NYC won't make deadline to close Rikers, public contract notice indicates
The posting places the completion date in 2029, two years past the mandated deadline for shuttering Rikers
By Chris Sommerfeldt and Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — New York City might blow the 2027 deadline for closing Rikers Island by two years, according to a public notice on a city contract posted Monday.
The notice published in the City Record by the Department of Design and Construction announced a hearing to consider a contract award to the Tutor Perini Corp. for the construction of a new Brooklyn borough jail, one of several satellite lockups meant to replace Rikers.
The posting indicates the contract will run for 2,317 days from the date of the notice to proceed — or just over six years — placing the completion date in 2029, two years past the mandated deadline for shuttering Rikers.
Demolition of the old Brooklyn House of Detention at the same 275 Atlantic Ave. site is already underway.
In 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill passed by the City Council which established that the jails on Rikers Island would be closed by August 2027 and new jails in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan along with hundreds of new hospital beds would be completed.
“I can’t think of any rationale why they would have a contract that goes two years beyond the deadline if the city wasn’t delaying the jail,” said Zachary Katznelson, executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.
“The idea that the boro jails aren’t going to be ready by 2027 is unacceptable. Rikers needs to close. We have a legal deadline of August 2027 to do so. We need to have the jail and hospital beds finished by then. How can it possibly take six years to build a jail?”
Charles Lutvak, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams, disputed the notion that the city won’t shutter Rikers by 2027, saying there’s nothing in the Tutor Perini award notice suggesting that.
However, the spokesman acknowledged that the timeline for “substantial completion” of the new Brooklyn jail is April 2029.
[EARLIER: NYC Council Speaker renews push to shut down Rikers]
Lutvak blamed the 2029 timeline on supply chain challenges as well as increased construction and labor costs. Materials like steel, aluminum and concrete have grown especially expensive during the pandemic, he added.
“This contract reflects realities facing the construction industry and requirements laid out in the law passed by the City Council,” the spokesman said. “This administration will always follow the law, and the law says the jails on Rikers Island must close on time.”
The proposed contract is valued in the notice at $2.96 billion paid for by bonds repaid over 30 years. The full plan to close Rikers has been estimated to cost at least $8.5 billion.
Adams has said the plan to close the jail needs a “Plan B” chiefly because the current jail population sits at just under 6,000, while the capacity of the plan caps capacity for the new jails at 3,300.
But Adams has yet to describe exactly what that plan is.
“Delaying closure of that dangerous place undermines public safety and puts staff and incarcerated people alike at risk,” said Jonathan Lippman, the former chair of the Close Rikers commission and former state chief judge.
“The city must build the secure hospital beds and borough jails that will replace Rikers — and do it on time.”
A range of other backers of the Close Rikers plan weighed in, including members of the Campaign to Close Rikers, which wraps in multiple groups. Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center said, “Closing Rikers Island should be expedited, not delayed. Every day the decrepit jails on Rikers remain open, people suffer.”
Tracey Gardner, senior vice present of the Legal Action Center, added: “We are distressed by the delays in construction that disrupt the timely closure of Rikers. We would like to remind the mayor that any delay in closure is, in fact, as illegal as it is inhumane.”
The main issue that has to be dealt with, observers say, is the discrepancy between the existing population and the plan’s 3,330-bed capacity.
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“When you build something, it has to accommodate whatever it is housing,” said one observer. “The capacity is a fatal flaw. It’s right there in plain view, but nobody wants to talk about it.”
The closure plan was approved after years of revelations about the conditions and violence on Rikers. In 2015, the city signed a consent decree with the Justice Department creating a federal monitor to oversee the jails and make recommendations.
But eight years of recommendations have not led to substantial improvements. In September 2021, conditions were so bad a group of elected officials called the jails a humanitarian crisis.
Sixteen people died in the jails in 2021 and another 19 in 2022, with staffing breakdowns a factor in a number of them, as detailed in Board of Correction reports.
Spokesmen for DDC and the Correction Department referred a reporter to the mayor’s press office.
Lutvak said expected construction delays can also be attributed to Local Law 194, which was adopted in 2019 and stipulates certain improved living conditions in jails, like smaller housing units with larger individual cells and windows as well as space on each floor for counseling and creative arts programs, among other services.
The contract hearing is slated for March 23 on Zoom, the notice said.
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