discharge dataset provided
total length of stay. For individuals eventually
sentenced to jail whose admission began
earlier during the pretrial period, Commission
researchers carefully distinguished the portion of
the stay that was pretrial and post-sentence.

Appendix B: Data and Methodology

Jail Reduction Projections
Commission researchers sought to devise
thoughtful and accurate projections of the
impact of Commission recommendations,
generally erring in a conservative direction when
in doubt. (The actual effect of implementing
Commission recommendations is likely to be
greater than what is projected.)
The major steps in the analysis were as
Step 1. Identification of Recommendations
that Yield Clear Jail Reductions
Many of the Commission’s recommendations,
if followed, would translate directly into
reductions in the jail population on any given
day as well as reductions in the total number
of jail admissions each year. For example,
the Commission recommends releasing all
misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies (except
where domestic violence is involved) during
the pretrial period, either through supervised
release or alternative forms of bail. However,
other recommendations have less immediate
and direct jail reduction implications but have
more to do with strengthening implementation,
building infrastructure, or establishing new
programs or mechanisms to treat defendants
more fairly. Adopting a conservative approach,
we did not model jail reductions based on these
latter types of recommendations.
Step 2. Focus on Recommendations that Do
Not Require State Legislation
Not only is it impossible to predict how state
legislators will respond to the Commission’s
recommendations, but given the intricacies of
the legislative process, it is also impossible
to model the statistical impact of legislation
that has yet to be fully crafted or enacted.
Accordingly, we solely modeled the impact
of objectives and policies that could be put
into practice now, under the current statutory
framework. Precisely for this reason, should
effective, well-written legislation be passed and
signed into law that acts on legislation-based
recommendations, jail reductions will be greater
than what we have projected.


Step 3. Reasonable Discounts for Imperfect
It is unrealistic to expect that even under the
best of circumstances, the Commission’s
recommendations will be implemented perfectly.
Instead, our projections assume a discount of
25 percent from the projected jail reductions
that would result if implementation was perfect.
In effect, we assume that for various reasons
practitioners on the ground will not implement
the recommendations 25 percent of the time.
Such implementation discounts are a critical
feature of any candid and credible projection
methodology, and a specific discount of
20 to 25 percent is standard. (Commission
researchers also modeled how both the jail
population and annual jail admissions would be
affected if implementation was perfect, and, if
implementation was so imperfect as to require a
50 percent discount. Those results are available
upon request.)
Step 4. Sequential Modeling of Jail Reductions
at Four Stages
Events at each stage of the criminal justice
process affect who remains in jail at subsequent
stages. For example, if individuals have been
removed from jail based on reforms at the
point of arrest, they will obviously not need to
be removed from jail by reforms at the point
of pretrial decision-making or sentencing. We
scrupulously sought to avoid double-counting of
jail reductions by, at each stage of the criminal
justice process, assuming that the use of jail had
already been reduced at earlier stages and only
projecting additional reductions based on who
is still incarcerated. Specifically, we modeled
jail reductions at four stages sequentially, not
moving on to the next stage until we had first
established the number of individuals who
remained in jail after prior stages, overall and
within key subgroups defined by charge:
1.	Diverting at Point of Arrest: Reducing jail by
diverting certain types of cases before they
ever reach the court process.
2.	Reducing Pretrial Detention: For cases
processed in court and not resolved at
arraignment, reducing the use of traditional
bail and pretrial detention.


3.	Reforming Case Processing: For cases
still sent to pretrial detention even after
implementing reforms at prior stages,
reducing case processing time and, thereby,
reducing the amount of time the individuals
spend in jail.
4.	Sentencing Reforms: For cases processed
in court, reducing the use of jail at the
sentencing stage.
Step 5. Combination of Data Sources to
Project Domestic Violence Cases
In the pretrial stages, the Commission made
a number of recommendations that treated
domestic violence cases differently from others:
releasing under pretrial supervision or an alternative form of bail all misdemeanor and nonviolent
felony cases that are currently detained—except
for those involving domestic violence; and then
allowing judicial discretion to admit select, but
by no means all, misdemeanor domestic violence
defendants into an intensive supervised release
program. To quantify these projections, it was
therefore necessary to estimate the number of
misdemeanor and nonviolent felony defendants
(as technically defined by the state penal law)
that involve domestic violence; yet, Department
of Correction data lacks a domestic violence flag.
Fortunately, relying on Office of Court Administration data, which does contain a domestic violence flag, we determined that nearly all domestic
violence cases are charged with assault, menacing, stalking, strangulation, criminal contempt,
harassment, and burglary in the second degree.
Using our court dataset, we then computed, for
each of those charges, the percent of cases with
the given charge that involve domestic violence.
We also computed the likelihood of pretrial detention for domestic violence and non-domestic
violence cases with each of the same key charges
(there were no significant differences) and
determined whether domestic or non-domestic
violence cases average a longer case processing
time (signaling a possible longer period of pretrial
detention). We then applied our calculations
based on court data to the jail population and to
jail admissions data that we received from the
Department of Correction.
The chart that follows provides our most
essential findings.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Jail Population Reduction Projections


