Kew Gardens residents oppose city’s plan to close Rikers Island

Hundreds of Kew Gardens residents attend the Queens Scoping Hearing at Borough Hall on the city’s plan for a new jail on the existing Queens Detention Complex footprint.
Photo by Carlotta Mohamed
By Carlotta Mohamed

There was tension last week as Kew Gardens residents expressed their opposition to the city’s proposal to reopen the existing Queens Detention Center complex as part of the city’s plan to shutter the Rikers Island prison over the next 10 years.

Hundreds of Kew Gardens residents attended the Queens Scoping Hearing, held Wednesday, Sept. 26 at Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd. City officials were unable to finish their sentences amidst the loud interruptions in the Helen Marshall Cultural Center.

Misael Syldor, of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform — who was born and raised in Queens — delivered the testimony.

“At Rikers, people come out worse off than when they go in,” said Syldor. “The proposed facility in Queens is an opportunity for us to be closer to our loved ones, legal representation, and other services that will help them rehabilitate and become productive members of our communities.”

Audience members were divided on the closing of Rikers Island and the implementation of community-based borough jails. Residents who stood up to speak stated that there was no community involvement on the city’s plan to reopen the Queens jail complex.

In August, the de Blasio administration announced a proposal to redevelop Queens Detention Complex — located at 126-02 82nd Ave., adjacent to the Queens Criminal Courthouse — and the neighboring municipal parking lot into a corrections center with space for 1,510 prisoner beds.

“Why is $10 billion being funneled into the jail plan when that money can be used for creating affordable housing, our public schools and creating new roads,” asked Grace Wong. of Fresh Meadows.

Residents stressed the issues of overcrowding, parking availability, nearby schools, and transportation in the neighborhood.

Andrea Crawford, counsel to the Kew Gardens Improvement Association, said the city’s plan to build the jail complex will “cripple the neighborhood,” and has no economic benefits to the community.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday the removal of 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers Island into more age-appropriate facilities with expanded access to programs and services.

“Raise the Age,” which passed last year, builds upon the work that has already been done to transform the juvenile justice system in New York City, including the implementation of the Close to Home Program and cutting the juvenile population by more than half over the last four years, de Blasio said.

“Beginning today [Monday], no one under 18 will go to Rikers Island. Kids will be treated like kids instead of adults,” said de Blasio. “This is a historic moment for criminal justice reform and another step toward replacing Rikers Island with smaller, safer, more humane facilities that are closer to communities and loved ones.”

In the coming weeks, the city plans to hold meetings in each of the four boroughs — all except Staten Island — set to receive new or expanded prisons as part of the plan to shut down Rikers.

The development of the new facilities requires a City Environmental Quality Review — a legally required city process that identifies and discloses significant adverse impacts on the environment, including noise, air quality, displacement and traffic.

After the meetings, the city will issue a Final Scope of Work. The document will be the basis for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will study the environmental impact of the projects on the surrounding areas. It’s after the issuance of this statement that the city will enter into the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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