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Mayor’s Plan To Replace Rikers with Borough-Based Jails Gets Go-Ahead From City Planning Commission

Rikers Island (Wiki commons)

March 25, 2019 By Christian Murray

The de Blasio administration’s plan to build four community-based jails took a significant step forward today with the City Planning Commission certifying the plans, representing the beginning of the seven-month public review process.

The plan presented by the city to the planning commission calls for four community-based jails–including one in Kew Gardens–each housing 1,437 inmates.

The sites, however, all need to be rezoned in order for the jails to be built, requiring public review.

The certification represents the beginning of what’s called the ULURP process, where the plans undergo community board and borough president review. Both will weigh in on the proposed rezoning with non-binding advisory opinions.

The plan will then go back to the City Planning Commission for further review and will ultimately go before the city council for a vote. Should the council vote in favor, the sites will officially be rezoned and the city can move ahead with the plan.

The plan centers around closing Rikers Island, which has eight of the city’s 11 jails. The de Blasio administration’s goal is to shut down Rikers and house all city inmates in four community-based jails by 2027.

The city views it as a “moral imperative,” said Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, at a Friday press conference. “It is crucial that we have safe, humane jails that promote the dignity of those who are incarcerated and those who work there.”

There are currently about 8,000 inmates in city jails and the administration aims to reduce the number to about 5,000 through a number of reforms to the criminal justice system. A sharp reduction is needed since the total number of beds under the new plan would be about 5,750–down from 11,000.

The city, according to its latest plan, wants to house all female inmates in one location, which would be at the proposed Kew Gardens facility at 126-02 82nd Ave. The site would also contain a detention area for some men.

The scale of the Kew Gardens facility would also be reduced from the original plan, since the plan announced in September called for 1,510 inmates–about 75 more that the revised plan. The jail, which was initially to be about 30 stories, would be scaled back to 27 stories.

The detention facility would also be 1.3 million square feet, down from the original plan of 1.9 million.

Kew Gardens Facility (Source: City, March 22 Plan)

The Kew Gardens facility would include a maternity ward and an infirmary, catering to inmates throughout the system. The site would also contain space for community facilities and retail space, like the three other jails.

The plan also calls for a pedestrian bridge that would connect the detention facility to the Queens District Attorney’s office and Queens Criminal Court building. There would be 605 parking spaces below the jail and an adjacent parking garage that would provide approximately 676 spaces.

The city said it reduced the scale of all four proposed facilities in response to community concerns.

“Obviously, we have been engaged in a very intensive process of neighborhood and community engagement, and, you know, we’ve obviously heard what the concerns are, and we are doing what we can to respond to them,” said Dana Kaplan, Deputy Director of the Office of Criminal Justice.

The city said it is looking to pare back the size of the facilities as much as possible without undermining what’s required.

“We continue to look at ways to both reduce the heights and to ensure the integrity of the program,” Glazer said.

The de Blasio administration believes that the council will support the plan, despite pushback from the public.

Marco Carrion, the city’s Commissioner of Community Affairs, said that the council members representing the neighborhoods where the jails are planned back the plan.

“The four councilmembers are very supportive of the plan and are partners in moving forward,” Carrion said at the press conference on Friday.

Council Member Karen Koslowitz, who has supported the plan to date, has come under fire from those who are calling for the city council to block the plan. She has said that she has not rejected it outright since she wants a seat at the table when it comes to making modifications.

Many residents, however, adamantly opposed the plan.

Queens Community Board 9 on March 12 rejected the plan by a vote of 34-0 and in the resolution stated that jail would “quite simply overwhelm and destroy the small historic residential neighborhood of Kew Gardens, and also adversely affect the adjacent community of Briarwood.”

Borough president Melinda Katz urged the Mayor, in a joint letter she penned with the Bronx borough president March 8, to slow down before starting the public review process. She said the city needed to work more with the community before moving forward.

“We are deeply disturbed by the lack of meaningful community engagement,” the joint letter read. “The backlash to the current plan is what happens when affected communities are not treated as partners.”

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14 Comments

Forest Hills resident

De Assio shouldn’t have been elected and reelected but he has to be stopped now. Nobody is happy with a jail around kids. These are residential neighborhoods, totally improper to have criminals and their families squirming around!!

