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New York Mayor Announces Plan To Reduce Rikers Island Jail Population


Criminal justice in New York City can be incredibly slow, especially for pre-trial detainees at the city's notorious Rikers Island jail. They often wait months, even years, for their day in court. And today, the city's mayor and the state's top judge announced a plan to clear out backlogs in the judicial system, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Here's how bad things are at Rikers. As of last month, 400 inmates had been locked up for more than two years awaiting a trial; a handful have been waiting more than six years. New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman says that must change.

JONATHAN LIPPMAN: It is unfair. It is not right to keep people waiting incarcerated for long periods of time when they haven't yet been convicted of anything.

ROSE: Lippman ordered that every defendant who's been held at Rikers for more than a year should be scheduled for trial date within 45 days. That's one of several reforms announced today by Lippman and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Look, what we have found is a lot of people end up on Rikers Island for the wrong reason, and this is a profound problem. A lot of people end up there for - because they just don't have a very small amount of bail for a minor offense. We can do something about that.

ROSE: This is de Blasio's latest effort to shrink the inmate population at Rikers and to clean up what the Justice Department calls a culture of violence at the jail. But to do that, the de Blasio administration will have to dramatically speed up a city court system where delays are the norm. Sometimes those delays are the result of a deliberate legal strategy, according to Inimai Chettiar with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

INIMAI CHETTIAR: A lot of folks have talked about what they call a culture of delay, and I think that that happens on all sides, not just in the court system, but also on the part of prosecutors. I think it also happens on the part of underfunded public defense attorneys.

ROSE: Chettiar doesn't expect the number of inmates at Rikers to drop overnight, but she's glad to see that the mayor and state judges are focused on making that happen. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
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