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Hundreds of Residents Turn Out for Heated Kew Gardens Jail Hearing

Long Time Resident Renee Levine Speaking at Public Hearing (Photo: Meghan Sackman)

April 25, 2019 By Meghan Sackman

About 300 people showed up for a tense public hearing at Queens Borough Hall last night to hear the Mayor’s Office present its case as to why a 1,437-inmate prison should be located in Kew Gardens.

The hearing, a marathon affair that lasted nearly four hours, was a significant step for the city as it takes its plan to the public as part of the ULURP process. The city needs the site to be rezoned and a street de-mapped in order for the jail to be built.

The evening began with a presentation by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Department of Corrections that drew jeers from an emotional crowd. Many interrupted the presentation, protesting that the project was a done deal even before the public process began.

Representatives of the City shrugged off these complaints and walked the crowd through the plan that many had heard before.

Kew Gardens Jail Rendering (Presentation from the Mayor’s Office)

Dana Kaplan of the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice said the city plans to close Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails by 2027. Currently, New York City has 11 jails, eight of which are on Rikers Island. 

The city said it was its moral imperative to close the Rikers facilities, since they are inaccessible and have a history of inmate violence and mistreatment. 

“The facilities themselves [on Rikers Island] are in a state that we don’t believe is emblematic of the types of reform goals that we have for our criminal justice system,” Kaplan said.

The city aims to reduce the prison population down from 8,000 to 5,000 by 2027 and house the inmates in four jails–each with 1,437 inmates.

The city then unveiled the rendering of the Kew Gardens facility that will go up where the Queens Detention Center is currently located and the adjacent municipal parking lot. The facility will be 270 feet tall, the equivalent of a 26-story apartment building.

The dilapidated detention center–that once housed 500 inmates–will be demolished.

A new public parking lot will be built containing 676 spaces, along with 605 below grade accessory parking spaces.

The new facility was presented as being “more dignified” than Rikers–offering a large visiting area, more recreational space for inmates and additional community space. The jail will also have more natural light than Rikers.

The jail will have smaller housing units. Kaplan said the smaller units will help with security, protecting inmates from violence.

The Kew Gardens facility will also house the city’s entire female inmate population. Currently there are about 400 to 500 female inmates in the system, a number the City believes can be reduced to 200. The city also plans for a maternity ward and a nursery to be built at the jail. 

Many attendees were not swayed by the city’s presentation. “Do it on Rikers!” some people shouted, arguing that the new ‘humane’ jails should be built there.

Several Community Board 9 members were handed the microphone after the city’s presentation and had some harsh words about the plan.

Some argued that the plan was too costly, citing figures that it could cost between $10 billion and $30 billion to build the four jails. Others argued that the overarching plan–which involves variables such as reducing the inmate population–was incomplete and too theoretical.

There is no plan. What they’ve certified is a concept,” said Co-Chair of the Land Use Committee, Sylvia Hack. “We consider this, some of us, as a fiscally insane proposal.”

Land Use Committee Co Chair Sylvia Hack at Public Hearing (Photo: Meghan Sackman)

Hack complained that the jail plan was hatched before the community was consulted and that the billions of dollars would be better spent on fixing the homeless crisis.

“This kind of money should be spent on making sure that people get their education, can afford housing, so they don’t wind up being incarcerated,” Hack said.

About 40 to 50 people testified at the hearing and were very forthcoming with their views. Not all were opposed.

Several members of the Close Rikers Build Communities group testified that they were in favor of the plan, arguing that Rikers needs to be shut down permanently. Many shared their own experiences of being detained at Rikers.

They argued that the borough-based jails make the Department of Corrections more accountable, since the jails are not out of sight and forgotten like on Rikers.

“The reason people knew about [the loss of heat in the Brooklyn jail] is because we could walk by and see the lights off, we could walk by and hear the people in need, screaming and banging on their cells,” said a member of the Close Riker’s group that identified herself as Miss V.

“That is because it was in our borough. If it’s not we will not know about it,” she said, also referring to the high number of sexual assault that has come from Rikers.

Some speakers called on the city to scrap its borough-based jail plan and close Rikers. They were part of the advocacy group No New Jails, which aims to reduce the inmate population to such a level that such facilities are not needed.

Members of this group chanted “If they build it, they will fill it,” implying that the city and law enforcement will feel pressure to fill the empty cells with more prisoners, if they are built.

But there were many people who just hated the concept of a jail being in their neighborhood.

Residents testified that their security would be at risk; that it would create traffic congestion; and a large shadow would loom from the building that would blanket the surrounding neighborhood.

Judge Greg Lasak, a candidate in the Queens District Attorney race, said there is no need for a jail that big in a residential community, especially one built on such an expedited timeline. He said that Rikers Island’s facilities should just be improved with the misconduct towards detainees being corrected. 

“There should be no jail built here in Kew Gardens. We don’t need to build a jail here especially the size that is anticipated,” Lasak said. 

