Kew Gardens groups blast proposal to reopen shuttered jail for Rikers Island inmates

Queens Detention Complex
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Though 11 City Council members believe that the former Queens Detention Complex would be the best place to house inmates if the city does eventually close Rikers Island, residents of Kew Gardens are saying, “Not so fast.”

The Kew Gardens Civic Association and the Kew Gardens Improvement Association, representing many of the neighborhood’s homeowners and apartment renters, released a joint statement outlining their “strong opposition” to using the detention center as a successor to Rikers Island.

It was reported on Monday, Oct. 2, that Councilwomen Elizabeth Crowley and Karen Koslowitz put forth a plan that would reopen the jail to house a reduced population of inmates if the Lippman Commission’s proposal to close Rikers Island and open up smaller, community jails goes through.

“In just the two days since the Crowley letter was made available to our members we have received numerous replies from our members, all of whom are opposed to reopening the House of Detention,” according to the statement signed by Sylvia Hack, president of the Kew Gardens Improvement Association, and Dominick Pistone, president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association. “If community opinion is to mean anything, this project should be shelved.”

The residences’ grievances with this plan range from the fact that they say the community was never notified of the plan, parking issues around the facility, and questions about the facility itself.

One major problem the groups see with this plan is that their community’s facility isn’t large enough to house the inmates from Rikers Island, as was mentioned in previous arguments against reopening the detention center.

“After the brouhaha last spring when the distribution of Rikers’ prisoners was a headline topic, it was said that our Kew Gardens facility was not nearly big enough to accommodate enough prisoners from Queens,” Hack and Pistone wrote. “That the facility was outdated, that it would need to be demolished and rebuilt and that Kew Gardens could not provide enough prisoners to warrant a ‘neighborhood prison,’ one of the goals voiced for the break-up of Rikers. What happened?”

Although residents of Kew Gardens see major obstacles in reopening the detention center, Mayor Bill de Blasio seems to be on board with the plan.

The Daily News reported that de Blasio believes reopening and expanding the Kew Gardens facility would be “an ideal first step” for the plan.

“I’m encouraged the mayor was receptive to our proposal to use the Queens Detention Complex in the plan to close Rikers. Using this site, the original jail in Queens County, will save millions of New Yorkers’ tax dollars,” Crowley said. “It is a central location in the borough, right in the backyard of the courthouse. It’s time our criminal justice system reflect New York City values, and the Queens Detention Complex provides us that option. I hope the mayor takes this opportunity to fully commit to not putting jails in residential neighborhoods. I look forward to hearing his plan and a timeline.”