Photo Courtesy of DOC
Led by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Department of Correction, the administration’s proposal is to implement a borough-based jail system and close the facilities on Rikers Island.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Opponents of the de Blasio administration’s vision of the future of the city’s criminal justice system recently gathered at a City Planning Commission public hearing to have their say put on the record.
Dozens of detractors descended on CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice last Wednesday morning to deliver remarks vehemently opposing the City’s proposed Borough-Based Jail System. 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 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.
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.
However, critics of the proposal are wary of the new jails and the seemingly breakneck pace that has been implemented to get them up and running. Queens Borough President and district attorney candidate Melinda Katz has been one of the more vocal opponents of the plan. At a public hearing held at Borough Hall last June, Katz officially outlined her recommendation of disapproval.
“A 1,500-person jail anywhere in Queens is unacceptable,” she said. “The purpose of closing Rikers Island and instead creating community-based jails is to have smaller facilities meant to provide treatment, education, and other needed services for those detained or incarcerated. Much of the violence and inhumane treatment of those jailed which has led to the efforts to close Rikers Island is due to the massive size and conditions caused by it.”
Katz also blasted the administration for lack of communication with Queens residents.
“Before any sites are considered, there has to be meaningful dialogue with all community stakeholders with consensus there has to be agreement about the size and scale of any facility that would meet the goals of maintaining the connection between the incarcerated and their families.”
In other city jail news, Mayor de Blasio on Tuesday announced that for the first time in decades, the number of city jail admissions fell below 40,000—a roughly 50-percent drop since the beginning of his administration.
“For decades, we’ve been told we can only arrest and imprison our way to a safer city. Under my administration, New York City has proven that’s not true,” Hizzoner said. “Instead, we can keep fathers at home and kids in school and get even safer.”