New York City’s jails—including the Rikers Island jail complex—face looming problems and unanswered questions. In 2022, Rikers saw an unprecedented 19 deaths. The jail has been up against simultaneous crises of staff accountability, new regulations preventing the separation of even the most violent inmates from vulnerable peers, and aging facilities, where shards of deteriorating windows and walls make for easily improvised weapons. Meanwhile, rising crime and changes to state legislation have changed the system’s population: the typical inmate now faces more serious criminal charges and has a more extensive criminal history.
Louis A. Molina, who took over as commissioner of the Department of Correction at the beginning of Mayor Adams’s administration, has sought to make sweeping, modernizing changes. He investigated widespread abuse of sick leave and held staff accountable, and he created a unit devoted to collecting and analyzing data to inform decision making, a first in the department’s history. But enormous uncertainty hangs over Rikers, which is slated to be shuttered in 2027 and replaced with four borough-based jail facilities that are already under construction. These new systems, confoundingly, will only be able to house a maximum of 3,300 inmates: less than two-thirds the current Rikers population and about 25% fewer than the jail’s record-low headcount during the peak of Covid inmate releases.
Please join us as Commissioner Molina sits down with Manhattan Institute fellow Charles Fain Lehman to discuss his first year, its challenges and successes, and what lies ahead. Charles’s recent MI report analyzing the bed-capacity shortfall in current Close Rikers plans received praise even from the concerned architects of the plan itself.
Louis A. Molina is the commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction. Previously, he served as chief of the City of Las Vegas’ Department of Public Safety, first deputy commissioner for the Westchester County Department of Correction, and as chief internal monitor and acting assistant commissioner of the Nunez Compliance unit at NYC DOC. Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor of City Journal.