Borough-based jail proposal advances - Queens Chronicle: Queenswide

Borough-based jail proposal advances

by Ryan Brady, Editor | Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2019 10:30 am

A new jail in Kew Gardens is one step closer to becoming a reality.

That’s because the City Planning Commission on Tuesday approved the de Blasio administration’s plan to replace the Rikers Island complex with four borough-based jails, including one at 126-02 82 Ave. by the Queens Criminal Courthouse, where the old House of Detention stands.

The new, 1,150-bed facility for the borough is planned to hold all of the city’s female inmates as well as males from Queens.

The commission voted 9-3. Its seven mayoral representatives each came out in favor of the proposal, as did appointees of the borough presidents of Manhattan and Brooklyn. But those of the other three — including Raj Rampershad of Richmond Hill, who represents Queens Borough President Melinda Katz — voted against the plan.

The CPC approval sends the jail proposal to the next step in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure: the City Council. The body will consider and vote on the project.

Multiple published reports said criminal justice activists interrupted the planning commissioners as they spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

Mayor de Blasio in 2017 announced his proposal to shut down the troubled Rikers Island facilities and replace them with jails in each borough except Staten Island. It is planned to be completed by 2026.

Implementing the plan has required shrinking the city’s inmate population. It numbered at about 9,400 when de Blasio first announced the proposal and has since dropped below 7,500. However, for the plan to work, the number can’t exceed 4,000.

Last year, the city shut down one of Rikers’ nine jails, the George Motchan Detention Center.

Many residents in Kew Gardens and elsewhere in Queens and the other boroughs slated to have jails have criticized the mayor’s proposal, arguing that the facilities should not be placed in communities where people live.

No New Jails, a group that protested at the CPC’s meeting this week, also has been a major critic of the de Blasio administration’s plan for closing Rikers.

“The City Planning Commission, in rubber-stamping the Mayor’s plan, just gave Bill de Blasio a blank check to expand mass incarceration,” NNJ member Kei Williams said in a statement. “At any point members of the CPC could have had an honest discussion of the plan’s substance — namely, building thousands of cages for humans — but they steamrolled the public while focusing on space for retail and building height. The cruelty is almost surreal.”

Shutting down Rikers and opening smaller facilities had been recommended by a commission established by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in 2016. The group was chaired by New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who praised the CPC after its Tuesday vote.

“The City Council will now deliberate on the City’s proposal and I am hopeful that they will work to make this plan the best that it can be for those inside and outside of the facilities,” the judge said in a statement. “We have a once-in-generations opportunity to shut the door on a dark chapter in our City’s history and open a new one in which our justice system can serve not only as a beacon of fairness for New York, but for our whole country.”