But they are still subjected to the infamously dangerous, violent and harsh conditions that have become synonymous with Rikers Island. Part of the problem is the huge inmate population at the jail. A population of 10,000 is a small city.
Earlier this year, the mayor got on board with a recommendation by an independent commission to close Rikers Island. If the city's crime rates stay low and the inmate population can be cut in half, the administration thinks the goal could be accomplished within ten years.
Reducing the inmate population by 5,000 is going to take more than hoping people don't break the law and stay out of trouble, it will also require changes to the bail system – if not doing away with it altogether – to ensure that people who are not a menace to society don't remain behind bars for months or years awaiting trial because they or their families can't afford a few hundred dollars to make bail.
There's no reason a judge can't decide who does and who doesn't pose an immediate threat to society without assigning a dollar figure to the decision. A kid dealing pot shouldn't have to sit in a cell because he can't afford bail, while a person convicted of murder walks the streets because they also have access to money.
But that's an issue for another day. Even if the jail population is cut in half, that's still 5,000 people the Corrections Department needs to account for. Where will they all go if Rikers closes?
The plan is smaller, and presumably safer, jails spread across the five boroughs. But that plan is going to come with its own issues, most notably objections by residents and their elected officials when a new jail site is proposed. Let's face it, nobody wants a jail in their neighborhood.
So if this plan is going to work, it's going to take compromise and proactive solutions.
So kudos to 11 Queens City Council members who this week offered up their own potential site for a jail in that borough. It would be housed in the old Queens Detention Complex in Kew Gardens near the courthouse.
It won't happen overnight. The complex has been used as office space since it closed in 2002 after 40 years in operation, and will likely require expensive updates to make it safe and suitable.
It also likely won't be popular with people who live in Kew Gardens and the surrounding neighborhood, but the fact that it once served as a detention center with little impact on the community should make it easier to swallow.
Elected officials in the other four boroughs in the city are going to have to follow the Queens delegation's lead and come up with their own suitable sites for jails to replace Rikers Island. If they aren't, they could find a prison where they don't want it.