US & Canada

Rikers Island: NYC mayor backs plan to close prison

The Rikers Island jail complex stands in the foreground with the New York skyline in the background. Image copyright AP
Image caption The mayor says closing Rikers would be "long and arduous"

Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced his support to close New York City's notorious prison on Rikers Island.

Mr de Blasio said closing Rikers would be "long and arduous", but that local officials and stakeholders had a "moral obligation" to do so.

The mayor said on Friday he was developing a plan to close the prison within 10 years.

He had previously said that replacing the massive jail complex would be too expensive.

"It will take many years. It will take many tough decisions along the way, but it will happen," he said at a press conference on Friday.

Mr de Blasio said that closing the prison, which houses about 10,000 inmates, would require cutting the jail population roughly in half.

"The length of this process will also require continued investment in the facilities and conditions on Rikers Island that remain key to rehabilitation efforts for thousands of New Yorkers in the years ahead," he added in a statement.

Details of the plan to close the prison have yet to be released.

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Media captionThe Rikers Island bus: A journey like no other

An independent commission, led by the state's former chief judge, has been reviewing options to close Rikers as part of a larger probe into the city's criminal justice system.

The commission was created following a series of brutality cases revealing questionable practices and corruption at the prison complex.

One of the recommendations included moving inmates into a system of smaller jails across the New York City boroughs at a cost of $10.6bn (£8.4bn), according to US media reports.

The mayor, who is up for re-election this year, has previously said that shutting the prison was a "noble idea" but would cost the city billions of dollars and take years to close.