Photo Courtesy of Lawrence Anderson; San Diego County Sheriff’s Department/County of San Diego with KMD Architects
Rendering of a borough-based jail facility.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The City Planning Commission Tuesday approved the de Blasio administration’s proposal to shutter Rikers Island by 2026 and replace it with a smaller network of borough-based jails.
The audacious strategy now heads to the City Council for final approval.
“With today’s vote, we are one step closer to closing Rikers Island and creating a smaller, safer, fairer jail system,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said of Tuesday’s 9-3 tally.
According to the administration, if the City’s land-use application is approved by the council: it will allow the City to close the jails on Rikers Island and replace existing borough facilities in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan by 2026; it will reduce the City’s current operating jail-system capacity by nearly 60 percent and reduce the current total jail-system capacity (including non-operating facilities) by more than two-thirds by 2026; and the City’s jail system would be reduced to four from 11 active facilities citywide.
In February 2018, 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.
Critics of the Borough-based Jail System proposal are leery of the new facilities and the seemingly breakneck pace that has been implemented to get them up and running. (The mayor and then-Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito first announced the 10-year timeline to close Rikers in March 2017.)
Those opponents turned out in droves for Tuesday’s CPC hearing and vote.
“No new jails! Close Rikers now!” they chanted, according to a New York Post report.
That same story noted that that seven commission appointees who serve at the pleasure of the mayor gave the plan the green light; but three of the five appointees selected by the borough presidents voted No—including Raj Rampershad, a Richmond Hill native and former chairman of Community Board 9 who was appointed to the CPC by Borough President Melinda Katz, a passionate opponent of the City’s proposal.
“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 wrote in June in her official recommendation of disapproval.
The Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses has scheduled a public hearing on the plan for Thursday, Sept. 5, at 10 a.m. at City Hall.