Mayor Eric Adams was elected with a mandate to halt New York’s return to the crime-ridden, “ungovernable city” it once was, yet crime continues to rise. It’s up 38% citywide so far this year over last year. Beyond “bail reform” and other calamitous Bill de Blasio-era policies, there is one simple metric from the former mayor that will tie Adams’ hands and likely worsen the situation: jail beds.
As the jail facility for the city’s court system, Rikers is overcrowded, decrepit and dangerous. As such, the de Blasio folks opted to close it and spread the jail population throughout the city’s boroughs, closer to the courts.
There is some merit to this; Rikers is a remote location, making the transporting of prisoners to court an onerous, expensive process. Yet the administration rolled out the plan with typical disregard for its impact on residents, focusing instead on the new facilities’ “therapeutic programming” designed to foster the “well-being” of inmates.
The result was predictable. In a town already confronting deteriorating street conditions and other woes, the plan met understandable, ground-level resistance. So Team de Blasio added “sweeteners”: funding to local community entities and a draw-down of the total bed count.
Therein lies the rub — and the metric. At the end of 2013, as the de Blasio administration entered office, New York saw record-low crime numbers (yearly murders fell below 400 for the first year in decades) and a total Rikers population of about 11,700.
Then came Albany’s and de Blasio’s “reimagining” of public safety. Legislative initiatives such as bail “reform,” discovery “reform,” Raise the Age and Less Is More, as well as soft-on-crime prosecutors and judges, led to a vast reduction in offenses that resulted in incarceration.
The result has been spiking crime and a Rikers population cut in half, to about 5,400. Under the borough-based jail plan, the total prisoner capacity will be just . . . 3,300.
You read that right. The previous administration bequeathed Adams a future bed-count that is nearly 40% lower than it is right now. It justified this by claiming it reflected “the reality that both historic crime rates and the impulse to jail our way to public safety have continued to fall off.”
Alas, the data and conditions on the street prove that false, and lowering the city’s jail population by another 40% hardly seems conducive to Adams’s view of “public safety as the prerequisite to prosperity.”
More alarming, capping the future inmate population renders moot any attempts by the mayor to reform the “reforms” that drive these conditions. Even were Adams to get some of his wish-list items from Albany, it won’t matter — there’ll simply be nowhere to put perpetrators. So why bother? Thanks to the previous administration, the permanent coddling of recidivist offenders has been baked in.
As The Post has reported, a new jail in Queens is already going up. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, the building sites were recently fenced off for construction. The borough-based plan is clearly going forward, and it all but creates a fait accompli.
And thanks to simple mathematics, the jail plan means the city literally cannot get any safer than it is now.
Cities operate on momentum. Safe streets lead slowly, incrementally to new businesses, arrivals, tax revenues. But negative momentum compounds quickly. The atmosphere in NYC these days is fragile. We have our cheerleaders in government and media, but residents are increasingly anxious. The dog days of summer — when crime traditionally spikes — are nearly upon us. The need for reassurance, for a concrete vision of a safer, revivified New York on the way, is real.
The borough-based jail system is now slated to be fully operational in mid-2027. The likelihood of New York fixing its crime problem before then doesn’t inspire optimism. With jail construction already underway, the time for truly deciding on New York’s future safety is now. Mayor Adams: What will you choose?
Paul Mauro, a retired NYPD Inspector, serves of counsel at DeMarco Law.