Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island

“Closing Rikers Island is a key piece of creating a smaller, safer and fairer criminal justice system in New York City. It is the right thing to do, but will take time, the effort of many and tough decisions along the way.” -Mayor Bill de Blasio

This website shows New York City’s roadmap to closing Rikers Island and replacing it with a smaller network of modern jails. Track our progress and get involved.



Safely reduce the size of the jail population by 25% in the next five years

New York City has the lowest incarceration rate of any large city in the country. The strategies below will move us even further toward the smallest jail system possible without compromising public safety. This is a matter of justice: no one should be incarcerated who does not pose a risk, either to public safety or of not returning to court. It is also a matter of pragmatism: the smaller the jail population, the easier it becomes to close jails on Rikers Island.

Featured Strategies

Learn more about New York City's roadmap to a smaller, safer, and fairer justice system.
See Full Strategy List

Population size matters

When New York City began implementing the plan to close Rikers Island, the average daily jail population was 9,400 - 50% lower than in 1990 and 18% lower than when Mayor de Blasio took office. The tracker below shows progress toward our goal of safely reducing the jail population.

  • January 2014
    When Mayor de Blasio took office
    11,089 average daily jail population

  • June 2017
    Plan to close Rikers announced
    9,400 average daily jail population

  • Expected population
    4,000 average daily jail population

  • Current
    7,105 August 2019

Reductions Since the Mayor First Took Office (Jan. 2014)

August 2019: 7,105

  • Misdemeanor 48%↓450
  • Violent felony 24%↓3,245
  • Nonviolent felony 44%↓1,630
  • City sentenced 51%↓735
  • State parole violators +17%↓615
  • Other 34%↓395

Why is the size of the jail population dropping?

The strategies below are driving the decline in the size of the population. As those strategies continue to reduce the number of people who pose little risk in city jails, those who remain in jail will be facing serious charges or pose a high risk, which will make further safe reductions more difficult. Check back regularly to see which initiatives are having the greatest effect and for new ideas on how we can safely reduce the jail population further.



Ensure that everyone who works and is incarcerated in city jails is in a safe, modernized and humane facility as quickly as possible

The physical conditions in jails have a profound effect on safety and on whether jails are places of isolation and despair or of stability and hope. While we work toward the longer-term goal of closing the Rikers Island jails, we must act now to improve the conditions for the people who work and are incarcerated in the city’s existing jails, both on- and off-Island.

Featured Strategies

Learn more about New York City's roadmap to a smaller, safer, and fairer justice system.
See Full Strategy List

Design matters

The way jail environments are structured—with attention to light, space, sound, and feel—shapes the behavior, safety, and well-being of those who work and are incarcerated inside. Below are some of the design principles that will be critical as we work to ensure that everyone in city custody is in a modern, safe and humane facility as quickly as possible.



Change the culture and purpose of jail so staff and incarcerated individuals are treated with dignity and provided with opportunity

Our goal is to build on the progress made to date to transform the culture inside the city’s jails into one of safety and respect. Improving culture includes providing staff with the support to serve the public at the highest levels of integrity and offering incarcerated individuals the educational, therapeutic, and vocational programming that can permit a more stable future and reduce the likelihood of returning to jail following release. Below are the strategies that will move us toward a fairer jail system.

Featured Strategies

Learn more about New York City's roadmap to a smaller, safer, and fairer justice system.
See Full Strategy List

Culture matters

The culture inside jails can determine whether they are places of despair or places of hope. Educational and therapeutic programming – instead of idle isolation – can reduce violence and the likelihood that incarcerated people will return to jail in the future. Professional development opportunities for staff can support them to serve the public at the highest levels of integrity. Below are success stories from a culture already beginning to change.