Lippman Details Plans for Commission Studying Rikers Island Closure

The panel will study the possibility of shutting down Rikers Island.

A view of buildings at the Rikers Island penitentiary complex.
A view of buildings at the Rikers Island penitentiary complex.

Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the members of a commission he’ll lead to study Rikers Island today—a group that does not include correction unions or management and that he vowed would take an independent and “no holds barred” look at the city’s jails.

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“Rikers is clearly a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system. The question is: what do you do about it?” Mr. Lippman asked on a conference call with reporters. “And what do you do about it in the context of the criminal issues that so feed the population at Rikers?”

Mr. Lippman has been tasked with asking and answering those questions by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who asked him to lead a commission studying whether the city could shrink the jail population enough to make “the dream of closing Rikers Island a reality.”

One key figure in the ongoing efforts to reform the city’s Department of Correction amid several high-profile deaths and lawsuits, Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook, is not on the panel. Mr. Seabrook has taken legal action in an effort to forestall certain reforms, including a new use of force policy, and has dismissed proposals to shut down Rikers Island as unrealistic. Mr. Lippman said he spoke to Mr. Seabrook this morning and intended to speak to him often during the commission’s work—but that he wouldn’t be included as a member.

“We appreciate Judge Lippman reaching out and look forward to continuing our dialogue with him and the panel,” Mr. Seabrook said in a statement. “It would be nice however if the members of COBA, who put their lives on the line on Rikers Island every day, were officially invited to sit at the table. Reform has to be a two way conversation and we’re not sure if this panel achieves that.”

Mr. Lippman said Mr. Seabrook wasn’t on the panel for the same reason no members of the City Council, the mayor’s staff, or the district attorneys’ offices were.

“I think and believe that he is confident that I certainly, and the commission, does not put all the problems of the world at the feet of the corrections union,” Mr. Lippman said.

In describing the work of the panel, Mr. Lippman—an advocate for bail reform and community justice efforts—spoke broadly about problems and possibilities. But most of the media discussion has surrounded the particular possibility of closing the East River corrections compound and housing inmates closer to home in borough-based jails.

Perhaps to that end, in addition to criminal justice reform types—members of the Board of Correction, the Legal Aid Society, the Vera Institute for Justice—the commission includes MaryAnne Gilmartin, president of real estate development firm Forest City Ratner, and Partnership for New York City President Katherine Wylde.

“I think we’d be closing our eyes not to realize that, ‘Gee, a great many people are saying let’s close it down,'” Mr. Lippman said. “I’m very pleased and delighted by her involvement and some of the real estate expertise, and Kathy Wylde from the business partnerships. Because, look, this is a vital economic issue to New York City.”

Mr. Lippman pointed to a recent cover story in Crain’s about what the city could do with the property on Rikers Island if it razed the jails there. (In addition to housing, a new runway for nearby LaGuardia Airport has also been suggested.)

“I think it is not surprising that many people are saying, ‘Gee, why don’t we just close it down,’ because it has such, again, a negative connotation,” Mr. Lippman said, adding the commission did not have a pre-determined goal or view on closing Rikers. “I think there are foundational issues that you have to look at before you could even begin to address that kind of elephant in the room, that kind of huge overarching question.”

Here’s a full list of the commission’s members, provided by the commission:

·         Judge Jonathan Lippman (Chair) – former Chief Judge of the State of New York and Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, and Of Counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP.

·         Richard M. Aborn – President of the Citizen’s Crime Commission of New York City.

·         Juan Cartagena – President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

·         Hon. Matthew J. D’Emic – Presiding Judge of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court.

·         Mylan L. Denerstein – Partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

·         Robert B. Fiske, Jr. – Senior Counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

·         MaryAnne Gilmartin – President and Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner Companies.

·         Colvin W. Grannum – President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp.

·         Dr. Michael P. Jacobson – Executive Director of the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance and Chairman of the Board of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency.

·         Seymour W. James, Jr. – Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society of New York.

·         Hon. Judy Harris Kluger – Executive Director of Sanctuary For Families.

·         Peter Madonia – Chief Operating Officer of the Rockefeller Foundation.

·         Glenn E. Martin – President of JustLeadershipUSA.

·         Julio Medina – Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Exodus Transitional Community, Inc.

·         Ana L. Oliveira – President and Chief Executive Officer of The New York Women’s Foundation.

·         Rocco A. Pozzi – Probation Commissioner, Westchester County Department of Probation and former Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Correction.

·         Laurie Robinson – Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

·         Stanley Richards – Board Member of the New York City Board of Correction and Senior Vice President at The Fortune Society, Inc.

·         Hon. Jeanette Ruiz – Administrate Judge of the New York Family Court.

·         Peter G. Samuels – Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP.

·         Dr. Alethea Simon – President and Executive Director of Greenhope Services for Women, Inc.

·         Herb Sturz – Board Chair of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods.

·         Jeremy Travis – President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the former Director of the National Institute of Justice.

·         Nicholas Turner – President and Director of the Vera Institute for Justice.

·         Darren Walker – President of the Ford Foundation.

·         Kathryn Wylde – President and Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership for New York City.

·         Kenneth H. Zimmerman – Director of U.S. Programs of the Open Society Foundations.


Lippman Details Plans for Commission Studying Rikers Island Closure