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Despite Community Pushback, Council Votes in Favor of Mayor’s Jail Plan

Rikers Island (Wiki commons)

Oct. 17, 2019. By Shane O’Brien and Christian Murray

The New York City Council voted in favor of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers Island Thursday overcoming fierce opposition from community boards and neighborhood groups.

The plan, which will see the infamous prison facility close by 2026 and be replaced by four new borough-based jails, was approved by the council by a vote of 35 to 14 despite all four community boards where the jails will be sited rejecting it.

Queens Community Board 9 unanimously voted against an earlier version of the plan, noting that large jails shouldn’t go up in residential areas. Meanwhile, local groups such as Queens Residents United and the Community Preservation Coalition held rallies at Queens Borough Hall to condemn it.

Other groups such as “No New Jails” also emerged, which wanted Rikers shut down and no borough-based jails.

But the Mayor and Speaker Corey Johnson had no intention of backing down and held firm.

“Rikers Island is a symbol of brutality and inhumanity and it is time for us to once and for all close Rikers Island,” Johnson told the council before Thursday’s vote. He argued that the way to shut it down was by building jails in the boroughs.

The mayor was able to generate the support of Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whose district includes Kew Gardens where the Queens jail is slated to go, to vote in favor of the plan. He struck a  deal with her before the historic vote that included reducing the size of the facility and providing additional police offices in the district.

“The last several months I have been adamant that the proposed size of the borough based jail in Kew Gardens needed to be significantly reduced,” Koslowitz said earlier this week ahead of the vote.

The City announced Tuesday that the proposed Kew Gardens jail, which will replace the decommissioned Queens Detention facilty at 182-02 82nd Ave., will be 19 stories and cater to 886 inmates. The original plan called for a 27 story building with 1,437 inmates.

All four borough-based jails were reduced in size.

Karen Koslowitz at the NYPD 112th Precinct Meeting in 2018 (Photo: Queens Post)

Koslowitz, who had been subject to much criticism for not condemning the mayor’s plan when it was announced midway through last year, maintained that by being open to it she would be in a better position to have a say in its outcome.

“I would not have supported this proposal if I believed that it would have a negative impact on the community that I love,” Koslowitz said after the vote. “I’ve represented this community for over two decades, and have lived in it for over half a century, and I could never in conscious harm my neighbors.”

She noted that she was proud of her “yes” vote. “I passionately believe that we took a historic step today to create a more just and humane criminal justice system in New York City.”

Koslowitz only agreed to support the plan after the de Blasio pledged to reduce the height; guaranteed eight additional police officers to the 102nd Police Precinct; agreed to renovate the gym, school yard and auditorium at PS 99; and install security cameras at PS 99 and PS 139 to gain.

In addition, the mayor promised a 25,000 square foot community facility at the Kew Gardens site.

Koslowitz was joined by other Queens councilmembers in voting in favor of the plan, including Costa Constantinides, Daniel Dromm, Peter Koo, Francisco Moya and Donovan Richards.

“I’m voting to close the jails on Rikers Island once and for all and to end this stain on New York City’s history,” Constantinides said prior to the vote. “This was a difficult decision. But after speaking with people previously incarcerated on Rikers Island who now fight for a better system, I share their vision that this is our best option to close those houses of horrors.”

But not every Queens council member supported the plan, with Robert Holden being a fierce critic.

Holden called for the renovation of Rikers Island instead of building new jails. He said that the mayor’s plan, which is estimated to cost $8.7 billion, made no sense and that Rikers could be revamped at a fraction of the cost.

Holden also said that the plan fails to take into consideration a crime spike.

“I believe this plan is irresponsible, this decision was rushed, and this Council is not doing its due diligence,” Holden said.

The plan’s success is heavily dependent on the decline of the prison population.

The city’s current jail population is about 7,000 and the number of cells under the borough-based prison plan would be 3,444 once Rikers is closed.

Rikers, in comparison, can hold 15,000 inmates.

The mayor’s office announced Monday that it expects the jail population to drop to 3,300 by 2026. Prior to the announcement, it estimated that there would 4,000 inmates at the time of completion.

But one Queens councilmember who voted no said that Rikers should close and no new jails built.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer contends that the mayor’s plan is a waste of money and that the money should be spent on rehabilitation and crime prevention.

“The City should be focused on decarceration, not investing $10 billion back into the failed, racist prison industrial complex,” Van Bramer said in a joint statement with State Sen. Julia Salazar prior to the vote.

The city, however, only has room for 2,100 prisoners in its current jails outside Rikers Island, which are in substandard condition.

“These facilities aren’t as famous as Rikers Island but they are equally horrific and inhumane,” Johnson said. These jails–currently located in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx– will close as part of the mayor’s plan.

Agreement Between CM Koslow… by Queens Post on Scribd

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Click for Comments 
Victor Weinberger

I am speaking as a Realtor, who pretty much knows the pulse of New York after doing this for 30 years. There was no reason for this. Ricker’s Island houses prisoners on an ISLAND. Away from general population. Now you’re putting a jail in a prime area of Queens, around which 1 family homes are selling for nearly a million?
What is the rational behind this?

There are tons of acreage in areas near Hunts Point, or other strictly warehouse areas, in which the normal population does not live. Why ruin a prime neighborhood such as Kew Gardens.

De Blasio has been on the rampage to go after neighborhoods who do not vote for him.
Hence, the Homeless shelters in Elmhurst (Pan AM Hotel), Glendale (By Cooper Ave), College Point (20th Ave), in Manhattan near the billionaires row on 58 Street in Manhattan.
Imagine putting a homeless shelter directly next to a building that the average apartment sells for $100 million? But the mayor did it.
He is treating New York City elite, as it’s his personal punching bag.

