By Rebecca Henely
Astoria residents have long been concerned about the situation at Rikers Island, the prison only accessible by road through the neighborhood, so city Department of Corrections Commissioner Dora Schriro visited the United Community Civic Association last Thursday to update residents on the prison’s renovation.
“The Department of Correction is your neighbor, whether or not you feel good about it,” Schriro said. While part of the Bronx, the island can only be accessed by road via Hazen Street in Astoria.
Under the blunt but good-natured prodding of Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the UCCA, Schriro outlined the department’s five-year plan for new prison beds, meaning places for the prisoners to be housed and sleep. The civic met at Augustana Lutheran Church at 69-05 Ditmars Blvd.
Schriro said the DOC will be reopening the Queens House of Detention, at 126-02 82nd Ave., in Kew Gardens and the Brooklyn House of Detention, at 275 Atlantic Ave. Reopening these detention houses will allow the DOC to demolish 4,000 beds on the island that have deteriorated and build 1,500 new beds in their place. The department currently has 15,000 usable beds for its 13,000 prisoners currently housed at Rikers and 19,000 usable beds in the system overall.
During the demolition, Schriro said the department will try to keep the equipment and debris from coming into the community.
“To the extent that we can it will be removed not by bridge and road but by barge and water,” Schriro said.
Schriro said the department will also be erecting a power plant for the island, which she said will reduce strain on the power system for the residents. Some trees on the island are also planned for removal, and Schriro said these will be replanted in areas to benefit the community.
Poveromo said she was pleased with the communication between the Correction Department and the community, especially the agency’s recent decision not to move a prison barge to Rikers Island due to community concerns.
But she disliked the idea of building another power plant in the area because the community is so close to the Con Edison Complex along 20th Avenue.
“We’ve got all the garbage in this area — we’re tired of it now,” Poveromo said.
Schriro said construction was scheduled to start in 2013 and the new beds would be built in 2017.
Poveromo also said homeless men continue to live in the Westway Motel, despite the department’s plans to stop using the motel for single homeless people in January. She said the homeless have caused problems in the area, such as theft.
Deputy Inspector Stephen Cirabisi of the 114th Precinct said officers would increase patrols around that area, but had not found any homeless causing crimes at night.
“The people breaking into the cars are local people,” Cirabisi said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.