October 2, by Nathaly Pesantez
Mayor Bill de Blasio is studying whether to reopen the former Kew Gardens detention center as a neighborhood jail-site, a move that comes after several Queens councilmembers urged the city to use the shuttered center in light of plans to close the Rikers Island jail complex.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said that de Blasio is committed to closing Rikers Island, and that he welcomed input from elected officials. The councilmembers–including all those who represent of western Queens–wrote to de Blasio on Oct. 2 calling for the reopening of the defunct Queens Detention Complex at 126-02 82nd Ave as a neighborhood-based jail site.
“Expanding and reopening the Queens Detention Center would be an ideal first step and we have already started to take a hard look at this site to determine its feasibility,” the City Hall spokesperson said.
The mayor’s response comes after a push, led by council members Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Karen Koslowitz (D- Kew Gardens), for the former site to become a new community-based jail. The councilmembers, along with 11 other politicians, including Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), and Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), wrote in an Oct. 2 letter that the Kew Gardens location fits with the parameters laid out by the Lippman Commission in its plan, released April 2017, to replace Rikers—“the stain on our great City”— with a borough-based model of jail facilities.
Council member Crowley’s office noted that at the time of writing the letter, the mayor had not yet made any announcements as to potential neighborhood-based locations.
Crowley and Koslowitz, along with Councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D- Queens Village), toured the closed complex, built in 1961, last week. The former jail site closed 15 years ago and was built to hold over 500 prisoners, according to the Department of Corrections. Today, the site is used as office space and as a location for film and TV productions, including Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”.
“It is centrally located in a civic center, it is connected to the courts, and with the proper capital investment it can be functional for this use,” the politicians wrote in the letter. “The center was originally built for this purpose and for many years operated with little incident to the surrounding community.”
In a separate statement, Council member Crowley said returning to the original jail model where detainees are housed at the shuttered site as they await trial would save tax payers millions.
The Queens delegation also vouches for the former detention center to open once more because it would avoid having to place a community jail in a residential neighborhood, a component of the Lippman Commission’s study that all the lawmakers in the letter oppose.
Council member Koslowitz, however, added that a “long public discussion” is still required for the community to voice their concerns on the plan.
Councilmembers Van Bramer and Dromm couldn’t be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Councilmember Constantinides had yet to return a request for comment.
More than 7,500 prisoners are currently housed in the nine jails on Rikers Island.