NEW: Closing Rikers Island Depends on Bold Bail Reform in Albany

NEW YORK – Today, and the Vera Institute of Justice released a new policy impact analysis that makes clear that New York state lawmakers must pass real bail reform if the goal of closing Rikers Island is to become a reality.

In 2017, the Lippman Commission reported that in order to close Rikers Island, its population would need to be cut nearly in half — from the current average daily jail population of 9,000 to 5,000. The new analysis released today shows clearly that ambitious bail reforms currently being debated in Albany would reduce the population of Rikers enough to close it once and for all.

This analysis comes at a critical moment as lawmakers debate several bail reform proposals currently pending in Albany, which would eliminate bail and jail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, and strictly limit detention in other cases.

The answer is straightforward: enacting legislative change to eliminate bail and jail on misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges—and placing strict limits on detention for other types of cases—will make closing Rikers Island a reality.

Former New York State Chief Judge and Chairman of the Independent Commission Jonathan Lippman said, “Closing Rikers and improving our criminal justice system is a moral imperative that requires courage and persistence from our elected leaders. This is especially the case when it comes to bail reform legislation in Albany, which is the fastest way to end the practice of jailing people simply because they are poor. The insights from Vera’s report show that bail reform would not only create a fairer criminal justice system, but also accelerate the timeline for closing the dysfunctional Rikers jail complex. The time is now for Albany to do away with cash bail and cut down on unnecessary pretrial incarceration.”

“It is fundamentally unjust that a person’s liberty is too often dependent upon the amount of money in their wallet,” said Nick Turner, President and Director of the Vera Institute of Justice. “Over 75% of New Yorkers in jail are there because they cannot afford bail. Recent history has taught us that we do not need to use incarceration to achieve public safety. Over the past decade, New York City has become the safest big city in America, with fewer people in jail and the lowest crime rate in decades. Fixing our broken bail system will move us that much closer to using incarceration as truly a last resort, and not the default for those New Yorkers unable to afford their freedom.”

President of Todd Schulte said, “This new analysis makes crystal clear that you can’t close Rikers without bold bail reform in Albany. State leaders can make badly-needed reform a reality this legislative session, and take a huge step forward in closing Rikers and safely driving down jail populations across the state.”

View the policy impact report here. To learn more about ongoing efforts to reform New York’s criminal justice system, visit

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