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Mayor de Blasio Agrees To Plan To Close Rikers Island Prison

Riker's Island aerial view

Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to the parameters of a commission report recommending the future closure of Rikers Island prison in an announcement from City Hall on Friday.

"New York City has long been better than Rikers Island," de Blasio said. "I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to this reality."

The mayor's announcement came after a 27-member blue-ribbon commission recommended the closure of Rikers Island, replacing the notorious prison with smaller facilities throughout the five boroughs.

"We need to reduce the total jail population to 5,000 over the next 10 years to totally close Rikers Island," de Blasio said. "This will not be easy. This problem was created over many decades and it will take time to solve."

The commission, led by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, studied the prison for more than a year, and one member of the panel told the New York Daily News that the commission reached its conclusion in a 97-page report submitted to de Blasio and the New York City Council.

Among other recommendations, the commission will suggest supervised release of some prisoners and a reform of the bail system, the commissioner told the Daily News. The transition to carry out the recommendations is expected to take 10 years and cost $10.6B.

Currently, Rikers Island has the capacity to house as many as 15,000 inmates in 10 different prisons, according to the city's Department of Corrections. The city also operates four prisons in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx with a combined capacity of 3,000 prisoners.

The report eyes the ultimate closure of Rikers Island as an opportunity to redevelop the island. The most promising potential use of the island is an extension of LaGuardia Airport to create a third runway. It could also be used as a hub for critical city infrastructure, such as wastewater treatment centers, research facilities and public greenery, the New York Times reports.

Although the city needs to build affordable housing, the commission found that would be infeasible due to the requirement of "massive investments" in transit, height restrictions and noise from the airport.

Forest City Ratner president and CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, a leader of the development of Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, is among the 27 members of the commission.