This is an open letter from urban planning and policy practitioners, professors, and researchers in support of the No New Jails NYC campaign. If you would like to sign on to this letter, please fill out the form below.

September 23, 2019

As people working and teaching in urban planning and policy, we call on all members of the New York City Council to vote no on the “Borough-Based Jail System” land use application and to take action for the immediate closure of the jails on Rikers Island. To build healthy and safe communities, we must divest from policing and incarceration and invest in the community resources we strive to build in our work every day. We cannot end mass incarceration by creating new jails. Approval of this land use action cannot guarantee the closure of the Rikers Island jails nor address the human rights abuses that occur within jails, regardless of design or location. The City can and must close the jails on Rikers Island without building new jails by embarking on a community-based abolitionist planning process, like No New Jails’ robust abolition plan, and investing in decarceral and abolitionist strategies, including existing city programs and policies.

Foremost, we are opposed to the caging of human beings in jails, a practice widely evidenced to enact violence against Black and Brown people regardless of location or design. New York City has brutally locked away generations through policing driven by debunked Broken Windows theory, the drug war, and gang databases and emerging “predictive policing.” Incarceration further entrenches communities of color in poverty, destabilizes families, inflicts trauma on those incarcerated and their loved ones, and undermines employment prospects for people of color. The City’s proposal for “humane design” in new jails is part of a long reformist tradition that has promised rehabilitative jails and consistently failed, including in the case of Rikers jails complex. This sort of design determinism is often a shiny veneer for racist, oppressive policy, from “slum clearance” that displaced Black and Brown New Yorkers for Urban Renewal megaprojects to defensible space theory-informed public housing design that fenced off green spaces from residents. Design cannot solve problems of oppression; design cannot be humane in an inhumane system. Locating new jails closer to courthouses and public transportation does not counter the physical and psychological violence done to people living in hyper-policed neighborhoods, people in jail, and people with family members in jail -- it perpetuates it.

We as urban planners have a responsibility to think about the long-term consequences of present actions, seek social and racial justice, and urge the alteration, reversal, or abolition of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs, as stated in the AICP Code of Ethics. We cannot continue to sign on to plans that harm the public we serve. Sound, ethical planning calls for closing Rikers without building new jails because jails are tools of racist violence.

Second, the City can close the jails on Rikers Island without building new jails. The City did not provide adequate analysis of feasible, humane, and more effective policy alternatives for achieving its goals of reducing the jail population and increasing safety in its planning process and environmental review of the Borough-Based Jails development plan. The City has both disregarded the true impact of proposed policy alternatives to reduce the number of human beings in city jails each day below 4,000 and failed to properly look at other decarceral and abolitionist alternatives.

  • Existing bail and pretrial detention reforms and diversion programs are reducing the jail population faster than the city projected. We must further advance and expand decarceral reforms (not programs that expand the carceral state through surveillance technology and supervised release). City strategies including reforming the bail system, diversion programs, and speeding up case processing times are underway; the City has already reached its five-year goal of reducing the daily jail population to approximately 7,000 people in two years. State bail reforms going into effect in January 2020 will significantly reduce the number of people entering jail for misdemeanor and “non-violent” charges, reducing the daily jail population by up to 3,000 people (bringing the jail population to approximately 4,000 people per day). There is also opportunity to expand these decarceral strategies. For instance, if the recent bail reforms were expanded to eliminate pre-trial detention to the furthest extent of existing law, the number of people in jail each day would be reduced to approximately 2,700 people. By ending incarceration for misdemeanor convictions and enacting parole reforms to reduce the number of people on technical parole violations, the number of people held in city jails could be reduced even further.

Ultimately, the city’s land use application was based on flawed projections, even by its own findings, of the impact of existing alternatives for meeting its stated goal of safely reducing the number of people in jail. These impacts, taken together with the unexplored feasible alternatives and a thirty-year trend of increasing public safety, undermine the city’s justification for its plan to build jails with capacity to cage 4,000 people each day (likely 20,000 people each year) for years to come.

  • To actually decarcerate, and to build safe communities, the city must reduce policing and punishment. The city must reduce policing and arrests and expand well-tested models of violence interruption and transformative justice practices. City Councilmembers whose most urgent concern is closing Rikers will find the most immediate progress and impact in these strategies, as opposed to building new jails.
  • The city must invest in housing and community resources and address systemic causes of poverty. The majority of Black and Brown neighborhoods overrepresented in police stops, arrests, and incarceration have never received sufficient public investment in the resources necessary for building safe communities. If the city seeks to reach its stated goals of restabilizing familial and community connections, improving mental health, integrating formerly incarcerated people returning home, and reducing the number of people incarcerated, the city must invest in and remove systemic barriers to quality jobs and higher wages, education, healthcare, free public transportation (a feasible policy, with precedent in student Metrocards and free roads and parking), a just food system, and housing.

