Anakwa Dwamena is a member of The New Yorker’s editorial staff and books editor for Africa is a Country. (October 2019)

Follow Anakwa Dwamena on Twitter: @kwatrekwa.

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Closing Rikers: Competing Visions for the Future of New York City’s Jails

Audience members at the New York City Council hearing on the closure of the Rikers Island Jail and the building of four borough-based jails, New York City Hall, September 5, 2019

At this moment in the country’s history, an unusual alignment has taken shape—of investment in and activism around criminal justice reform; widespread recognition of the failure of systems currently in place; political will from all levels of government; and an abundance of successful programs for change backed by policy research. Yet the de Blasio administration is still hiding behind logistics and bureaucracy, repeating past mistakes and reluctant to do more to address its role in the perpetuation of an unjust system. The debates about the closure of Rikers have revealed how the city, circumscribed by what it feels it can get away with politically, is unwilling to look beyond what seems acceptable to what might be possible.