“What is the push here? If there’s such a push here why don’t we go to Rikers island with shovels, and start building a brand new facility on Rikers Island? But we do have to deal with the violence on Rikers island.”

Community Board 9 is required to vote on the plan by June 3. It’s vote is advisory.

The plan will then be reviewed by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. She has 30 days to hold a public hearing and make a non-binding recommendation. 

The City Planning Commission will then have 60 days to host a public hearing, make some modifications and vote on the plan. The City Council will then have 50 days to review and vote.  Should it pass the council, the plan will go into effect.

No New Jails Group Protesting at Public hearing (Photo: Meghan Sackman)

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not fair all the building and schools than have to be tear down,besides who want a communtiy with a big jail.

David Solomon

Very poor idea. Extremely unfair to property who picked a suburban area to live in NYC, feel safe and raise a family. Also, unless they get rid of that parking lot (which they obviously need) where are these inmates going to exercise? There is literally no space anywhere around the Kew Gardens interchange – aside from the cemetery (off-limits) or east of the Van Wyck. Bad, bad idea.

On can only hope that this plan gets squashed by an incoming mayor who realizes who little sense this makes. Will be calling Karen Koslowitz and Melinda Katz’s offices tomorrow .

^ That’s what anyone opposed to this should be doing.


When you shoehorn an illegal building permit that violates established residential area code that even re-routes streets and in some cases removing accessibility, doesn’t that leave multiple schools vulnerable to not receiving emergency attention via ambulances, fire engines, police, etc? These zoning laws are not just laws built to manage traffic but also laws built for urban planning necessity. As I heard it “mega jails” were a problem so they wanted small micro jails. How does a mega jail with traffic saturation solve an isolated mega jail? Also, there was talk about bringing drug treatment centers (i.e. methadone clinics?) for outpatient care. That will be the nail in the community’s coffin and unmanageable for parents hoping to create a reasonable safe educational environment for their children. Will the city financially compensate those whose real estate value get pummeled by this new landscape?

alexandra henderson

I’ve been to the island like an inmate and from what I’ve heard it’s either going to be sold to LaGuardia or it’s going to be multi million dollar estates giving the fact that there’s no prettier view of NYC then there is from that islà’s funny I used to like out the windows from the 800 bed and think how cray it was that you could only get that view from a jail cell


Rikers “Island” is the perfect place for a jail. Inmates do not belong in the middle of a residential community. Progressive politicians care more about the inmates and illegals then they do for legal residents. Same mentality that wants to take cars off the road and pack us into an already overcrowded, dysfunctional subway system. They don’t care because they are not held accountable….. everyone in NYC votes democrat anyway. If we want NYC safe, we should be increasing the jail population not looking to reduce it. These people are in jail for a reason.


Why is there no info or talk about the Mayor’s plan for Riker’s Island?
Is the Mayor going to sell it to developers for a penny and build expensive condos?


Riker’s will be rename Millionaires island. facts….. De blasio is trying to get his money before his last turn ends! by seeling Rikers island to those develpers.

Thats the ugly true

Glenda Kuller

All those politicians perched safely in their ivory towers are the very hippocrites who push
their left-wing no-win agendas. Who are the stupidest people of all? We are. We keep voting for the same pundits expecting A different result.

maga again

Yeah, forget those politicians in their ivory towers.

You didn’t vote for the president that lives in a gold tower with his name on it right? Otherwise you’d be a giant hypocrite…

Glenda Kuller

Who did you chose? Hillary with the deleted
Top secret classified e- mails, Bleach-bit Acid-Washed and hamner-broken Cell phones?
or are u one of the Millions who chose an individual who has made our economy soar, created history breaking numbers of the lowest unemployment for African Americans, Latino Americans and Women? Who was the only one who finally moved The US Embassy
where it belonged to Palestine and re claimed The Golan Heights so more rockets are prevented from killing Israelis?
Who did not keep kicking the can down the road with North Korea as all past presidents did? Who
did not breach A Red Line
as Obama did? Who believes that A baby is conceived at birth rather than killed outside the womb after nine months? Who
ended regulations that have prevented small businesses from even getting through all the red tape? ohhh! that one.
I guess you chose the
one who lost.
I choose winners…
So, call us names…use your identity politics is your only
Ace-In-The- Hole…

Agreed, Trump lives in a golden tower with his name on it, but it's not literally made of ivory

“WHATABOUT Hillary?!” is the usual Trumptard response. She lost. 2 years ago. Get over it. The tactic is stale.

So answer the question: You didn’t vote for the president that lives in a gold tower with his name on it right? Otherwise you’d be a giant hypocrite…

Glenda Kuller

The individual who needs most to”get over it is none other than My favorite Hypocrite. HILLARY All those at the far left know to do is childishly attack ir interrupt anyone who is not in lockstep with radical liberalism. The rest is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Glenda maybe update your WHATABOUTisms?

Hillary lost. 2 years ago. Get over it.

I agree, Trump lives in a golden tower with his name on it.


