• October 22, 2019
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Queens Chronicle

City Council panel moves to legally bar jails on Rikers

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Posted: Friday, October 11, 2019 10:40 am | Updated: 12:34 pm, Thu Oct 17, 2019.

Citing the benefits to detainees that housing them in new jails would bring, the City Council’s Land Use Committee voted on Thursday to bar the use of Rikers Island for any detention center after the end of 2026.

The vote was 11-2 with two abstentions and two lawmakers absent. Both abstentions were from Queens lawmakers: Councilmen Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans).

The rest of the Queens contingent on the committee voted aye: Councilmen Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Francisco Moya (D-Corona) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), along with Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Queens), whose district includes much of Ridgewood.

Introduced by Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), the measure was passed a week before lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the city’s plan to close Rikers Island and replace the facilities there with four new jails, one in each borough except Staten Island, including one at the old House of Detention in Kew Gardens.

"This process will require Rikers Island to close as a correctional facility by 2026, and shows our deep commitment to moving away from the failed policies of mass incarceration," Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The goals of the plan, issued under Mayor de Blasio following a report and recommendation made by a panel led by former chief state Judge Jonathan Lippmann, include providing more humane conditions for detainees, keeping them closer to home, getting them to and from court more quickly and cheaply and reducing the number of people incarcerated, especially those who have been charged and are awaiting trial.

“The new Borough Based Jails will allow better engagement of incarcerated individuals with attorneys, social service providers and community support so that they will be better positioned to succeed upon leaving the Borough Based Jails facilities,” the Land Use Committee’s resolution reads in part (see full text below).

But the plan to establish new jails around the city has been met with fierce opposition from some residents, including in Queens, who cite safety and other concerns as objections. Other opponents say Rikers should be closed and no new jails established because the city incarcerates too many people, especially minorities.

Just this week, Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), who opposes the city’s plan and advocates for reforming and rebuilding the jails at Rikers instead, joined an Asian-American group from Manhattan in proposing that a ferry be used to take inmates to and from court, in order to save money and time. The concept calls for them to be transported on secure buses that would be driven onto one or more ferries and then driven off for the rest of the ride to a given courthouse. It also entails rebuilding Rikers Island to erect new, modern, more humane jails there.

The committee’s bill would thwart that or any other plan to keep inmates on Rikers by authorizing the filing of an application that would deem the island “a public place, with a land use restriction” — that restriction being a legal bar to housing any jail there. 

Holden decried the move in a prepared statement.

"This is a blatant overreach of power and I am beyond disappointed that my colleagues held this vote after giving less than 24 hours notice," he said.

Full text of the New York City Council measure on Rikers Island passed by the Land Use Committee on Oct. 10, 2019:

File # T2019-5228

Resolution authorizing the filing of a land use application amending the City Map so as to establish a public place, with a use restriction, on the entirety of Rikers Island.

By The Speaker (Council Member Johnson)

Whereas, On September 3, 2019, the City Planning Commission (CPC) approved with modifications the Borough Based Jails applications (C 190333 PSY; N 190334 ZRY; N 190337 ZRX; C 190335 ZSX; C 190336 ZMX; C 190338 HAX; C 190339 ZSK; C 190116 MMK; C 190340 ZSM; C 190341 PQM; C190252 MMM; C190342 ZSQ; C 190117 MMQ) and filed them with the Council pursuant to section 197-d of the City Charter; and

Whereas, The City’s success in reducing crime and reducing the number of people in jail, coupled with grassroots support for closing the jails on Rikers Island, has allowed the City of New York to commit to creating a modern, humane and safe justice system that provides appropriate conditions for those who work and are detained there; and

Whereas, Closing Rikers Island, and using only the new Borough Based Jails, will strengthen connections to families and communities by enabling people to remain closer to their loved ones and other people; and

Whereas, The new Borough Based Jails will allow better engagement of incarcerated individuals with attorneys, social service providers, and community support so that they will be better positioned to succeed upon leaving the Borough Based Jails facilities; and

Whereas, The Borough Based Jails will improve inmates’ access to natural light and they will provide space for therapeutic programming - resulting in calmer and more productive environments inside the facilities; and

Whereas, Offering quality recreational, health, education, visitation, and housing facilities supports reengagement once formerly incarcerated individuals return to their communities; and

Whereas, The Borough Based Jails will enhance the well-being of uniformed and civilian staff, as well, through improved safety conditions, and

Whereas, The closure of Rikers Island, by establishing it as a public place subject to a use restriction that it shall not be used for incarceration of individuals after December 31, 2026, is critical to achieving the City’s criminal justice program goals and creating a more modern, humane and safe justice system; now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York authorizes the filing of a land use application amending the City Map so as to establish a public place, with a use restriction, on the entirety of Rikers Island. 


This story has been updated to include statements from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilman Bob Holden.

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  • Buster57 posted at 6:47 pm on Mon, Oct 14, 2019.

    Buster57 Posts: 79

    This is just disgusting and disgraceful. FIX the administration & renovate Rikers Island. It is a perfect location. I read somewhere that they were concerned about securely transferring prisoners. What makes it safer to transport them to POPULATED & residential areas as opposed to an island? Anyone who is for this is not thinking clearly.

  • Buster57 posted at 6:41 pm on Mon, Oct 14, 2019.

    Buster57 Posts: 79

    Whereas you are a bunch of idiots, please put the new jails in YOUR backyard!

  • BroadwayLION posted at 5:20 pm on Mon, Oct 14, 2019.

    BroadwayLION Posts: 5

    She was only a coachman's daughter, but all the horsemen knew her.

    Why would anyone want to replace perfectly fine structures by spending over 600 million dollars in a decentralized system in neighborhoods where nobody wants them anyway. What this is , is a land grab for some of the most desirable real-estate in the city for the mayors special interests to make a killing in developments.

    I would not sell this island for anything less than 3 BILLION dollars, so that the city would have the money to replace these facilities.