Testimony delivered before the City Council’s Committee on Land Use, Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice - September 5, 2019

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Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
New York City Council
Committee on Land Use
Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses September 5, 2019

Good morning, Chair Adams and members of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses. My name is Elizabeth Glazer and I am the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (“MOCJ”). Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am joined by Department of Correction Commissioner Brann and others from the administration to assist with answering questions.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice advises the Mayor on public safety strategy and, together with partners inside and outside of government, develops and implements policies that promote safety and fairness, reduce unnecessary incarceration, and build strong and safe neighborhoods.

Today we begin the final phase of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for the Administration’s plan to close the jails on Rikers Island and create modern and humane borough-based jails. It has truly taken a city to reach this point and it will continue to take the commitment and work of many as we build justice. The leadership of the former and present City Council Speaker, the local Council Members and elected officials; and the voices and driving energy of those with lived experience in the justice system and the grassroots organizations around Close Rikers, as well as the former Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman have all been crucial components of the journey that got us here. The City is grateful for their partnership and for their fierce advocacy.

Our city is at a key moment. Over the past five years, uniquely in the nation, we have experienced steep reductions in the number of people in our jails, even as crime has continued to decline and the touch of enforcement has lightened. The work that produced these results is the foundation of the smaller, safer and fairer justice system that we have achieved so far and that we continue to build upon. Today we have the lowest incarceration rate of any big city in the nation while fewer than half the number of people enters Rikers today than did when the Mayor took office. Over the past six years, the number of people in custody on any given day has fallen from approximately 11,700 to 7,000, a long distance from the 22,300 held in our jails at its height.

For us, closing the jails on Rikers is not simply about changing locations or constructing new buildings. Our goal is to create buildings that stand as new models for justice. They must be equal in ambition in their design and function to the transformational changes that have taken place and must continue to unfold in the City. And, critically, they must provide the environment to promote culture change within. Together with our partners, we are working with urgency and making concrete progress on this every day to meet our goal of a new borough-based system by 2026.

Creating a smaller, safer and fairer jail system is a matter of justice. No one should be detained who could safely remain in the community. But it is also a practical matter. The smaller the number of people in detention, the easier it will be to create a justice system that reimagines and refashions the culture and purpose of the jails.

Based on the successful work we have already done together, we believe that by 2026 we will reach our goal of not more than 4,000 people in custody. Our projections are based on the 25+ year trend of reductions in the jail population, the effects of continued reductions in crime, shortened case lengths and the continued expansions of safe alternatives to detention.

Under the NYC Borough-Based Jail System, the proposed new facilities would be:

Fairer: designed to improve the health, educational, and social outcomes of those incarcerated; promote the dignity of all who are incarcerated, work or enter the buildings; located in communities to increase access to families, attorneys and social service providers in buildings designed to integrate into neighborhoods and serve as civic assets

Safer: designed to reduce violence with improved lines of sight due to modern layouts, smaller housing units and better monitoring practices; and

More efficient: better connected to the rest of the justice system by improving access to courts, attorneys and service providers and thus reducing associated transportation costs and unnecessary delays.

Our jails hold up a mirror to the fair functioning of our justice system. We see these buildings as reflecting the best of our city and of a smaller, safer and fairer system, rooted in respect for the dignity of all who are incarcerated and work within them. Our proposed jails reflect a future that we have begun to sketch with many partners — New Yorkers, non-profits, community leaders, justice system agencies and others. The ULURP process is a vital step forward on a path towards creating the safest and most humane justice system possible.

We will now hear testimony from Commissioner Brann, followed by a presentation on the City’s proposal being reviewed and considered for approval by the City Council under ULURP. We will be happy to take any questions you may have following the presentation.