NEW YORK — As the Rikers Island crisis continues, Mayor Bill de Blasio is declining to fully use a power he used without reservation just a year ago at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's known as “6a,” portion of the state law which gives the mayor the power to release detainees, who have been sentenced to under one year behind bars, into a work release program.
What You Need To Know
- Last year, Mayor de Blasio used the “6a” power much more widely
- As COVID-19 was bearing down on the city, he worked with the NYPD and district attorneys to release 296 detainees
- Data compiled by the Center for Court Innovation show 54% of those released had been convicted of a felony
- 46% were serving a sentence for misdemeanor crimes
Approximately one hundred Rikers Island detainees currently fall under this category. That doesn’t include seven detainees who he did authorize for release this week.
Last year, the mayor used this power much more widely. As COVID-19 was bearing down on the city, he worked with the NYPD and district attorneys to release 296 detainees. Data compiled by the Center for Court Innovation show 54% of those released had been convicted of a felony. Forty-six percent were serving a sentence for misdemeanor crimes.
Michael Rempel, the director of jail reform at the Center for Court Innovation, has closely tracked the results of the “6a” program in addition to other supervised release initiatives.
"Inherently, jail sentences are not a public safety reducing practice," Rempel told NY1. "They tend to lead people to become homeless, lose their job, create trauma, which increases recidivism afterwards."
There is also evidence, laid out by the mayor's own office of criminal justice, which shows people released under “6a” do not typically re-offend at a higher rate than people released under normal circumstances.
But there is, however, the question of public perception.
"At the time, we were overlapping with a period where there was a spike in gun violence, a spike in homicides," Rempel said. “So we did see a significant increase in violent crime, but clearly people released under this program were in no way contributing to that.”
While there is no evidence of a direct connection, the increase in crime did follow sweeping changes to the state's bail reform laws and the backlash was swift.
Jullian Harris-Calvin, the director of the Greater Justice New York program at the Vera Institute for Justice, said the public narrative around the increase in crime, changes to the bail laws and the subsequent rollbacks of those laws had a profound impact on how the criminal justice system is operating now.
"The fear mongering and that rhetoric that we heard a lot last year, about yet again this false dichotomy between reform and public safety and blaming reform and decarceration on increased crime rates, we think that really took hold," Harris-Calvin said.
De Blasio has repeatedly linked the release power with his concerns about crime.
"We're going to balance public safety with what we have to do here," he told reporters earlier this week following a visit to the island. "If it's talking about someone who is not involved in an act of violence, or doesn’t have a background related to an act of violence, that's something I would consider for sure."
The mayor is also lacking support from his own police department. During an appearance on NY1, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said he would be concerned about maintaining public safety if some detainees were to be released.
"My position would be people that are in there deserve to stay in there," Shea said.
In the meantime, the mayor is instead looking to Gov. Kathy Hochul to lift parole holds and release more detainees.
"There are big pieces we'll be able to act on, hundreds at a time, over these next few weeks," de Blasio said. “A lot of it is based on the cooperation with the state.”
Whether Hochul will act remains unclear. In the meantime, the crisis on the island continues to unfold, threatening the health and safety of everyone on the island.
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