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Eric Adams Says He Wants to Close Rikers. It May Not Be That Simple.

Although other jails in the United States have strained to operate during the coronavirus pandemic, New York City’s system stands apart for its high costs — more than $500,000 a year to house each detainee — and the broad outcry its conditions have prompted. Hundreds of officers have refused to show up for work. Delays in providing food, water and medical care for detainees have created what members of Congress have described as a humanitarian crisis.

Last week, Malcolm Boatwright, 28, became the 15th person to die this year after being held in the jail system. On Tuesday, William Brown, 55, became the 16th.

As the problems have intensified, Mr. de Blasio has doubled down on the plan to shutter the complex, saying it will remake the justice system in America’s largest city by de-emphasizing incarceration as a response to many crimes and replacing decrepit, dangerous conditions with more humane ones.

But in interviews, even some of Mr. de Blasio’s allies and former advisers have suggested that he has not always pushed the plan as aggressively as his rhetoric would suggest, leaving it vulnerable to setbacks.

After declining for years, the jail population has risen since summer 2020. Design and construction delays for the new jails have piled up, in part because of the pandemic, pushing the expected completion date from 2026 to 2027. A panel convened by the city to keep the plan on track has not met formally for more than a year.

Mr. Adams has not been afraid to buck his predecessor’s jail policies. In naming a new correction commissioner, Louis A. Molina, on Thursday, Mr. Adams took aim at Mr. de Blasio’s plan to eliminate solitary confinement at the jails, saying the punishment was necessary to rein in violence. The incoming mayor’s stance was cheered by the powerful union that represents correction officers, whose leaders Mr. Adams has courted.

The union’s leaders have fiercely opposed closing Rikers, but Mr. Adams has insisted that he is committed to doing so. “We are on track,” Mr. Adams said at the Thursday news conference. “I have stated that I believe we need to close Rikers Island. But while we are closing Rikers Island, you can’t have a facility where the gates and doors don’t work.”

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