July 8, 2019 By Shane O’Brien
The City Planning Commission will be holding a public hearing on the New York City borough-based jail system proposal on Wednesday.
The plan is now being reviewed by the City Planning Commission having been rejected by four Community Boards and the Queens and Bronx Borough Presidents. The Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced her support for the plan Friday, while the Brooklyn Borough President has yet to render an opinion.
The hearing, which will take place at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice at 10 a.m., is part of the CPC review process, the second to last step required before the City can move forward with the plan. Should the CPC approve it, the fate of the proposal would then rest with the City Council.
The controversial plan, announced by the mayor last year, calls for the closure of Rikers Island and the construction of four borough-based jails—one in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx—in its place.
The proposal recommends that the Queens jail be built in Kew Gardens—on the site of the now dormant Queens Detention Complex at 126-02 82nd Ave. Many Queens residents oppose it, with Queens Community Board 9 rejecting the plan on May 14 by a vote of 28-0.
The plan, filed as one ULURP application, is undergoing public review since it requires a series of rezonings and other land use changes before it can move forward.
The public hearing provides residents with an opportunity to speak before the City Planning Commission, which will make a final decision on the plan within 60 days.
While the decisions made by the Borough Presidents and Community Boards are advisory, the CPC’s determination is binding. The CPC is also able to approve the plan with modifications.
In most ULURP applications, a proposal requires seven affirmative votes from the 13 members of the CPC to pass the CPC Review stage. However, since at least two Borough Presidents have rejected the proposal, it is likely to require nine affirmative votes to pass.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, while advocating for the closure of Rikers Island, rejected the proposal on the grounds that the new jail in Kew Gardens would be too big for the area. She also noted that the jail population was declining and that the size of the proposed jail needed to be reevaluated.
The application calls for the closure of Rikers Island by 2027 and for it to be replaced by four borough jails, each with a capacity of 1,437 inmates. The plan is premised on the jail population dropping to about 5,000 by 2027. The inmate population was about 9,400 when the plan was first being formed in 2017.
Since the ULURP was filed, the City has announced that the number of cells needed at each facility would only need to be 1,150. The reduction, the City says, stems from a lower crime rate and criminal justice reforms.