One of the world’s largest prison complexes is to close, it has been announced, after the mayor of New York revealed he is to shut the doors of the infamous Rikers Island prison after years of debate about the controversial facility’s use.
The violence-plagued 413-acre correction complex is currently home to around 10,000 men and women - about 80 per cent of whom are locked up awaiting trial.
New York tabloids are full of almost-daily stories of attacks inside the prison and poor conditions, and abuse of both prisoners and staff.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced former head of the IMF, was held there in 2011 while awaiting charges for sexually assaulting a New York City hotel chambermaid.
Bill de Blasio, the mayor, made the announcement on Friday, following the conclusion of a report by Jonathan Lippmann, New York state’s chief judge.
"New York City will close the Rikers Island jail facility," said Mr de Blasio. "It will take many years. It will take many tough decisions along the way. But it will happen.
"We look forward in working together in the years to come to make this a reality.
"This is the first time in 85 years, since Rikers Island open in 1932, that the official policy of New York City will be to close. It is a historic occasion."
Last year Mr de Blasio publicly rejected the idea of closing Rikers, calling it a “noble concept” but saying it would cost “billions and billions of dollars” and leave the city with nowhere to lock up its criminals.
But Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York state, is believed to back the closure of the prison, and criminal reform activists have been pressing the mayor to close it. Mr de Blasio has found himself confronted by anti-Rikers protesters at several rallies and meetings.
Mr Lippmann’s 10-year plan is believed to call for reducing Rikers’ population by freeing less dangerous prisoners under “supervised release”.
Those remaining behind bars will move into a system of smaller, borough-based jails, at a cost of $10.6 billion. New York City already has three prisons, besides Rikers Island - in Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn, as well as on a floating barge off the Bronx - but those facilities only provide housing for 2,400 people.
The report's authors argue that closing the island prison would enable the construction of safer, more modern prisons that could more easily to provide services to inmates and better conditions for guards.
Placing them in the boroughs would reduce travel time to court appearances, speeding the process and saving city money, and allow for easier visitation for family members of those in the jail system.
The closure would also put a lid on the history of brutal violence on Rikers Island by inmates and, particularly, by correction officers that resulted in a 2015 federal court settlement.
“It’s good for the quality of justice in this city and beyond,” said Herbert Sturz, a former deputy mayor for criminal justice in the Koch administration, and one of 27 members of the commission.
“Rikers after all these years can change.”