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Morning Spew

New Adams Budget Scapegoat Dropped: Closing Rikers Island

Anyone else feeling a little déjà vu? 

Jacques Jiha testifying at the City Council Budget hearing.

Jaques Jiha testifying at the City Council Preliminary Budget Hearing on Monday (John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit)

The law says that Rikers Island must close by August of 2027. The Adams administration sees it differently.

"We know it's not going to happen by 2027," the mayor's budget director, Jacques Jiha, told councilmembers during four hours of budget testimony on Monday. 

Jiha is the guy who up until very recently was claiming that the City had a $7 billion deficit through 2025, and he and his boss, Mayor Adams, kept blaming it on asylum seekers. Except, whoops, it actually looks like the City has a $3 billion surplus through 2025 and gee, wow, now some of those budget cuts we spent the past year arguing over might get rolled back.

Yet here was Jiha on Monday, complaining that the legally mandated plan to shut down the deadly and decrepit jails on Rikers Island and build four borough-based jails was constraining his ability to do his job and issue debt to fund other necessities, like fixing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and repairing school buildings. Anyone else feeling a little déjà vu

"I keep telling folks this is a real, real problem," Jiha said. "And what makes it worse…is the fact that even though we know we’re not going to spend the money for the borough-based jails by 2027, we need to keep it there." (City Comptroller Brad Lander was not convinced, and told the council "we have meaningful room" to do it all.)

With three and a half years before the deadline to shut Rikers down hits, the City is lagging in every metric to make the transition to borough-based jails. The facilities in Queens, the Bronx, and Lower Manhattan are all still theoretical. The old facility in Brooklyn is slowly being demolished to make way for the new one that the City has claimed won't be finished until 2029. And because the number of detainees on Rikers keeps growing—from under 4,000 during the pandemic to around 6,100 currently—the planned jails also keep getting bigger

To top it off, the person in charge of enforcing the transition, Eric Adams, doesn't fully believe in it, and thinks that "you really have to do something bad to go to Rikers," when in reality, 90 percent of people in New York City jails are being held before they get their day in court.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has said that she considers shutting down Rikers a priority, and this past fall, created yet another panel to push it forward. Recently, the City Council has moved to join a lawsuit suing the Adams administration over a housing voucher law they passed and that the mayor refused to enact. Will the council go to court to shut down Rikers? 

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