Sept. 4, 2018 By Tara Law
Two Queens officials will be facing off in a debate tomorrow about the merits of the City’s plan to open four community-based jails— including the reopening of the now-shuttered Queens Detention Center in Kew Gardens— as a means to close Rikers Island.
Councilmember Rory Lancman, an advocate for closing Rikers, will debate James Quinn, an assistant district attorney in the Queens DA’s office, who believes that the City’s plan to shut down Rikers is flawed.
The Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association is sponsoring the event, which will take place at 7:45 p.m. at Young Israel of Kew Gardens, 70-11 150th St.
The debate is free and the organizers aim to help the public get a better understanding of the proposal, according to a flier from the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association.
“Get the facts, dispel the rumors,” the event flier says.
Lancman and Quinn will dig deep into the community jail plan, which Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson first announced in February.
Under the proposal, the city aims to reduce the prison population–which stands at 8,700–to 5,000, so that the four community-based facilities would be able accommodate all the inmates.
The Kew Gardens detention center, located at 126-01 82nd Ave, would be expanded and renovated to accommodate approximately 1,500 detainees. The center, which once housed about 500 inmates, closed in 2002 due to budget cuts.
Quinn is opposed the closure of the Rikers Island. In March, Quinn said that advocates for its closure were putting forward a “dishonest” narrative. Proponents falsely argue, he said, that the facility is filled with thousands of inmates who are locked up for minor crimes and can’t make bail.
Quinn claims that the people who are jailed in Rikers belong there, and that reducing the jail population will put criminals back on the streets. He said the number of inmates on low-level crimes who can’t afford bail is small.
Meanwhile, Lancman— the chair of the Council’s Committee on the Justice System— has long advocated for the closure of Rikers, which he describes as an “incorrigibly violent and corrupt” institution. Lancman was among 11 councilmembers who penned a letter to the mayor last year, asking him to reopen the Kew Gardens jail.
Lancman argued today that the new jails will be built to be “safer and more humane” for detainees and guards alike.
Lancman also noted that Rikers’ population has declined since the early 1990s. According to Lancman, the city should continue to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated prior to being convicted. Lancman advocates for the City to pass bail reform to reduce the number of people who are jailed because they cannot afford bail.
“There are thousands of people in Rikers who could go home tomorrow if they could meet bail,” Lancman said.