New York City took an important step today to close the intolerable, inhumane, and ineffective Rikers Island jail complex. The City Council voted to close Rikers by 2026 and build modern, more humane, and smaller borough-based facilities in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
This change will reduce the number of jails from 11 to four. It will help reduce the number of jail beds in NYC from 13,000 to 3795. It will establish facilities where those who are detained have better access to rehabilitative services, restorative justice programs, and career training to reduce recidivism.
“Today’s vote is a historic victory in the fight to end mass incarceration and advance racial justice in NYC,” said the Rev. Winnie Varghese. “For too long, Rikers Island has festered in the East River, separating the accused from their families and networks of support and protecting the jails from accountability. Today we say, ‘no more.’”
Each step on this journey has brought difficult questions for Trinity and our partners. We are committed to supporting racial justice and decarceration in NYC. In light of that, can we support ending mass incarceration in NYC while also supporting the building of new borough-based jails? The answer was not an easy one, but we decided, “yes.” This is part of a larger plan for criminal justice reform, and a meaningful step in the right direction. Closing the violent and decrepit jails on Rikers Island is a significant step towards justice.
Detaining someone should always be a last resort. Our faith tells us that all people are created in the image of God, and to “remember those who are prison, as though you were in prison with them.” Respecting the dignity of every human being is a hallmark of our faith.
“This vote to close Rikers is an important victory in the movement for criminal justice reform, but the work to build a justice system that honors the dignity and humanity of all of our neighbors by investing in our neighborhoods and disinvesting in punishment remains,” the Rev. Varghese added. “We call on the City to close the jails on Rikers much faster than the current 2026 timeline and to work to immediately improve conditions on Rikers for those who remain incarcerated and those who work in the jails.”
Every day that Rikers is open is another day wasted and more lives damaged. For our neighbors who are detained, we maintain that they should be in a modern, rehabilitation-focused, community facility with access to family members, social service providers, and lawyers. Building new jails is not ideal, but it is a necessary step to closing Rikers Island.
We will continue our roles as organizers, people of faith, and advocates on the ground to see that NYC follows through on its commitments and continues to move towards decarceration, community investment, and racial justice. Join us at trinitywallstreet.org/action.