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Eric Dillenberger

I’m in Chinatown NAC as we speak. These jails prioritize moral imperatives wrongly. Citizens, need to take precedent. Councilmembers need to wake up and stop worrying about ‘progressive feel good’ credibility, and protect innocents first. They need to be fiscally prudent to be able to pay for our schools and our roads first. 4% interest on $11 billion, $440m annually. Buys a lot of public needs
Maybe we wouldn’t need to tax pot or have congestion pricing if they didn’t waste so much money. Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn we are in this together

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Deblasio lover

Please remember the greed of this mayor. He wants to close rivers so it can be sold and rebuilt with condos that he will invest in. Why does his neighborhood pay the lowest property taxes for such high income producing buildings? Greed folks.

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That Guy

It’s quite obvious isn’t it? The community wants the jail. They re-elected KK and Dunblashole didn’t they? lol

Actually it’s about the graft. Four community jails equals lots of opportunities for graft.

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Anonymous

I want to know if the Mayor can be sued if a prisoner gets loose and harm is done to people of the local communities. Vote this man out of office and make sure he does not get to Washington!

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Queens Resident

Spending BILLIONS of taxpayers money on new jails is preposterous. Renovating Rickers and fixing the justice system is the better solution but our elected officials are outright rejecting it! They’d rather destroy a small peaceful neighborhood having a mega jail within blocks of homes and schools, placing public safety in jeopardy. Majority incarcerated at Rikers are hard core career criminals. Check the facts at Queens DA office, aggravated assaults,robbery, rape, murder. Is this what our elected officials want to have in a residential area?! Paid by our own money?! Not focusing what NYC residents actually need, a working modern transit system, affordable housing, public safety, free child care and many other needs.It’s shameful that law abiding residents have to struggle to barely make a living and the city officials are doing nothing to help. Only homeless shelters and jails. We no not need this here!!! Nothing wrong in renovating Rikers and working on fixing the system.

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G

Rikers is too valuable of a property to be wasted on the dreggs of society. These miscreants need to be warehoused somewhere on the outskirts of town where they wont be a scourge upon the landscape or upon any community.

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Patricia

Bad idea; why isn’t Rikers Island being “refitted” for jails; is it because they want to redevelop it into an exclusive upscale condo village? How can you even think of rezoning this neighborhood for such a big building and for such a purpose? Why would anyone want to live near a jail? Talk about property values plummeting. It was bad enough with the homeless shelter which spawned robberies and filth/litter in the area and stabbing that has taken place when they were there. Koslowitz is “hoping” to bring business to the area. Just like Barclays Center in Brooklyn was supposed to did and didn’t! Build a new jail on Rikers Island. Sounds like a no brainer to me.

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HomelessHelper

Move all the homeless to Rikers Island now that all those buildings will be empty. Problem solved.

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Irate Kew Gardens Resident

What does this “moral imperative” have to do with unloading huge jails, that are so big the have to rezone, onto small residential communities that don’t want anything to do with these jails. They have zero respect for our communities!
Koslowitz who is suppossed to be a leader for our community is instead a coward, claiming she wants to have a seat at the table.
Keep the jails on Rikers. My understanding is they have the room to build low-rise jails with the existing one. Change laws for social justice reform but don’t ruin our homes just for a feather in DeBlasio’s cap

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Ms. Billie M. Spaight

First, it’s not fair that Staten Island is not getting one of these jails. Second, it’s not appropriate to put a jail in a busy metropolitan area. The Kew Gardens site has a courthouse, a school, doctors’ offices, restaurants, other businesses, houses and apartment buildings, bus stop, and a major subway stop–all within a 1 block radius.
What is more, who is to say that none of these criminals would escape. Escapes have even been made from high security prisons. I say, put the jail where there aren’t any noncriminals around. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. I voted 2 times for di Blasio and I am very upset with him now.

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KGresident

Do not forget a hotel converted into a homeless shelter. Now a prison.
I have no idea how these politicians remain in office when all the residents are so dissatisfied and have conflicting views for the future of the area. VOTE. VOTE. VOTE.

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Sarah

What are they planning to do with Rikers island? This is just a bad idea along with the homeless shelters in the middle of small neighborhoods where there are no resources for the homeless.

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