June 19, 2019 By Christian Murray
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has given the thumbs down to the Mayor’s borough-based jail proposal.
Katz, while supportive of the plan to close Rikers Island, noted in her rejection letter to the City Planning Commission that a 1,437-person jail as proposed for Kew Gardens is too big. She also wrote that New York’s jail population is declining at such a rate that a jail of this size is likely to be unnecessary.
Katz’ decision, while advisory, represents yet another blow for the mayor who is trying to gain support for his plan to shut down Rikers Island by 2027 and replace it with four 1,437-inmate jails—one in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens (Kew Gardens) and the Bronx.
The plan, filed as one ULURP application, is undergoing public review since rezonings are required.
“Closing Rikers Island is a moral imperative in our push to create a dignified, proactive criminal justice system,” Katz said in a statement. “But building massive incarceration facilities that will only replicate the horrific conditions on Rikers Island in direct contradiction to the decarceration reforms already being undertaken is deeply unfair and counterproductive.”
Katz’ decision is in line with Community Board 9, which rejected the plan on May 14 by a vote of 28-0. In fact, all four community boards where a jail has been proposed have rejected it.
Katz was critical of the city for not doing enough community outreach while formulating the plan.
The Kew Gardens proposal involves demolishing the dormant Queens Detention Complex and building a 27 story, 1.3 million square foot facility on the 126-02 82nd Ave. site.
Katz, citing recent testimony provided by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said that the inmate population may drop to between 3,000 and 4,000—given declining crime rates and criminal justice reforms. The mayor’s proposal, announced before the testimony, is based on an inmate populate of about 5,000.
Her recommendation has going to the City Planning Commission which must hold a public hearing and render a decision on the application 60 days after July 3. Upon approval, the plan will then go to the City Council for a vote.