By Carlotta Mohamed
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to replace the detention facilities on Rikers Island with four modern community-based borough jails has divided Queens lawmakers on the opening of a proposed Kew Gardens jail site.
The de Blasio administration announced Aug. 15 that the proposal would redevelop the existing Queens Detention Complex located at 126-02 82nd Ave., adjacent to the Queens Criminal Courthouse, and the municipal parking lot into a corrections center with space for 1,510 prisoner beds.
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Kew Gardens) weighed in favor of the mayor’s proposal to redevelop the shuttered Queens Detention Center, which will house pregnant inmates and those with severe medical needs.
“Closing Rikers Island and opening community-based facilities is not only beneficial for New York City’s correction officers and incarcerated population, but also beneficial for the Kew Gardens community,” said Koslowitz. “The new facility in Kew Gardens will bring significant economic development and provide hundreds of new parking spaces in the community.”
Koslowitz added that the proposal would restore the center back to its original purpose and ensure that Queens’ borough-based jail facility is located in the civic center, close to the courts.
City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Middle Village), has been an outspoken critic, however, about the problems that could possibly arise if jails are placed in local communities.
Holden introduced a bill in May that would create a 10-person commission to study the cost of renovating Rikers Island to compare it with the estimated $11 billion it will cost to build borough jails.
“We have the numbers where borough-based jails are concerned, but we should know the cost of rejuvenating Rikers’ facilities to determine if it’s a viable alternative,” said Holden. “If we’re going to have taxpayers foot the bill for the city’s jail facilities, we should be able to show them the facts and figures.”
Holden’s colleagues, Council members Mark Gjonaj (D-Pelham Bay), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), and Kalman Yeger (D-Bensonhurst) signed onto the bill, which was assigned to the Committee on Criminal Justice and will be reviewed at public hearings before the City Council votes on it.
Ulrich said Holden’s measure is a “common sense bill.”
“It’s simple — hardworking taxpayers deserve to know how their money will be spent if the city moves forward with its plan to close Rikers Island,” said Ulrich. “Moreover, the city must take these costs into account before going ahead with any such plan.”
In 2017, the mayor released a road map that included plans to safely reduce the jail population to 5,000 people and transition to a borough jail-based system that would fully integrate into the surrounding neighborhoods with community space, ground-floor retail and parking.
According to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the other proposed sites under consideration are: 320 Concord Avenue in the Bronx; 275 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn; and 80 Centre Street in Manhattan.
Each new facility will contain approximately 1,500 beds in order for the city to meet the needed 6,000 beds to accommodate an average daily population of 5,000 people, while allowing space for population-specific housing requirements, such as those related to safety, security, health, and mental health, among other factors.
To date, the city has held meetings with community groups and local elected officials and conducted focus groups with correctional officers, service providers, defenders, educators, formally detained people and families of justice-involved people, the mayor’s office said.
The mayor’s proposal will need to go through a public review — the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — which includes hearings and recommendations by the local community board, borough president, the City Council and the City Planning Commission.
The city Department of Correction will hold public scope meetings regarding the Kew Gardens jail Sept. 26, at 6 p.m. at Queens Borough Hall located at 120-55 Queens Blvd.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha