by Max Parrott, published October 31, 2022

With the governor’s race heating up into a full-blown political war over criminal justice reforms, Councilmember Carlina Rivera has not ceased to propose new ideas on how the city can reshape its jail system. 

Rivera, chair of the Council Committee on Criminal Justice, introduced legislation on Thursday that would create a city program to identify incarcerated people awaiting trial who are safe to return to the community through alternative programs.

The Manhattan councilmember announced her plan on Wednesday at a symposium discussing the closure of Rikers, and is hoping to get a hearing on the bill as soon as possible.

For Rivera, the city’s widespread use of pre-trial detention is both a moral and practical problem.

“We have to end New York City’s dependence on criminalization and incarceration, and we have to redirect those funds. And you’ve heard what is the most important. It’s alternatives to incarceration, it’s supervised release, it’s reentry programs, it’s supportive housing and housing period,” she said at the symposium.

Her bill would create borough-based teams composed of Corrections representatives, public defenders and members of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) and other city agencies to identify people in custody whose cases could be resolved through alternatives to incarceration and released into the community. 

“They’ll be able to really review the level of offense and whether or not this person can be released back into the community based on history, based on their relationships and the infrastructure they have in terms of familial support,” Rivera told amNY. 

Each borough-based team would meet twice a month to review individual cases and make a set of recommendations a week after that. MOCJ would also be required to create an annual report detailing the outcomes of the program.

Once each team made a set of recommendations, they would continue through the court system before a determination was made. 

A major part of the interest in getting the incarcerated into a supervised release or another type of alternative program is fiscal. A city Comptroller report found that it costs over $556,000 to incarcerate one person for a full year. Rivera would like to see those funds redirected to preventive measures like supportive housing and workforce development.

She said her plan will also help the city prepare to transition to the new borough-based plan, for which the city’s jail population needs to go down. The new borough-based jails program is designed to handle about 3,500 people. Through the course of the pandemic the city’s incarcerated population at Rikers shot up from record lows to 5,861 as of Oct. 20, 2022. 

Rivera could not give details about the capacity of the program before it goes through the legislative and budgeting process, but she cited similar programs that have been implemented successfully in San Francisco and St. Louis. 

“We know that not everybody who’s there should be. Sometimes it’s a matter of financial support. Sometimes it’s just a matter of giving that case a little bit more attention. So we’re hoping this team can do that,” she said.

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