Queens civic groups voice opposition to local prisons

By Bob Harris

For months, the city administration has been talking of closing Rikers Island and building local prisons throughout the city.

Their reasons include reports of violence between inmates and guards, the locking up of violent teenagers in solitary confinement and the fact that people with non-violent charges often stay in Rikers until a trial because they can’t meet the bail and because it is expensive to transport the people to local borough courts.

Meetings have been held to discuss the issue by the Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella organization consisting of about 100 civic associations, as well as recently by the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association. The proposed Queens prison would be in Kew Gardens Hills at the site of the closed Queens House of Detention at 126-01 82nd Ave.

The Queens Civic Congress has formed a task force to evaluate the situation and decide on what actions to take. Individual civic groups are already holding meetings. A group called the Community Preservation Coalition has been formed to oppose Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers and build local prisons.

The coalition has launched a petition drive against the building of a 1,510 facility in Kew Gardens. A city hearing was just held at Queens Borough Hall as part of the ULURP, the environmental review process which is necessary to rezone the area where the current house of detention is located. Neighbors say that a new building would be too large at 35 stories and out of scale with the neighborhood.

The current facility on Rikers Island is the size of small city. It has separate buildings for each category of prisoner, along with amenities like a bakery and other buildings.

There is talk that the new borough jails would cost any where from $20 billion to $30 billion to build. There is talk about the possible use of other building around these new jails to provide services. How far would these new jails spread around their communities?

Some people say that it would be cheaper to renovate the buildings on Rikers Island than build new buildings in Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The buildings on Rikers could be modernized and perhaps a couple could be rebuilt.

Rikers currently has a population of 8,500 people. The talk had been that the local jails would have around 500 people awaiting trial but the plans for Kew Gardens calls for 1,510 people. The current populations at Rikers would have to be reduced by about 3,000 people so the new local jails could hold all the prisoners to be moved to them.

Some people say that some prisoners in Rikers just can’t make bail and really are not there for violent felonies and should be permitted to go home. Others say that some detainees have been convicted dozens of times and are career criminals or gang members and should be made to make bail or stay in Rikers to protect the public.

Some innocent people are thought to plead guilty just to get out of Rikers. A new program talks about providing bail for people. On the other hand, there are programs which help misdemeanor defendants whose bail is less than $2,000.

Residents should get informed and get involved.

Good and bad news of the week:

Over the past couple of years there has been talk of fake news. There has been the revelation that Russian operatives have put out fake news to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

It would be wise for our schools, news media and our social media sites to educate the public about disinformation, fake videos and fake news. Artificial Intelligence is becoming a factor in how we obtain news. People have to become better educated or our voting system will become useless.

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