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Morning Spew

It’s Tuesday and It’s Really Hard to Close Rikers When You’re Committed to Locking More People Up

Plus: A fare-evading dog, a trash-collecting epic, an ethics-skirting governor.

6:45 AM EDT on August 30, 2022

Rikers Island from the water (H.L.I.T)

Yesterday, some City officials made an impromptu visit to Rikers Island, where 12 people have died so far this year. The visit initiated a public disagreement between the comptroller and the mayor over whether the complex can be reasonably closed on the timeline required by law, a disagreement that highlighted a very foreseeable problem: How does an administration close a massive jail complex while also committing, very loudly, to putting more people behind bars? 

In a press conference following the visit to Rikers, Comptroller Brad Lander spoke in an oddly optimistic tone. “Compared to when I was here a year ago, oh my goodness the intake at that moment,” he said. Last summer, he noted, detainees had been sleeping in the showers for days; now “for the most part,” people were being processed into the jail within 24 hours. There was, of course, still the matter of solitary confinement. Lander, along with Councilmember Carlina Rivera and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, said they’d spoken to a man who’d spent 24 hours in a holding cell with no cot and no blanket, and without the medical observation he required. 

But this is what passes for improvement in New York City’s notorious jail, and officials likely had a reason to highlight these minor victories: Lander also said, to no one’s particular surprise, that the City is unlikely to meet its 2027 deadline for shutting down the jail. The $8 billion initiative to build a constellation of borough-based facilities to replace the massive Rikers compound is behind schedule. And according to officials, there are about 2,000 detainees currently on the island who wouldn’t fit in the new jails. “If you’re asking me, do I think we are on a timeline to close Rikers in 2027, I’ll have to tell you no,” Lander told reporters during his visit to the jail.

Eric Adams, who was insistent during his campaign that he’d follow through with the plan to close Rikers, met Lander’s comments with a mixture of defensiveness and denial in press comments later that day. “We’re going to follow the law,” he said. “The law calls for the jails to be closed.” But, he suggested, the plan was overly optimistic to begin with, a problem he had inherited and was now forced to solve. “I would like the comptroller to tell us, what do we do with those inmates that’s not going to fit in the borough-based jail?” he asked. And later: “We have to have a plan B because those who have created a plan A that I inherited obviously didn’t.” The City, he said, is considering sending Rikers detainees to state facilities ahead of the deadline in 2027. 

Notably, Adams’s complaints weren’t about the cost of building new jails, a cost he reportedly balked at early in his term. And he did inherit problems, a situation members of Congress have referred to as a humanitarian crisis. But Adams has sought, with great fanfare, to put more New Yorkers behind bars. So is it hard to close Rikers because there are too many detainees, or because the administration has committed to making sure that number exponentially grows? 

Anyway, here’s some other stuff going on in our cop mayor’s New York: 

  • Gary Jenkins, the embattled social services chief last seen on a yacht, is off on a nearly two-week vacation shortly after news of a Department of Investigations inquiry broke. 
  • An extremely good boy has been trained to dip under MTA turnstiles and open the emergency gate. The dog’s command is “open it,” and no matter how you feel about fare evasion, it’s a really excellent gag. 
  • Blank Street Coffee is spreading across the city like a VC-funded, seafoam-green virus, promising its particular brand of “cheaper than Starbucks” and “more expensive than Dunkin.’”
  • A reporter goes to DSNY “trash school,” in a delightful story for Curbed. She hoped to snag some hot municipal gear. “Instead,” she writes, “I’m issued a gigantic orange vest that makes me look like a baby, but maybe, I hope to myself, one with an important job to do.” 

And finally, would you buy a $1,000 NFT to reserve the exclusive right to eat fish and chips:

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