Jail Population at Baseline


Total Pretrial Jail Population


1. Diverting at Point of Arrest
Divert misdemeanor drug possession and petty larceny cases


Total Diversion Reductions


2. Reducing Pretrial Detention
Remaining Pretrial Jail Population After Diversion


Release misdemeanors (non-domestic violence) to supervised release or alternative forms of bail


Release nonviolent felonies (non-domestic violence) to supervised release or alternative forms of bail


Allow judicial discretion to admit misdemeanor domestic violence defendants into supervised release program


Allow some 16-24-year-olds on violent felony offense assault, burglary, or robbery into supervised release
program (based on risk)


Facilitate/expedite bail payment at multiple stages
Total Pretrial Reductions


3. Reforming Case Processing
Remaining Jail Population with Supreme Court Case Pending


Improved calendar management, especially with detained cases


Adjournments not to exceed 30 days


Adjournment for sentencing of 14 days


Reduce indictments


Make Bronx a focal point


Reduce homicide processing time


Increase misdemeanor dispositions at arraignment
Total Case Processing Reductions


4. Sentencing Reforms
Remaining Jail Population Serving City Jail Sentence
Eliminate jail sentences of 30 days or less


General expansion of alternatives to incarceration


Total Sentencing Reductions


Total Jail Reductions


New Jail Population


Note: Projections assume good implementation. This involves a discount of 25 percent from the projected jail reductions that would
result if the implementation of all recommendations was perfect. In effect, we assume that for various reasons practitioners on the
ground will not implement the recommendations 25 percent of the time. This is a standard adjustment.
Note: All projections group violations with misdemeanors.	
Note: Based on data provided by the Department of Correction, the Commission developed an estimate of the natural decline in the
City's jail population that would result from declining crime and arrest rates. The Commission then consulted a second, preexisting
estimate of natural decline in the jail population, published in 2015 (Austin, J., Ware, W., Ocker, R., & Peyton, 2015, New York City, New
York Baseline Jail Population Trends), JFA Institute. Based on both of these methods, the Commission concludes that if the current
trajectory holds steady in five years, the jail population is likely to decline by another 100 to 200 individuals, regardless of the reforms
described above.

Appendix B: Data and Methodology


Fiscal Model Methodology
The Commission built a fiscal model based on
publicly available data, including city operating
and capital budgets and standard construction
and staffing cost assumptions. The Commission
used the March 2015 “Rikers Island Long-Term
Planning” document that was made available
through the press. Finally, the Commission
researched examples of new jail facilities
around the nation to compare construction cost
estimates as well as savings estimates. All cost
estimates are based on a ten-year design/build
and construction process.
The cost analysis varied based on the size
and scope of the facilities. The building program
assumes construction of four large boroughbased jail facilities, one smaller jail facility,
and a new training academy. The initial cost
estimates were based on City costs for existing
projects: the proposed jail facilities in the longterm planning document, the proposed juvenile
facilities, and the new NYPD training academy.
The Commission then added escalation rates to
adjust the cost of construction to 2017 dollars,
included assumptions for demolition costs and
added contingency costs to account for the
complexities associated with developing and the
variation in construction needs for developing
borough-based facilities.
The Commission also estimated the costs
of building new facilities on Rikers Island. In
addition to the assumptions outlined above,
we assumed an additional cost of 8-15 percent
based on information from the NYC Department
of Design and Construction. According to DDC,
this cost premium accounts for the smaller
number of contractors willing to work on Rikers
Island, and the difficulty of accessing the island.
Together these factors reduce competition
and limit the duration of the work day, thus
increasing time to completion and cost. We also
assumed an inflation rate of 1.1% for budgetary
cost and savings (based on average CPI over
last 4 years). Moreover, building on Rikers would
require staggering construction of new facilities,
which would increase the total building timeline
from 10 years to 12 years.
Finally, the Commission assumes the
City would pay for development of this new
correctional system with a bond issuance(s).
Per the advisement of the Office of the NYC


