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Queens Chronicle

Inside Queens’ ghost jail

City pushes plan to tear down 59-year-old detention center for new lockup

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2019 10:30 am

The ground floor of the Queens Detention Complex is all business.

On the first floor of the eight-story, white brick building behind the Queens County Criminal Courthouse, detainees from Rikers Island are moved in and out for court appearances.

In another area, people arrested the day before wait behind bars to get bailed out.

Last week, officials of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice invited a handful of reporters on a rare tour of the other seven floors above, where a freshly painted, spotless prison sits in ghostly emptiness.

The MOCJ is the point agency for the mayor’s plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails, including a huge new facility in Kew Gardens to house 1,150 detainees on the site where the old jail, opened in 1961, now stands.

These days, the usefulness of the Queens Detention Complex is very limited.

It is used for training new correction officers and filming TV shows like “Orange is the New Black.” It has been that way since 2002 when then-Mayor Bloomberg shut it down for lack of inmates.

Powerful figures who support the closing of Rikers but oppose the idea of an expensive, new jail — most prominently Community Board 9 member Sylvia Hack — suggest that renovating the current jail will be sufficient to replace the cells lost on Rikers when and if it is shut. Queens DA candidate Tiffany Cabán, who appears to have won the Democratic nomination though absentee ballots remain to be counted, does not support renovating the facility and using it again, a spokesman said.

When the detention center was in full operation, it held 467 detainees, according to the DOC, about a third of the number of beds the current city plans call for.

The press tour was organized to dramatize the mayor’s argument that the facility is irredeemably out-of-date and impossible to reconstitute as a modern, humane jail, officials said.

“Members of the media were provided access to the Queens Detention Center to allow them to experience first-hand the facility’s current conditions and why a new facility will be critical to better serve the wide-range of needs for members of Queens communities,” as a City Hall spokesman put it.

The Chronicle agreed not to quote directly the correction officers and staffers it spoke to during the hour-long tour.

Within the city Department of Correction, it is assumed the demolition of the existing detention complex is a done deal.

DOC officials last week spoke of the jail in the past tense.

But the plan still has a long way to go before construction can begin.

Because the four new proposed jails are to be built on publicly owned land, the plans must pass a complicated, land-use approval process.

The City Planning Commisison, the City Council and the mayor all must approve the plans before building can begin.

“The building has been closed for 17 years,” Hack said this week. “Yes, it is in bad shape. No one disputes that.

“But we haven’t been talking about using it as is. We have been talking about gutting it,” she said.

“We haven’t changed our minds.”

The City Planning Commission has scheduled a full day of hearings, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., July 10 at John Jay College in Manhattan to gather public reaction to the new jail proposals in all four boroughs.

A vote on the plan is set for August.

UPDATE

This article was updated to clarify the position of Queens district attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán on the jail.

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1 comment:

  • Buster57 posted at 10:14 am on Sat, Jun 29, 2019.

    Buster57 Posts: 76

    But let's blame an ISLAND for the incompetence of the people running it.