The City’s proposal is to implement a borough-based jail system and close the facilities on Rikers Island.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The City Planning Commission was to have held its public hearing on the New York City Borough-Based Jail System proposal on Wednesday, July 10, at 10 a.m. at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Led by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Department of Correction, the proposal is to implement a borough-based jail system and close the facilities on Rikers Island. The proposed project would develop four new detention facilities to house individuals who are in the City’s correctional custody with one located in each of these four boroughs: Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.
In February 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson agreed to a single public review process for the four proposed sites. These locations together will provide off-island space for 5,000 detainees, and will include the three existing DOC facilities in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, as well as a new site on the grounds of a former City Police Department tow pound in the Bronx.
“This agreement marks a huge step forward on our path to closing Rikers Island,” de Blasio said. “In partnership with the City Council, we can now move ahead with creating a borough-based jail system that’s smaller, safer and fairer. I want to thank these representatives, who share our vision of a more rehabilitative and humane criminal justice system that brings staff and detainees closer to their communities.”
The World’s Borough site is the Queens Detention Center at 126-02 82nd Ave. in Kew Gardens. According to the administration, the City would demolish the existing facility and replace it with a modern one. The new jail would have housing units for detainees, programming and recreational space, and a new above-ground public parking facility. On the ground floor there would be publicly-accessible community space.
Critics of the Borough-Based Jail System proposal are wary of the new jails and the seemingly breakneck pace that has been implemented to get them up and running. Last month, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz issued her recommendations to disapprove the four related Uniform Land Use Review Procedure applications in connection with the City’s proposed borough-based jail at the old Queens Detention Center. In her recommendations, Katz said that Rikers Island is an inhumane and dangerous facility that must be closed, while emphasizing her support for borough-based jails that keep individuals closer to their homes, families and support structures. However, Katz expressed serious concerns over how the administration conceived the proposal in its present form, specifically citing a lack of meaningful community involvement in the planning process, as well as the needlessness of a 1,500-bed jail anywhere in Queens while aggressive decarceration efforts to significantly reduce the jail population are underway.
“Reforming our city’s jails system is too critical a mission to take on without adequate community engagement or proper planning, as we must strive to avoid recreating the same atmosphere of violence and dehumanization found on Rikers Island upon four new facilities in neighborhoods across the city,” Katz added.