Comptroller, we assume that the cost of debt
service for these bonds would be 6 percent of
the total project’s cost to be repaid over a thirtyyear term.
The Commission also evaluated the potential
cost savings associated with a new, more
humane correctional system. We assumed new
facilities designed for direct supervision would
require lower staffing ratios. We based the
staffing savings estimates on a report from the
National Institute of Corrections, which showed
the cost of operating direct supervision jails to
be 33 percent lower than linear jails. Moreover,
the Commission looked to staffing ratios in
new direct supervision jail facilities around the
nation to estimate the staffing needs in a new
system. We assumed maintaining a richly staffed
correctional system proportionate to the size of
the new, borough-based facilities.
The Commission developed a savings model
based on existing Department of Correction
budget and staffing patterns, both corrections
officer and civilian staff, as well current DOC
attrition rates. We then assumed hiring new
corrections officers each year to ensure DOC
staffing levels remained appropriate to the size
of the jail system as the population is reduced
and new facilities come on line. Taking into
account the ten-year timeline for building new
facilities, the debt service cost for the building
program, and the need to hire new corrections
officers to stem current attrition rates, the
Commission estimated the City could realize net
annual savings by year 13.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

1.	The Office of Court Administration graciously confirmed
permission for one of the Commission’s partner agencies,
the Center for Court Innovation, to use its preexisting
access to this data for the purpose of assisting the
2.	The Commission departed from several prior analyses
in its coding of defendant status, based on Department
of Correction dat. Most importantly, the Commission
did not rely on the City’s status category of “detainee” to
signify that someone is held pretrial. Instead, only those
individuals who were admitted on a new case where
the top charge was a violation, misdemeanor, or felony
were classified as a “pretrial detainee” in our analysis.
Individuals with no new criminal case but who were in
jail on a warrant or hold, and who in many cases could be
clearly discerned based on other available data to have
already been sentenced in the past, were not defined as
pretrial. Instead, these individuals were added into one of
three other status categories that Commission researchers
created: sentenced to state prison (including individuals
designated as “newly state sentenced” or “state court
return” in the original dataset); held for other jurisdiction
(including individuals held on fugitive warrants and
federal and immigration holds, among others), and other
holds (including individuals held on open criminal court,
supreme court, probation, family court, and other warrants
or holds). A small fraction of individuals had no verifiable
status in the data and were classified as “unknown.” Prior
to the Commission’s analysis, many publicly available
estimates of the New York City’s jail population include
an “other detainees” category and define the defendants
in this category as part of the pretrial population, leading
to an inflated pretrial estimate. Specifically, Commission
researchers learned that more than 3 percent of the
jail population on September 29, 2016 would have been
classified as “other detainee” in past estimates and added
to the total pretrial population. This discrepancy accounts
for the Commission’s finding that exactly three-quarters
(75 percent) of the jail population is held pretrial, whereas
others have placed the pretrial population in the range of
78 percent to 80 percent.
3.	See "Rikers Island Long-Term Planning" via https://www.

Appendix B: Data and Methodology


Appendix C:

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform


The Independent Commission
on New York City
Criminal Justice
and Incarceration Reform

Appendix C: Community Design Workshop Findings

30 West 22nd St
New York, NY 10010

212 924 7000




At any given moment in New York City, 10,000
people are in jail, but 75 percent of them have
yet to be convicted of a crime. Both those
convicted and awaiting trial deserve healthy,
safe, and rehabilitative living conditions.
Van Alen Institute and the Independent
Commission on New York City Criminal Justice
and Incarceration Reform partnered to develop
Justice in Design, an ideas project to create
design guidelines for healthier jails.