Specifically, the city must prioritize investments in low-income housing and anti-racist housing policies. Over 60,000 people sleep in shelters every night, and the New York City Housing Authority has a staggering capital budget need of $31.8 billion over the next five years, with $45.2 billion over the next 20 years, to repair and rehabilitate this critical source of affordable housing, among others. Housing security is essential for every person’s safety and ability to thrive and is key in reducing incarceration rates. The city needs to adopt a Housing First approach for those who have been incarcerated that experience homelessness and struggle with mental health issues. The city’s longstanding investments in supportive housing, including in models for people caught between jails, hospitals, and shelters, are shown to improve health outcomes and reduce recidivism. The city must make the overdue investment in NYCHA and remove barriers for people who have been targeted by police, including ending NYCHA’s permanent exclusion policy and enacting policy that builds on NYCHA’s successful family reentry pilot. Echoing priorities identified in the city’s Where We Live NYC process, the city’s housing strategy must address generations of concentrated poverty, discrimination, and systemic barriers in the housing market and housing programs. Strategies include improving fair housing enforcement, investing city dollars in infrastructure and services in communities of color entirely independent from any neighborhood rezoning proposal, and preserving and creating quality housing targeted to people without homes and households making less than $30,000 annually.

Finally, the proposed land use action to create four new jails, which was developed without sufficient transparency or meaningful public involvement, is not a plan to close the Rikers jails.

The city needs a community-based planning process to advance effective and humane strategies to close the jails on Rikers Island and build safe communities without jails—the very required seismic shift in culture and expectations by New Yorkers and the justice system acknowledged by the city. The city should look to the No New Jails NYC plan and Movement for Black Lives policy platform as strong models for community-based abolitionist planning led by people most directly impacted by policing and incarceration.

The creation of new jails is a terrible misuse and waste of scarce public land and dollars; New York City must divest from the carceral state and invest in communities. Community investment in the strategies outlined above will reduce the number of people in jail. As stated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, this project would be an irreversible and irretrievable commitment, which means in the near term the much-needed land cannot be used for the very community-investments needed to reduce the number of people in jail. With this plan the city has failed to fully weigh the impacts of this irreversible and detrimental land-use commitment, adequately identify alternatives to jail, examine existing city tools to reduce the number of people in jails, and provide New Yorkers with the opportunity to have conversations on closing Rikers Island and building a city without jails.