Make no mistake. This mayor is a calculating piranha. The goal is to bring down every neighborhood that is not supporting him.
This remark may sound cynical. However, his track record backs my opinion.


No, you’re remarks don’t sound cynical, they’re right on point. It sounds so terrible but that’s the reality of it- we got totally screwed when he entered the scene. I don’t know if he’s necessarily doing it for spite, but the fact that he just goes on doing whatever he wants despite full community pushback, is the real shame. He can’t seem to see when something is so blatantly wrong and should not be done- just like his failed presidential run- all the media and papers and everyone on Twitter and probably some of his own staff knew how ridiculous it was given how unpopular he is, but he pushed on, month after month, wasting money, embarrassing himself and NYC (now the world knows what a doofus got elected mayor here, sad for us); but he kept going even though we knew failure was inevitable- same thing with the prisons, they’ll blow BILLIONS on nicer PRISONS, and what will be the measurable results of all this?? That prisoners are happier?? This Bozo needs to be impeached, like NOW; how about spending that same money on more schools so they’re not so overcrowded or fix the ones that are crumbling? I have to stop here because when it comes to Bozo I could keep going and going but please I beg all of you to spread the word- get out and vote and stop just voting for Dem in this city because you think they will win anyways or because you think they are better on social issues or because they are in favor of gender neutral restrooms, please, our basic quality of life is going down in the city because they are becoming too extreme and I am a DEMOCRAT! But for city elections, they have screwed up too much and we need to reverse the de Bozo nightmare!


This Mayor views homeowners as scum.
He wants us out of the city & the property can be turned over to NYCHA.


Just got the 2019 voter guide and I beg all of you to help start the beginnings of turning this mess around. The only candidates in there are for Public Advocate (which I know holds no real clout) but we should all go out and vote for Joe Borelli. You have to love this guy: for his top three goals, he lists the same thing 3 times: “stopping the deBlasio agenda”. This is what we need and I am a registered Democrat but any future Dem candidates down the line are going to continue the deBlasio agenda and things will keep getting worse, we need to do a true 180 in this city and let’s start with Public Advocate, please get your family, friends and neighbors on board and vote Borelli!


Developer money hijacked the will and rights of the people.
I’m for fighting to get our rights back.


A vocal minority is not necessarily representative of all members of the community. KK is term limited, and the vote was already made. What would a recall do? They don’t do re-votes every few days just in case.


Does Kosolowitz have dementia? Does she expect people to utilize the community space in the prison? Now all the prisoners who make bail will be with us on the E and F train. Thanks.

Trump 2020

What wrong these liberals. Criminal deserve what they get at Rikers. Its not supposed to be a Holiday Inn.


I agree with Holden why are we spending so much money to build new jails estimated at $8.7 BILLION, why not revamp at a lower estimation.
There are other places that need to be taken care of. Things can be fixed in a nice manner.

One tired person

Lessons learned?? Why he and his cronies have not been thrown out of office is beyond me?? Please don’t fall for all their stunts at the voting both. Look at this city and our communities they are a mess all at the hands of these folks who don’t listen to the voices of the communities. They are self serving and only serve their egos and political aspirations. Turn NY a different color.

Eleanor Batchelder

Typo? “I would not have supported this proposal if I believed that it would have a negative impact on the I could never in conscious harm my neighbors.” I think she must have said (or meant) “in conscience.”

Tired of one party rule

Constantinides said prior to the vote. “This was a difficult decision. But after speaking with people previously incarcerated on Rikers Island who now fight for a better system, I share their vision that this is our best option to close those houses of horrors.”

Did you speak to anyone who was a victim of a crime? Did you speak to anyone who might have had a family member, friend, or loved one a victim of a violent crime?

Did you speak to the families of the four men who were killed in Chinatown by a guy out on no bail?

Did you speak to the family of the 12 year old girl who was sexually assaulted by a creep out on low bail?

Didn’t think so.


Melinda Katz was also for Riker’s closing.
Katz also supports a jail in Kew Gardens.
I’m going to vote republican to keep Katz from becoming DA.
Sure wish that Greg Lasak were still in the running.


Did anybody actually think this wacko plan WASN’T going to pass??? Bozo, Johnson, Koslowitz, all a bunch of loonies who care NOTHING about what their constituents say. This is what the city gets for not caring enough to vote. Only the hard core uber liberal types are getting out there and that’s how we got Bozo. Just look at that ridiculous list of “gifts” Kew Gardens will be getting: a 25,000 sq ft community space on site, WHO CARES, it’s a 19 story mega prison!! We are not going to socialize, hang out or take our kids to events at a PRISON!! The rest of the “gifts” are basically things to help offset this mess- adding the parking spaces for instance- that’s going to be for all the employees and visitors, nothing anyone who actually lives here could use: like a parking garage for residents at discount prices; the security cameras going up at the schools and the addional NYPD, again these are just things they are doing because they know the prison here is a risk of our security; knowing these Bozo’s, no one will actually be watching the security cameras anyways. Basically, it’s a lose/lose situation that Bozo waited to push through in his last term and I want to thank anyone out there who voted for him (or who didn’t vote and helped secure his win) for ruining our city, THANKS!


Remember the names of everyone who votes yes to jails is residential communities. They do not serve the interests of law abiding citizens. No harm to constituents? Explain that to the family of the hospitalized 6 year old boy who’s head got smashed against the pavement. Due to mayor and this administration, regular citizens get assaulted by criminals on the street with no consequences. Most irresponsible decisions ever made.


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