Understanding how communities perceive
and are impacted by jails is essential when
determining how to create correctional facilities
that are effective, humane, and that represent
the values of New Yorkers. The three workshops
aimed to ask the public about their perspectives
and hopes for the corrections system (and
jail facilities in particular) that prevent it from
providing safety and rehabilitation for themselves,
their families, and their communities.
The workshops took place in early 2017,
attendees discussed the future of jails in New
York City, and brainstormed more rehabilitative
models of justice, social services, and
programming for both the incarcerated and
those reentering their communities. The Bronx
workshop took place at the Andrew Freedman
Complex, the event in Brooklyn at Roulette
Intermedium Theater, and the event in in Queens
at the Queens Community House. They also
focused on opportunities for jail facilities to
provide neighborhood services and amenities
that could benefit the community as a whole.
In total, the team heard from 93 people over
the course of the three workshops, including
formerly incarcerated individuals and their family

Justice in Design is an inclusionary process
that draws on both expertise from a wide range
of fields as well as experiential knowledge from
people who work in jails, those who have been
incarcerated, and their families. To develop
design and programming guidelines, we worked
with NADAAA, an architectural and design
firm based in New York City and Boston; Susan
Gottesfeld of the Osborne Association; Susan
Opotow of John Jay College of Criminal Justice
and The Graduate Center, City University of New
York; and Karen Kubey, an urbanist specializing
in housing and health. This team facilitated
in three workshops in the Bronx, Brooklyn,
and Queens.


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

members, former corrections officers, NYCHA
residents, educators, those working in areas of
criminal justice within the community, designers,
local youth, and community and religious leaders.
We were overwhelmed with the thoughtful,
moving, and candid contributions from
workshop attendees at each session. The
collective perspective and input from those
who participated will inform the design and
programming guidelines report the team is
creating. In turn, these guidelines will be
used to inform jail facility design principles
within the Commission’s final report. Van Alen
has synthesized the three most compelling
takeaways from the workshops; they appear on
the following pages.

Key Findings
Design for Dignity
Workshop attendees perceived jails as places
defined by cruelty and inhumanity. What needs
to first change in the environment to convey a
sense of respect?
When workshop attendees were asked to
write words that described the answer to the
question, “What is your perception of jails?”
groups at every table unequivocally agreed on
“unsafe,” “traumatizing,” and “sad.” Part of
this negative culture can be linked to facility
design. The disparities and inequalities that have
become entrenched in the corrections system
also manifest themselves in the location and
design of jail facilities.

Appendix C: Community Design Workshop Findings

Workshop attendees who have spent time
in jail either as staff or as an inmate associated
life inside the jail with poor design, describing
it as cold, dark, broken, chaotic, even demonic.
Whether their exposure to jail was through
detainment, work, or as a visiting family member,
everyone mentioned the smell. “It stays with
you”, “After I left, I couldn’t get the smell off me.”
Acoustics were a big problem in jail as well.
In the Bronx workshop, formerly incarcerated
individuals said they had a hard time dealing
with the noise in jail. One explained that,
“sounds are very important, when you’re out
of jail, you still hear the sounds.” Jails today
are designed with stark materials and hard
surfaces to prevent detainees from appropriating
materials from their surroundings to create
These materials are typically uncomfortable
to sit on and cause sound to reverberate
throughout the jail. This distrustful approach
towards detainees is built into the facility itself,
and conveys a sense of danger that isn’t always
Former corrections officers repeatedly talked
about how hard it was to try and move detainees
from one area of jail to the other. They wanted
facilities designed in a way that support more
efficient supervision and manageability to relieve
much of the strain on their job and improve their
approach when dealing with detainees. A large
amount of on-the-job stress they felt came from
their inability to efficiently supervise a large



Roundtable Events
The Commission hosted six community roundtable events. Hundreds of New
Yorkers participated, lending their perspectives on criminal justice and jail reform.
Many participants shared first-hand accounts of the experience of incarceration.


Lower Manhattan


On October 5, 2016, the Commission held its
first community roundtable at Medgar Evers
College in Brooklyn, which was attended by 100
people and moderated by Ellis Cose, writerin-residence at the American Civil Liberties
Union. The discussion was led by a panel of
leaders from local organizations, including
Crown Heights Community Mediation Center,
Brownsville Community Justice Center, Save
Our Streets, Make the Road New York, VOCALNY, The Center for NuLeadership on Urban
Solutions, and CASES.

The Commission held its second community
roundtable in lower Manhattan on December 5,
2016 at the Borough of Manhattan Community
College. Over 160 individuals attended the
discussion, which was moderated by Dr.
Christina Greer, Associate Professor of Political
Science at Fordham University. The panel
was led by representatives from the Bowery
Residents' Committee, Greenhope Services for
Women, West Side Commons, and the Harlem
Community Justice Center.

