The New York City Council voted to pass Council Member Costa Constantinides’ ‘Renewable Rikers Act’ Thursday, which moves the city a step closer to reimagining the island without jails.
The act is comprised of two bills sponsored by Constantinides. The first bill transfers control of the island from the Department of Corrections (DOC) to Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the second bill directs the city to conduct a feasibility study on the island’s potential to house and store renewable energy sources.
The passage of the Renewable Rikers Act follows legislation passed by the City Council in October 2019 that mandates the city to close the notorious jail complex in coming years. That legislation also requires the city to construct four borough-based jails to replace the complex–one in each borough with the exception of Staten Island.
Constantinides’ first bill passed today by a vote of 37 to 7, with two abstentions. The second bill, regarding a sustainability study, passed by a vote of 42 to 2, also with two abstentions.
The first bill requires every building or facility not actively being used by DOC to be turned over to DCAS over the next six years. DOC will be required to shut down jails on Rikers Island entirely by Aug. 31, 2027.
The second bill requires the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS) to study the feasibility of building renewable energy sources and large-scale batteries to store the energy produced on the island. Such a plan would help the city reach its long-term goal of phasing out fossil fuel power plants, Constantinides said.
“These bills will offer the city a pathway to building a hub for sustainability and resiliency that can serve as a model to cities around the world,” he said.
The Renewable Rikers Act will also bring justice to those victimized by a racist criminal system on the island, he added.
“The 413 acres of Rikers Island have, for far too long, embodied an unjust and racist criminal justice system,” Constantinides said.
The two bills were developed with input from community leaders, environmental activists and criminal justice reform advocates, including those formerly incarcerated at Rikers Islands.
Many advocates celebrated the passage of the Renewable Rikers Act Thursday, including members of the Freedom Agenda, an organization comprised of people directly affected by incarceration.
“Today is a historic step in the right direction,” said Darren Mack, Co-Director of Freedom Agenda. “It took courage, commitment, and work to get us to this point; it is going to take a renewal of courage, commitment, and work moving forward towards our goals.”
A number of Queens council members, however, voted against one of the bills. Council Members Robert Holden, Eric Ulrich and Paul Vallone voted against the bill removing DOC control of Rikers Island.
Meanwhile, Council Member I. Daneek Miller abstained from voting on both bills.