In the News: Marte on the Brian Lehrer Show

Brian Lehrer is talking to 51 City Council members in 52 weeks, and CD1 was lined up first with newly elected Christopher Marte. Answering questions for callers, Marte discusses the Soho/Noho rezoning, or more accurately its flaws, since he did not support it (and thinks it will not produce “an inch of affordable housing”); the rebuilding — or destruction and five-year closure — of East River Park; the plan to close Rikers and open four borough based jails (which Marte opposes); and the drug problems in Washington Square Park — the big business between the dealers and the users, and the homeless there who have substance abuse problems.

It’s worth a listen, but here’s a summary of the issue that most affects us — the borough based jail — if you don’t have 28 minutes for the whole thing.

Marte said he thinks the city should definitely close Rikers — his brother was in and out of there four times, he said, and called it a “bad system and a bad place.” But, he added, the borough based jails were not the right solution. The city, he said, failed to produce a proper environmental process for the construction of the new jail on White Street. And, he noted, it’s clear that building a new jail does nothing to improve prisoner conditions: the jail on White Street now was built just 30 years ago as state-of-the-art, but now they claim it is falling apart, out of date and inhumane.

He argues that the population of Rikers is inflated thanks to bad city policies that has people housed there for an average of nine months, and often more than a year. “Jails are temporary situations — people shouldn’t be spending a year in Rikers Island.” The problem there is that the previous administration failed to appoint judges who could have speedier trials and create a system that made sure prisoners got prompt court dates. He hopes the new administration can make the process more efficient.

“When you build a jail that doesn’t mean it will change the whole system,” Marte said. “We need to address to condition that people are in in jails, period. And also get in a movement that we don’t need to build new jails.”



  1. So…Why not just update Rikers to bring it up to a proper standard , instead of closing it?

    • because it wont line property developers pockets……..

      • Yes, there really must be some other motivation here, because there is no evidence that moving the puzzle pieces around at enormous expense ($10 billion? $20 billion?) and disturbance to communities will actually reform the criminal justice system in any meaningful way.

  2. Oh Macus, don’t be silly! That is a much too obvious solution for anyone to espouse.

  3. Read NYT’s article: Behind the Violence at Rikers, Decades of Mismanagement and Dysfunction

    • Yes, those are the problems….but how will new locations fix those? Won’t we just be moving the problems around? Reform of most of these issues does not seem connected with location.

      As for structural problems with the facility itself, can’t that be replaced and upgraded on Rikers island itself, rather than in the borough locations? That would presumably be far less expensive, and would not disrupt the communities forced to host the proposed new complexes.