The third roundtable was held in Harlem on
January 25, 2017 at the Silberman School of
Social Work at Hunter College. Over 120 people
attended the event, which was moderated by
Shaila Dewan, reporter and editor at The New
York Times. The panel was led by leaders from
Youth Represent, Fortune Society, Getting
Out and Staying Out, and the Center for Court



Staten Island

On March 1, 2017, the Commission held its
fourth community roundtable at the Andrew
Freedman Home in the Bronx. More than
110 people attended, half of whom were
young people between the ages of 15 and
23. Commission Member Stanley Richards
moderated a discussion with leaders from
BronxConnect, Community Connections for
Youth, and the Fortune Society.

On March 6, 2017, the Commission convened
its fifth community roundtable at LaGuardia
Community College in Queens, which was
attended by over 110 people and moderated by
Commission Member Julio Medina. The panel
was led by individuals from the LaGuardia
Community College Multicultural Exchange
Program and the National Action Network
(Queens Chapter).

The Commission held its sixth and final
community roundtable in Staten Island on
March 15, 2017 at the College of Staten Island.
Over 40 people joined the discussion, which
was moderated by Amanda Farinacci, a
reporter with New York 1. The discussion was
led by leaders from Occupy the Block, the
Petey Greene Program at the Center for Social
Innovation, and the Staten Island Youth Justice


A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

number of inmates. The officers expressed a
desire for a facility that gives them the freedom
to effectively do their job without redundant
actions because of an inefficient floor layout.
Distressful surroundings and poor design
only exacerbate the tension of living and working
in such a volatile and demanding place. The
negative physical aspects of the facility are
impossible to retreat from. For those who are
detained or work in jail, many harden themselves
to their surroundings as a way of emotional
detachment from a difficult and uncomfortable
environment. As one detainee stated, “My living
situation was unfit for a human, so I began to act
inhuman, and was treated that way too.”
In their groups, participants talked about
how a well-maintained space designed out
of materials that absorb sound and increase
privacy could drastically reduce the negative
impacts and stresses of jail on inmates and staff.
When asked about design opportunities that
could contribute to a safer, more calming experience, they stressed the need for improved lighting,
and more natural materials that could help abate
anxiety and provide a more restful atmosphere.
Others asked for more color. Worried
about her son’s lack of exposure to color and
limited access to drawing materials in jail, one
participant, Anna P. pleaded for soothing paint
hues, so that even if he couldn’t draw with color,
he was surrounded by it.
The positive psychological impact of a more
normative environment with nurturing materials
and quieter, cleaner, and safer spaces could
help promote respect and reinforce healthy,
rehabilitative outcomes for detainees.
Jails as Rehabilitative, Not Just Punitive
Workshop attendees had expectations of jails
that are not being met. How can jails be of value
to those who go through them?
The reality today is a system that warehouses
and disproportionately penalizes poor people
of color and the mentally ill, often failing to
effectively rehabilitate individuals for their
release back into the community. When asked
what families, communities, and those who
have been formally incarcerated should expect
from the criminal justice system, one workshop
participant stated, “Jails should be rehabilitative,
not just punitive.”
An overwhelming response from the

Appendix C: Community Design Workshop Findings

workshops was that both detainees and those
reentering the community need support while
they are in the system and after they leave
it. Participants wanted improved services
all around, like mental health treatment,
educational classes, and job training.
Community-based jails have the opportunity
to allow detainees to form a connection
between life on the inside and reentry to society.
Workshop attendees who had been incarcerated
stressed the importance of continued guidance

from the system to help ease individuals’
transition back into everyday life and to give
them a sense of independence.
People at every workshop felt jails could play
a role by connecting those released with local
organizations that offer access to reintegration
programs, housing, job training, and other
community resources. They felt reentry services
were vital to mitigating the impact of life outside


could help to diminish the stressors that cause
tension and lessen the perceived need for
disciplinary action and violence. As the newly
released return to their neighborhoods, families,
and friends, a network of support and plan for
discharge is crucial: It can decrease the likelihood that individuals—especially those with
mental health or substance abuse problems—
will struggle in the transition and reoffend.

and to reducing recidivism.
Workshop attendees also wanted services
like access to video conferencing and lawyers,
which could drastically shorten the amount of
time one spends in jail awaiting trial.
Formerly incarcerated individuals and
corrections officers spoke of the “us versus
them” mentality many officers adapted towards
detainees—a power situation that perpetuated
the stigma towards “criminals,” even when many
of those detainees had not yet been convicted.
The discrimination and isolation inmates face
make it incredibly hard for an individual to
prepare for reentry into society when they are
dealing with the physical and mental challenges
of day-to-day survival in jail.
Improved staff de-escalation training, particularly around mental illness, and enhanced
health services for both staff and detainees