1. Sylvia Morse

2. Sabrina Bazile, Msc, City & Regional Planning

3. Aly Hassell, Hunter College Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy

4. Samuel Stein

5. Alan Minor

6. Lena P Afridi

7. James Hull

8. Tom Angotti, Hunter College, City University of New York

9. Hafizah Omar, Hunter College

10. Alyssa Smaldino

11. Natsumi Yokura

12. Jen Chantrtanapichate

13. Nadia Owusu, Living Cities

14. Yvette Chen

15. Nelson Kugle, Automotive

16. Andrew Schustek

17. Carlos Pazmino, MURP

18. Robin D. McGinty

19. Ujju Aggarwal, The New School

20. Rian Rooney

21. Chris Feinman, PennDesign

22. Josefina Peralta, Hunter College

23. Lucy Block, Master of Urban Planning, Hunter College

24. Genea Foster

25. Thomas Abbot

26. Do Lee, Queens College, City University of New York

27. Michael Perles

28. Arielle Lawson, Hunter College, City University of New York

29. christopher herring, UC Berkeley

30. Cea Weaver

31. Rosalie Singerman Ray, Columbia University

32. Erica Saunders

33. Peter Harrison, Candidate for N.Y.-12

34. Stephen Cassidy Jones, Doctoral Candidate, The Graduate Center, CUNY

35. Evan Casper-Futterman, PhD

36. Katherine Mella, MCP

37. Deshonay Dozier, CSU Long Beach

38. Julia Duranti-Martinez, MA, MSCRP

39. Annie Spencer, MA, Doctoral Candidate, CUNY Graduate Center

40. Julia Judge

41. Jonathan Pacheco Bell, MAUP, MLIS, Embedded Urban Planner

42. Shirley Leyro, CUNY

43. Matt Wildey

44. Nicholas MacDonald

45. Antonio Carriere, MPA, Regional Transportation Planner- IMCAL/LCMPO

46. Janquel Acevedo, Student, CUNY

47. Michael Nicholas

48. Jon Golbe, CSP at AHRC-NYC

49. Justin Godard

50. Allison Guess, CUNY Graduate Center and New School Professor

51. Michael Sorkin, CCNY/Terreform

52. Carey Dunfey, MCP

53. Mark Morley, Masters Student, Temple University

54. Nicholas Shatan

55. Satenik Margaryan, BMCC

56. Georges Clement,, Cheng Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School

57. Jessica Sanclemente, Urban Planner/Affordable Housing

58. Jonathan Marty, New York University

59. Kate Fisher

60. Michelle Saenz

61. Vincent DeCesare, Hunter College

62. Reshad Hai

63. Joseph Dahlstrom

64. Jack Lundquist

65. Zahra Khalid, The Graduate Center, CUNY

66. Larissa Ho

67. Ben Fuller-Googins

68. Liza Chowdhury

69. Jonathan Morales, Affordable Housing Developer and Planner

70. Tenn Joe Lim

71. Caroline Todd

72. Norma Colon

73. Angela Kelly

74. stephanie ospina

75. Bradley Stewart

76. Vanessa Ordonez , MCP

77. Tal Levran, Hunter College, CUNY

78. Sarah Meier-Zimbler

79. Rachel Tepper

80. Aditi Varshneya

81. Mervett Hefyan

82. Nick Legowski

83. Lucia Cappuccio

84. Allison Luciano

85. Karen Rutberg, AICP

86. Sarah Krusemark, Hunter College Student - MS in Urban Policy

87. Kazembe Balagun

88. Christopher Rice

89. eric soucy, DSA

90. Lynn Ross, AICP, Co-chair, APA Planning for Equity Policy Guide

91. Fox Green

92. K.C. Alvey, Hunter College

93. Priscilla Grim

94. Reyah Spikener, Wellesley College

95. Celeste Hornbach, MUP

96. Priya Mulgaonkar, Hunter College

97. Justin Robertson, AICP, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

98. Jillian Pagano, Hunter College Alum

99. Sydney Céspedes, Planner

100. Anthony Gallegos

101. Josh Bisker

102. Yasmin Toney

103. neta bomani

104. Melanie Kruvelis

105. Makeda Marshall-NeSmith, Urban Planner/ MCRP

106. Guillermo Gomez

107. Rebecca Blythe Pryor

108. Rosa Nazar

109. Sierra Degale

110. Sarah Kontos

111. Zoe Axelrod, Regional Planner, LA County

112. Oksana Mironova

113. Patricia Ming Chou

114. Daniela Kolodesh

115. Débora Aquino

116. Brandon Wilner

117. Aaron Eisenberg

118. Shelby Coley

119. Jess Greenspan, CUNY

120. Alexis Harrison

121. Emily Southard

122. Enjoli Hall

123. Karisha Quiogue

124. Matthew Valentine

125. Victoria Newton Ford

126. Rosie Clarke, Housing Works

127. Julia Heidelman, City of LA

128. Girim Jung, Adjunct Instructor/Felician University

129. Seema Adina

130. Shaun Lin, CUNY Graduate Center

131. Seleeke Flingai

132. Paola Mendez

133. Alyza Enriquez

134. Wilson Sherwin

135. Edber Macedo, City of Los Angeles

136. Jennifer Harris-Hernandez

137. Kelly Britt, Assistant Professor, Brooklyn College

138. Emily Gallagher, Candidate for the New York State Assembly 50th District

139. Jacob Udell

140. M Paloma Giottonini, Phd, UCLA

141. Masoom Moitra, The New School/ Parsons

142. Rahim Kurwa, UIC

143. Victoria Garvey, Hunter College graduate student

