This plan might just be crazy enough to work!
How many times have you heard that before — on TV shows, in movies, even in real life? Now it’s time to hear it on a serious matter of public policy — thwarting the city’s unwise plan to shut down the detention centers on Rikers Island and then build new jails in four of the five boroughs.
The alternative plan, unfortunately offered at the 11th hour by an organization that heretofore has not been a part of the heated debate over Rikers, is multifaceted. But the bottom line is this: It would keep those people the city has determined should be behind bars on the island, instead of scattering them among new jails in communities that don’t want them.
It would do that, and still achieve the goal of getting them to court in a more efficient and less costly manner, by using one or more ferries. The inmates would be taken from Rikers to the courthouses on secured buses that would be driven right onto the boats and then the rest of the way to their destinations. The idea seems like one that just might work — except in Queens, where the status quo would essentially remain in effect — because for the most part, the courthouses to which the inmates would be taken are not far from the water.
That doesn’t mean Rikers would not be reformed and rebuilt, something upon which nearly everyone agrees. While there always will be violent criminal defendants, there are ways to reduce the chance for physical encounters, and even some of the motivation behind them, with more modern facilities. There’s no reason those cannot be built one at a time at Rikers, without removing the people detained there.
And the island can be made much more humane for the inmates, not all of whom are guilty of the allegations against them. Those who are should be at least given the chance to reform, and new facilities can help a great deal with that, too. The new proposal — unveiled by the Lin Sing Association, a Chinese-American organization in Manhattan, along with Councilman Bob Holden of Middle Village, a staunch opponent of the four-borough jail plan — calls for a new hospital and wellness center, education and technology hub, family center, sports complexes and farm to be built at Rikers.
It’s too bad this idea wasn’t put out there earlier. The City Council is set to vote on the administration’s plan in just a week. Approval would take us one step closer to a new, larger jail in Kew Gardens. We can only hope Holden’s colleagues find it’s worth a delay to think outside the box and consider an idea that could well be safer for innocent city residents.