Studying the Rikers Island Jail Population: The Rikers Island Longitudinal Study

Awarded Scholars:
Bruce Western, Columbia University
Project Date:
Dec 2018
Award Amount:

New York City has initiated efforts to close the large Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with several smaller jails which are expected to be safer. To close Rikers, the number of inmates must be reduced by over 40 percent, a reduction that represents both a change in municipal administration and fundamental criminal justice reform. The Rikers population has fallen from 11,100 to 8,300 over the last four years largely through decreases in crime and arrests, changes in strategies to diversion and alternatives to incarceration, and quicker resolution of cases. A further reduction in the population is a difficult policy challenge.

Bruce Western will explore the extent to which race, poverty, and related vulnerabilities increase the risk of incarceration. He will carry out a multi-method longitudinal field study to examine the following areas: Why are some defendants incarcerated on pretrial detention while others avoid jail? How are life conditions—particularly conditions of material disadvantage—connected to criminal involvement or criminal justice system contact? What kinds of support or interventions might help the justice-involved complete their pretrial phase in the community without missing court dates or committing new offenses?


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