Will Rikers Island be renovated into a “Low Income Housing” for refugees and illegal immigrants then become an island full of free healthcare, SNAP benefits, WiFi and transit?


Shouldn’t the Mayor be taking a “First do no harm” strategy?
For the first time, houses are not selling on our street.
Usually they are snapped up instantly.
I realize that’s a selfish, elitist reason to not like this plan. Still,
it is sad to watch a peaceful, safe neighborhood circle
the drain,

Tired of fake liberals

How many jokers at that meeting voted for our current Mayor?

Perhaps now they’ll realize how poisonous this new wave “progressivnism” is.


Would make more sense to renovate Rikers Island considering the scope of the Kew Gardens project and the duration of it. Secondly, having criminals on an island separate from generally low crime residential area makes far more sense. I have no idea what this administration is thinking or why they are not thinking.

Glenda Kuller

Let’s welcome our honorable
Mayor to build such A facility
on his home turf in his residential Brooklyn Neighborhood.

They already did...

Well there’s Park Slope Women’s shelter and CHiPS. Did you mean besides those?


CHiPS isn’t in an area comparable to Kew Gardens. Park Slope Women’s Shelter has 100 beds. That’s not 27 stories, is it? And it’s nowhere near Brooklyn Heights, either.
Imagine the complaints when we get 1,000 beds.

One tired person

Unfortunately, residents of Kew Gardens and surrounding neighborhoods are in a no win situation. When deals are crafted behind closed doors, the residents of these neighborhoods become the losers. We have a corrupt mayor and along with him comes an attitude that no matter what this will happen and we will pay dearly for it. As it is crime is on the rise, knifepoint robberies are becoming the norm, assaults are a daily event. So the best thing to do is hold a hearing to get rid of this slimy, corrupt mayor and get someone in office who can address the issue of criminal justice and all of the components. I have watched my neighborhood be brought to its knees with crime and overcrowding as well as homelessness. Use our tax payers money for the good of us all not the good of an egocentric.


it needs to be noted that the small group for the mayor’s plan came from OUTSIDE THE COMMUNITY, with rare exception.
Who paid for their slick, expensive signs?
(they claim to be poor)
Who paid for their transportation? (They arrived together)
And who paid for their slick smear campaign – framing the Kew Gardens opposition as racist.
The truth: The Mayor’s plan pretends to improve the lives of inmates. In fact, ONE GROUP will benefit from this half-assed scam – DEVELOPERS.
The prisoners will be packed into a highrise. They can look forward to tiny cells, and a tiny space to exercise.
(The Mayor’s plan has an idiotic mistake showing the cemetery as exercise space.) This was mistake was caught by our assistant DA.
The DA says that the cost of this jail amounts to SIX MILLION DOLLARS PER CELL.
The billions involved in executing this mistake riddled fiasco could go toward programs that help a lot of underprivileged kids avoid ending up in Rikers in the first place.
The Mayor’s plan is destructive, and will make victims of both inmates, and the neighborhood.
It was noted that Melinda Katz did not bother attending the meeting.
Isn’t it odd that Ms. Katz announced she was for the closing of Rikers, long ago, yet has no interest in hearing from the community that elected her?
According to the NY Daily News, Katz broke city rules and took a large sum of money from developers for her upcoming campaign.
I believe she needs to recuse herself from taking part in the execution of this plan.
Or she should be recalled.

Toni Mason

They should be as far away from any residential area. These are families who live in a affluent neighborhood for a reason. To be away from the City, to feel safe and pay for that.


The city must compensate homeowners for senselessly altering (ruining) the nature of a neighborhood.
We aren’t affluent, but we live in Forest Hills for the quiet, small-town feel. The Mayor’s homeless shelter is already hurting us. Crime is up on Metropolitan. We lost two outstanding restaurants – one run by a celebrity chef. His reason for closing was “the area is changing.”
This jail is going to finish off neighborhoods a mile away.


Kudos to community board 9 for an excellent, informative meeting. I came to find out why this jail was necessary, and left realizing it is a complete scam.
All the Mayor provided were slick renderings, rife with errors – for example, he claims prisoners will have more space to exercise. But Mr. Quinn from the DA office pointed out, most of that “space” is the cemetery, and would not be available to them. They would spend years crammed in a 27-story tower. Some improvement. And what a negative impact on the neighborhood!
Most of those “for” the jail was a group not even in this area. They started out insulting our community with “I’m human, too” signs. They gave heart-rending stories about wretched conditions at Rikers. Their complaints about Rikers sound justified. But they failed to explain why jails all over the city would be a better plan than upgrading Rikers, and improving access to the island.
As someone pointed out, the mayor has no solid plan.
He has an experiment, and the guinea pigs are our families.


These are hired protestors that follow around these projects which appear to have opposition. They are used to create the illusion that there is demand or desire for these “projects” in the areas they propose them in. If you browse craigslist you will find there are often advertisements for these paid protestors across the five boroughs.


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