Doug Dubois and Jim Goldberg / Magnum Photos

The City's New Jail Population Math

Vital City

March 12, 2024

Vital City obtained an internal document that projects 7,000 incarcerated individuals this year

Vital City obtained an internal document that projects 7,000 incarcerated individuals this year

Under a New York City law passed in 2019, the City is required to close the jails on Rikers Island by 2027. Those incarcerated will be housed instead in four new borough-based jails designed for 3,300 people, the planning and construction of which is now underway. But as the years have passed, crime has increased and the number of individuals in the city jails has risen, leading some, including Mayor Eric Adams, to cast doubt on the City’s ability to hit that population target and close Rikers. In August 2022, Adams said that the 3,300 number might not be achievable, so “We have to have a plan B.”

Building on the mayor’s assertions, then-Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina told the City Council, “we have done internally population forecasts that we think the population in 2024 could be over 7,000.” He added, “I don’t see them being at 3,300 in less than four years if nothing else changes with the administration and adjudication of the administration of justice at the court levels.”

To shine light on the internal forecasts on which the city is basing its assertions, Vital City submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the Department of Correction. Late last year, DOC leadership sent its response, along with a cover memo explaining, “The attached draft document contains work on an initial attempt to forecast the future average daily population (ADP) of individuals in NYC Department of Correction custody. It should be emphasized that this was an initial model and multiple revisions have since been made to improve our approach. However, in response to the FOIL request received from Vital City, Commissioner Molina would likely have been briefed on these initial findings when he made statements to the City Council on December 13, 2022.”

The full internal City document is shared below. Vital City has since requested that DOC or the Mayor’s Office make public the “multiple revisions” referred to in its cover memo. This month, Vital City will release an in-depth look at the range of population forecasts that experts have done and at the math and assumptions behind them. We also collect an array of options that practitioners suggest in considering how or whether the number of people in the City’s jails can be sustainably lower than it is now. We intend for this to be one of a series of looks at the possible solutions to the many intersecting problems in the City’s jails.