If you had any doubt that the City Council has lost touch with reality, its recent decision to proceed with the shuttering of Rikers should lay them to rest.
Last month, the council reaffirmed that it would move to close the Rikers jail and create a “renewable-energy hub” on the island. Local lawmakers are still planning to release another 1,200 inmates onto the street and to spend nearly $9 billion to build four jails in neighborhoods that don’t want them.
With murders and shooting victims skyrocketing, rising crime in almost every major violent category and historic budget deficits, this is irresponsibility verging on madness.
In April 2019, Rikers Island held about 7,500 inmates, and the city continued to enjoy a years-long decline in crime. Then, the state Legislature enacted its misguided bail “reform,” requiring judges to release without bail all defendants charged with burglary, car theft, drug dealing, grand larceny and almost all misdemeanors, effective Jan. 1, 2020.
But judges started reviewing the bail conditions of incarcerated defendants in September 2019, to see if any of them could be preemptively sprung under the new law. Early release would avoid the unseemly spectacle of thousands of career criminals walking out of city jails on Jan. 1. Judges started lowering or eliminating bail for hundreds of inmates, thereby releasing them back onto the streets. As a result of all this, the population on Rikers fell to 5,721 inmates by Jan. 1, 2020.
In January 2020, hundreds more burglars, car thieves, drug dealers and robbers were released from Rikers under the new laws, and the courts were prohibited from setting bail on new arrests for these crimes. By March 30, the population of city jails had fallen to just 4,637, a reduction of almost 3,000 inmates from a year earlier.
What was the effect of these releases? It was as if 3,000 inmates had escaped from city jails all at once. By March 15, 2020, robberies had spiked 34 percent, burglaries by 27 percent, grand larcenies by 16 percent and auto theft by 68 percent over the same period in 2019. These numbers represented the highest increase in crime in more than 30 years. And this was before the pandemic gripped the city and nation.
Once the coronavirus struck, a panicked city began to spring violent criminals to stop the spread in the jail system. By April 30, the city’s jail population was 3,824 inmates. Mayor de Blasio bragged about the reduced jail population, but he said nothing about the rising crime rate.
By June 14, the number of people shot in the Big Apple jumped 29 percent, and murders were up 25 percent. But city elites weren’t done with their anti-anti-crime efforts.
On June 15, 2020, a police-involved death in distant Minneapolis led the city to disband its anti-crime unit, the only non-uniformed street-enforcement operation in the NYPD tasked with getting guns off the street. Two weeks later, shooting victims in the city had risen 52 percent, homicides by 23 percent. By the end of 2020, murder had increased 47 percent, shooting victims by 102 percent.
Yet the mayor and City Council are consumed with reducing the jail population even further, the centerpiece of their effort being the plan to abandon Rikers — a solution in search of a problem.
Whatever the merits of releasing criminals from jail to reduce the spread of the virus, the city has proved once again the irrefutable proposition that permitting more criminals to roam the streets produces more crime.
To close Rikers — for purely ideological and political reasons — our elites are prepared to keep those criminals on the streets and to prohibit the city from ever incarcerating more than 3,300 individuals, no matter how many people are murdered and shot.
More people are dying and more people will continue to die because of their decisions.
Releasing criminals from jail, preventing judges from considering a defendant’s dangerousness when setting bail, discovery laws that make it extremely difficult to prosecute defendants and increasingly political attacks on the courageous men and women of the NYPD are contributing to criminality rates unseen in decades.
New York City, which as recently as a year ago was the safest large city in America, is steadily losing that title. For no good reason.
Jim Quinn was executive district attorney in Queens DA’s office, where he served for 42 years.