Council Leader Makes Impassioned Argument For Criminal-Justice Overhaul

a-Mark-Viverito_3The leader of the City Council issued an emphatic call for the end of the Rikers Island jail complex and changes for the “highly, highly punitive” criminal-justice system Thursday, blasting naysayers for spreading “misinformation.”

Harlem Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito did not mention Police Commissioner Bill Bratton or correction union chief Norman Seabrook by name, but both have dismissed the idea in the weeks since the speaker raised the possibility in her annual State of the City speech.

Bratton argued last week that housing detainees in local neighborhoods rather than on Rikers Island could threaten public safety, which Mark-Viverito denied.

“That’s ridiculous,” the speaker said Thursday at a Crain’s breakfast forum in midtown, “because people that are being held at Rikers are people awaiting their trial date. Do we believe in the notion of innocent until proven guilty?”

Detainees are already held in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, but the police commissioner did not say they had made the surrounding blocks more dangerous.

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An independent commission headed by the state’s former top judge, Jonathan Lippman, will work on a blueprint for closing the jail, Mark-Viverito announced in her State of the City speech. The commission’s members and goals will be announced in March, she said Thursday.

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