Jails with a Dual Purpose
Most workshop attendees felt jails could serve a
dual purpose—both as a detention center and as
a community resource. How can jail be an asset
to the community?
The workshops provided an opportunity
for participants to conceptualize the potential
of a jail. Attendees were asked, “How could
a jail be an asset to your community?” Given
the needs and values they identified for their
neighborhoods early on in the workshop,
participants suggested ways that a smaller
community jail could be more efficient,
effective, and foster stronger social and physical
connections with the neighborhood.
When asked to think about the design of
jails they had experienced and the kind of
connections those buildings had with the
communities around them, most participants felt
that jail building exteriors were often foreboding
and inconsistent with the streetscape. One
participant mentioned the fact that when they
passed by the Brooklyn House of Detention,
they had never known what the building was,
but felt it was out of place.
The nondescript façade puts the jail out
of sight and out of mind, preventing the
community from better understanding issues

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform


Interfaith Breakfasts
The Commission hosted a series of breakfasts for clergy leaders.

On October 20, 2017, the Commission hosted a breakfast for
18 clergy leaders with ministries in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Karim Camara, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of
Faith Based Community Development Services, also attended.
The clergy leaders agreed that Rikers should be closed and
jails should be located in the community. Many clergy leaders
highlighted the capacity of churches to partner with criminal
justice agencies to provide services for community members
impacted by the justice system, and expressed a desire for
increased information-sharing among congregations working
in criminal justice. The clergy noted the need to educate
communities about criminal justice reform through calls
to action.

On January 19, 2017, the Commission hosted a breakfast for
21 clergy leaders with ministries in the Bronx and Manhattan.
The group stressed the need for faith-based representatives
to guide and implement criminal justice reform in partnership with justice system agencies and stakeholders.
Several clergy leaders called for increased alternatives to
incarceration and tangible community reinvestment from
any city savings resulting from reform.

Staten Island
The Commission hosted a breakfast with 21 religious leaders
with ministries in Staten Island on March 16, 2017. The
interfaith community discussed the need for a new approach
to criminal justice and incarceration and the importance of
community-based accountability and increased transparency
in the criminal justice system. The faith leaders underscored
the importance of expanding the use of diversion and
alternative-to-incarceration programs, such as the Staten
Island HOPE Program.

Appendix C: Sample Guideline for Cases Deemed Inappropriate for Release on Recognizance


in their own backyard and fueling the stigma
that perpetuates the detainees’ isolation and
distance from society.
Attendees wanted jails that felt like and
looked like their neighborhoods; buildings that
resembled other buildings they passed by every
day. They wanted to be able to see them as a
resource if need be and to feel welcomed as
visitors and staff members. Rather than view
them as a problem, they wanted to be able to
rely on them. Participants proposed jails act
as a community space, offering therapy, art
classes, and educational programs.
After Mildred T. from the Bronx claimed to
her table, “We need a place for the children to
go,” more than one person agreed, saying their
neighborhood had lost its local community center.
Formerly incarcerated individuals wanted to
be able to access mentors and career services
after their return to their community. Reform
advocates wanted preventative programming,
probation offices, and jails located near
Weaving these needs in with groundlevel retail could increase the exposure the
community has with the jail and help to diminish
the stigma of those who are detained and work
inside. Community involvement increases
opportunity for greater public oversight and
makes it easier for the true stakeholders to hold
the criminal justice system accountable.
Creating community connections through
programming and services that offer safer,
more transparent environments for those living,
working, and visiting jails restores dignity and
fosters collaboration for community-based
A jail that is better integrated into daily life


and the community fabric has the opportunity to
positively change the culture and context of the
This is just the beginning, and these workshops
have identified numerous areas for further

How can design improve the adverse
conditions in jail?
How can jails effectively address
issues of recidivism, mental health,
and rehabilitation as detainees move
through the justice system?
What roles could jails play for different
Design alone cannot answer these questions,
but it is a useful tool to support positive
change. Design can foster a more positive
sense of wellbeing that helps break the cycle
of degradation and isolation, which breeds
negative culture inside jail. We are confidant that
continued inclusive discussion has the power to
bring to light new opportunities to redefine the
criminal justice system.

A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform


Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform

Independent Commission on New York City
Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform