The city just announced that they are one step closer to closing Rikers Island for good.
In March 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would begin a 10-year process of shutting down Rikers Island, and last month, the George Motchan Detention Center was identified as the first of nine jails to close.
Now, the mayor has reached an agreement with the City Council to house 5,000 inmates in existing jail facilities in four boroughs. As part of the plan, the mayor said the Rikers Island population, which currently stands at about 8,705, would need to be reduced to 5,000 so that community-based facilities could more easily accommodate people.
The four locations, which include the Queens Detention Complex at 126-01 82nd St. in Kew Gardens, will now go through a single public review process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), where public hearings and recommendations will be provided by the Community Boards, Borough Presidents, City Council and City Planning Commission.
The existing borough facilities only have the capacity to hold 2,300 people so the proposed facilities will have to be renovated, expanded or in the case of the Bronx, a new site will be created at 320 Concord Ave. in Mott Haven. Keeping jails near court houses is more convenient for Department of Correction staff and families of inmates, the plan argues.
“This agreement marks a huge step forward on our path to closing Rikers Island,” de Blasio said. “In partnership with the City Council, we can now move ahead with creating a borough-based jail system that’s smaller, safer and fairer. I want to thank these representatives, who share our vision of a more rehabilitative and humane criminal justice system that brings staff and detainees closer to their communities.”
The city has chosen Perkins Eastman as its vendor, which was tasked with identifying sites and with creating a master plan with recommendations for how to maximize capacity and design jails that meet the needs of inmates, staff and communities. They will also take charge of the public engagement process and conduct environmental reviews.
“The reopening of the Queens Detention Center not only makes sense but is the right thing to do,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, who represents Kew Gardens. “This proposal restores the center back to its original purpose and ensures that Queens’ borough-based jail facility is located in our civic center, close to our courts. This smaller facility will bolster the safety for our Department of Correction staff, will create an environment that is more conducive to rehabilitation and will save taxpayer dollars on transportation costs.”
Applications for city certification can be submitted as soon as the end of 2018 and the design process can begin as early as summer 2019.
The remaining locations include the Manhattan Detention Center at 125 White St. and the Brooklyn Detention Center at 275 Atlantic Ave. Staten Island is the only borough not included in the plan. JustLeadershipUSA, an organization behind the #CloseRikers campaign, slammed the mayor for not including the borough in his community-based jail system.
“The mayor’s plan also contains a glaring omission: any mention at all of Staten Island,” said Monica Novoa, spokesperson for JustLeadershipUSA. “The people who’ve been trapped at Rikers and their families know that solutions must include all neighborhoods in the city. But this mayor continues to send a message to Staten Island families that their incarcerated loved ones don’t matter.”