- The City will lease land at NYCHA’s Wyckoff Gardens complex to two major developers who donated to Mayor De Blasio’s campaign. The leasing of public land to private developers is part of NextGeneration NYCHA, a plan to address the Housing Authority’s budget problems, that has faced resistance from public housing advocates and NYCHA tenants.
- $57 million dollars have been awarded to a family suing the NYCHA over the lead paint scandal.
- City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Carlos Menchaca are investigating the NYPD’s role in the deportation of Ravi Ragbir.
- The corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former aide to Gov. Cuomo, began this week, which may expose the Governor to scandal as he runs for re-election.
- The MTA Board declined to approve a $224 million contract to renovate eight subway stations, after criticisms that the planned renovations would not improve access for people with disabilities. The decision was spurred by Mayor De Blasio’s representatives on the Board, who also objected to the lack of input from the City on which stations were selected for upgrades.
- The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a major NYPD union, is reducing the number of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards it issues to members, renewing scrutiny of the practice.
- Prior to striking a deal with the Bronx County Democratic Party to elect Corey Johnson as the new City Council speaker, the Queens County democratic party received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from real estate groups who used an array of LLCs.
- Governor Cuomo took a hedge fund billionaire and campaign donor’s private jet to the Sundance Film Festival last week.
- The deadline has passed for Gov. Cuomo to call special elections for two vacant State Senate seats in time for newly-elected Senators to take part in the 2018 budget. The special elections would have given Democrats a chance at regaining control of the 63-seat Senate, if the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and Simcha Felder agreed to end their coalition with Republicans and join mainline Senate Democrats. Cuomo’s decision effectively guarantees a Republican veto during budget negotiations, when the state will decide on a spending plan for over $160 billion.
- Primary challengers of IDC Senators Jose Peralta, Jesse Hamilton, and Marisol Alcantara have reported substantial fundraising hauls in recent campaign finance reports. IDC leader Jeff Klein and Syracuse-area IDC Senator David Valesky are also facing challenges.
- Former Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner has re-affirmed her interest in challenging Governor Cuomo in this year’s primary as a progressive. She previously indicated plans to challenge Republican Congress Member John Katko.
- Republican State Senator John DeFrancisco (District 50, Syracuse area) is planning to enter the 2018 Governor’s race, joining a sleepy GOP field that includes Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra. Should he move forward with this plan, his State Senate seat could be a potential pickup for Democrats, as District 50 voted for Obama by 11 points in 2012 and for Clinton by 5 points in 2016.
IN-DEPTH: The state of #CLOSERikers
Rikers Island is a 400-acre island located in the East River that houses New York City’s primary jail complex and one of the world’s largest correctional institutions. Like all jails, as distinguished from prisons, the 82-year old facility is designed to serve as a short-term holding facility, operating under the authority of local government, primarily for the purpose of detaining unconvicted men, women, and juveniles held on bail or remanded to custody pending their case resolution. However, well over a thousand of the pre-trial individuals held on Rikers have been detained longer than a year, according to past figures taken from New York City courts resolutions (a number that has purportedly dropped in recent months). Pre-trial individuals make up a total of 79% of Rikers’ population, with a smaller number of convicted individuals serving short-sentences between one and two years.
Rikers Island is operated by the New York City Department of Corrections, which has an annual budget this year of $1.4 billion dollars (including City and non-City funds), representing approximately 2 percent of the City’s total budget. Detaining a single person on the Island for a year costs taxpayers $247,000. Today, Rikers Island holds a daily population of around 9,000 detained persons, a 1:1 ratio to the number of corrections officers employed by the complex. 89% of this population is Black or Latino, many of which are held for drug offenses, and hundreds of which are held for violating parole.
For decades, the Island has been infamous for its unconscionable living conditions, excessive abuse and brutality, drastic environmental hazards, and extreme infrastructural deficiencies. Since the 2015 suicide of Kalief Browder, a teenager who spent a total of three years on the island awaiting trial on charges of stealing a backpack, the jail has been under increased federal oversight for its treatment of incarcerated persons, specifically those with diagnosed mental illness, who make up 40% of the housed population.
Bill de Blasio originally campaigned for mayor with promises to limit the City’s carceral population and put an end stop-and-frisk police practices. During this time, de Blasio declined to advance any policy for closing Rikers on the grounds that it was, vaguely, too expensive, complicated, and difficult. After ongoing pressure from local activists, de Blasio finally announced his plans last summer to close Rikers within 10 years on a budget of approximately $10 billion dollars. Notably, the Mayor’s plan, as detailed in a 52-page report, is contingent on a reduction in jail population (already down 50% since 1990), requires the opening of new facilities throughout the city, emphasizes the “use of technology” to reduce violence, and insists that “there is no immediate way to close Rikers Island safely and house the population off-Island.”
The activists and formerly incarcerated individuals who constitute the #CLOSERikers movement, one of many advocacy groups responsible for leading the campaign to close Rikers, dispute this, pointing out that within this decade, 418,000 people of color will be caged at Rikers, costing the city $13 billion dollars. The group also cites the fact that despite a smaller detainee population, violence against detainees by DOC staff continues to rise, making de Blasio’s plans for incremental reform insufficient to reduce the life-threatening impact of detention at Rikers. Advocates for #CLOSERikers agree, however, that the overall jail population needs to be drastically reduced through ensuring speedy trials, as outlined in the New York Speedy Trial bill 205988-A (Squadron) /A08296-A (Aubry), and through reforming the cash bail system.
De Blasio recently announced that by Summer 2018, the city would close the George Motchan Detention Center, one of the ten facilities at Rikers that houses about 600 men. Its closure will bring the total number of operational Rikers Island facilities from nine to eight, and will not entail any reduction in DOC uniformed staff. The announcement came after a historic drop in City crime, marking the lowest jail population since 1982. While the closing of GMDC signals positive efforts to reduce the scale of Rikers’ operations, it should be noted that GMDC has a relatively high number of available educational, leisure, and occupational programs in comparison to other facilities, as a result of the recent Commissioner strategy to accelerate violence reduction.
Recent events point to consistent violence and maltreatment of incarcerated individuals on the Island, making the prompt closure of the facility evermore urgent. On December 30th, 2017, 51-year-old Joseph Foster died after arguably suffering medical neglect within the jail. This month, residents of two facilities had to be evacuated due to drastically low-temperatures that fell far below the jail’s standard of 68 degrees Fahrenheit.