City Hall, NY – Today, Speaker Adrienne Adams chaired and delivered opening remarks at the Council’s Committee on Criminal Justice Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 preliminary budget hearing. In her remarks, the Speaker reiterated the need to close Rikers Island by 2027, as mandated by law, and steps the City must take to ensure its closure. Speaker Adams also outlined the importance of the Department of Correction (DOC) addressing existing challenges in the jail system and preparing for a more effective jail system in the future that does not replicate the problems on Rikers. Speaker Adams also raised concerns about the Department of Correction’s actions to limit the Board of Correction (BOC)’s access to video in the City’s jails, which undermines BOC’s ability to conduct effective oversight.

Below are the Speaker’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning, and welcome to today’s Preliminary Budget Hearing for the Committee on Criminal Justice. We will examine the Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2024 Preliminary Budget as it relates to the Department of Correction, the Department of Probation, and the Board of Correction.

I’m Speaker Adrienne Adams, and I am chairing today’s hearing in place of our Criminal Justice Committee Chair, Council Member Carlina Rivera, who is on family leave. I want to acknowledge my colleagues who have joined us this morning. 

First, we will hear from the Department of Probation, whose FY 2024 preliminary budget is $116.1 million, approximately $9.6 million less than the adopted budget for Fiscal Year 2023. Probation’s budgeted headcount for the FY24 Preliminary Budget is 1,092, a decrease of 12 positions from the FY23 budget at adoption. The budget breakdown shows that the allocation for Probation Services shrank by nearly $10 million, and the Executive Management program grew by $385,000. Additionally, $285,000 was included for Alternatives to Incarceration, as part of a state grant focusing on transitional employment opportunities for young adults on probation.

This allocation to Alternatives to Incarceration programming is a welcome one, because the evidence is clear about the types of programs that reduce recidivism and make us safer. Probation should be a mechanism for successful re-entry to communities, not one that pushes people back into incarceration. Community-based and responsive programming, providing job opportunities, supportive housing, and stability is critical to public safety and reducing our city’s jail population. 

Commissioner Holmes, I look forward to hearing your testimony about how the Department of Probation will help us meet these goals, and what additional investments are needed to achieve them.

Next, we will hear from the Department of Correction, whose FY24 budget is $1.2 billion, approximately $79.2 million less than the adopted budget for Fiscal Year 2023. DOC’s budgeted headcount for the FY24 Preliminary Budget is 244 fewer positions than what was budgeted the previous year at adoption. All of the positions that are proposed to be cut as part of the Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) are civilian, not uniformed positions.

New York City entrusts the Department of Correction with the mission of creating a safe and supportive environment while providing individuals in its care with a path to successfully re-enter their communities.  Yet month after month, we have seen a fellow New Yorker lose their life on Rikers Island at levels that are nearly unprecedented. 19 people died in our jail system last year, making it the deadliest year in a decade. And we know that the condition of people with mental health challenges are too often worsened by cycling through the criminal legal system and the jails. We’ve also seen Correction Officers assaulted in housing areas due to staff shortages attributed to chronic absenteeism.

I have also been concerned by some of the actions taken by the department to reduce transparency and access to Rikers Island.

As I have said before, Rikers is undermining public safety by exposing everyone there – uniformed staff, un-uniformed staff and those detained – to violence and trauma that maintain cycles of harm rather than interrupting them. It was reported earlier this week that the Department of Correction has repeatedly failed to keep track of how long it has held people in intake units and to implement numerous court-mandated reforms. DOC, as concluded by the Office of Compliance Consultants, has not maintained adequate sanitation, ventilation, and fire safety – contributing to unsanitary conditions that violate incarcerated individuals’ constitutional rights.

It’s clear that Rikers Island, which houses eight out of nine facilities under DOC’s purview, no longer serves New Yorkers or DOC’s mission. For both public safety and human rights, we must close Rikers by 2027 as mandated by law.

There are many active steps that we must take as a city to make this a reality. Though they are not the sole responsibility of DOC, they do include the agency. 

It will require leadership from throughout our government – the Administration, the Council, the court system, prosecutors, public defenders, service providers, and various city agencies. We must come together to expand pre-trial services, mental health diversion and treatment programs, re-entry programming, supportive housing, and more. 

We also must develop a new pre-trial system that does not simply replicate the same problems that exist on Rikers – this is not just about changing locations. 

I look forward to hearing from you, Commissioner Molina, on steps the agency is taking to address existing challenges in the system and prepare to meet the 2027 deadline to close Rikers Island and establish an improved system that is safer for everyone – officers, other personnel, and detainees. 

We will also hear from the New York City Board of Correction, whose FY 2024 preliminary budget is $3.2 million, approximately $43,000 less than the adopted budget for Fiscal Year 2023. BOC’s budgeted headcount for the FY24 Preliminary Budget is 31, a decrease of just one position from FY23 budget at adoption.

The Board of Correction engages in the critical work of oversight, establishing and ensuring compliance with standards regulating conditions of confinement and correctional health and mental health care in city correctional facilities. Independent oversight is key to ensuring accountability, and safeguarding the BOC’s right to independently examine documents and records is essential.

Recent actions by the Department of Correction to limit the BOC’s access to live footage of correctional facilities are troubling and we urged for them to be remedied. The Board’s ability to conduct oversight cannot be compromised, because it undermines the ability to improve the department and its jails.

And finally, we will also hear from advocates, service providers, and members of the public.

This Council will always prioritize the safety of our communities. We must invest in New Yorkers and more in the programs that are proven to help us create and sustain a safer city. These are the same programs that will help us close Rikers.

This is the plan that best serves our city, and the one this Council is pursuing. 

Thank you. And now, I’ll turn it over to our Committee Counsel.