144. Melody Yee

145. Ranjana Venkatesh, Hunter College, Department of Urban Policy and Planning

146. shreya mahatwo, Poli Sci Senior at Rutgers University

147. Marcela Mitaynes

148. Beth Bingham

149. Kaiomi Inniss, Clark University Graduate School for International Development, Community, Environment

150. Tanaya Srini, MIT DUSP

151. Catherine Nguyen, APA NY Metro Chapter Diversity Committee

152. Ruth Gourevitch

153. Gina Lee

154. Giovania Tiarachristie, MSCRP

155. Jennel “Puzzle” Nesbitt, 11 years of unjust imprisonment

156. Madeline Schoenfeld, Hunter College

157. ayse yonder

158. Crystal House

159. Amy Starecheski, Columbia Oral History MA Program

160. Lynne Siringo, Hunter College

161. Meredeth Turshen, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University

162. Chanelle Nicole Frazier, MUPEP Student, Texas Southern University

163. Andrea AK

164. James Beast Baker, CUNY Hunter

165. Katrina Lapira, City of Berkeley

166. Caroline Nagy

167. Liana Katz, MURP

168. Ananya Roy, UCLA

169. Sonia Suresh

170. Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D., California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

171. Ricardo Martinez Campos

172. John Krinsky

173. Akira Drake Rodriguez, University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design

174. Diane Wong, New York University

175. Meredith Phillips Almeida

176. Soniya Munshi, CUNY

177. Jenny Weyel

178. George M. Janes, AICP

179. Arun Kundnani, New York University

180. Maia Woluchem

181. Rachel Goor

182. Gilda Haas, UCLA

183. Stephen Erdman

184. Kenyatta McLean, MIT MCP 2020 Candidate

185. Miranda Bellizia, Hunter Graduate Student

186. Rachel Albetski, Hunter College

187. Spencer Bastedo, Adjunct/CUNY

188. Adilene Sierra

189. Silvia Gonzalez, Doctoral Candidate, UCLA

190. Julia Curbera

191. Katelin Penner, Our Progressive Future

192. Maureen Silverman, UCLA, Masters Urban Planning

193. Parisa Ashraf

194. Julia Field

195. Fatima Ashraf

196. Justin K Starner

197. Adaryll Taylor

198. Michael Bacon, University of Virginia Ph.D. Candidate

199. Norma Colon

200. Heri Kopše

201. Genevieve Carpio, UCLA

202. Joan Byron

203. Emily Ahn Levy

204. Shahana Hanif

205. Jenny Chen, MIT

206. Therese Quinn, Associate Professor of Museum and Exhibition Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago

207. Ciera Dudley

208. David Alexis, Brooklyn Fatherhood Partnership, Sickle Cell Thalassemia Patient Network

209. Addison Vawters, Neighborhood Planner

210. Olivia Ildefonso, CUNY Graduate Center

211. Renae Widdison, M.S. City and Planning

212. Maya Wagoner, User Experience Designer at Brooklyn Public Library

213. Melissa Herlitz, AICP

214. Alex Hwee

215. Genevieve Saavedra, Rise

216. Jay Mimes

217. Mark Tseng-Putterman

218. Daphne Lundi

219. Amanda Matles

220. Lenore Slothower, AICP, PP, Retired Professional Planner and Community Development Director

221. Maura Smale, NYC College of Technology, CUNY

222. Mei Lum, Chinatown resident

223. Sami Disu, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

224. Ryan Kurtzman

225. Stephen Maples

226. Hilary Wilson

227. Kay Real

228. Akina Younge

229. Amina Hassen, WXY Studio

230. Raphael Laude, WXY Studio

231. Emilio Balingit, UCLA

232. Justin Holdahl

233. Claudie Mabry

234. Terra Graziani, Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action

235. Norma Rantisi

236. Krystian Boreyko

237. Thalya Reyes, MPP/MCRP

238. Tony Damiano, University of Minnesota

239. Donald Planey, Instructor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

240. Christine Winter

241. Daniel Coghlan

242. Scott Markley, UGA

243. Eleanor Noble, Urban Institute

244. Joaquin Villanueva

245. Ethan Brush, Autist

246. Daniel Swain, Rutgers-Bloustein

247. Diane Stein

248. Chloe Tyznik, Rutgers University

249. Abygail Mangar

250. Cecille de Laurentis

251. Kathryn Ruth McFadden, CNM, RNC-NIC

252. Cara Michell

253. Deanna Van Buren, Executive Director, Designing Justice Designing Spaces

254. Marcia Hale, Assistant Professor UNCG

255. Sharmin Sadequee

256. Kian Goh, UCLA

257. Jenny Akchin

258. Warren J. Wells

259. Tony Daniels

260. Chris Antonelli, JD

261. Jakob Schneider

Affiliations are listed only for identification and do not signal any official institutional endorsement.

Please also check out the letters from the legal and public health communities in support of No New Jails NYC.