A packed Queens Community House in Kew Gardens questioned on Jan. 31 why the de Blasio administration does not simply rebuild Rikers Island instead of borough-based jails — and voiced harsh criticisms toward Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz for not opposing the plan which they believe will hurt their community in many ways.
Opponents of the plan, however, said they are not opposed to other criminal justice reforms such as ending cash bail; they simply believe that creating a 1,500-inmate jail at the former Queens Detention Center complex in Kew Gardens will only transplant the problems that already exist on Rikers Island.
“Let’s think about putting 2,500 additional workers – people of Queens drive – that’s probably 50 percent cars, 24/7, into the neighborhood,”Andrea Crawford said. “We want civil reform. We want criminal reform. We want bail reform. We want to the things that’ll make the criminal justice system work better. What we don’t want is for our neighborhoods to be crushed. That’s exactly what will happen and nobody is listening.”
Multiple speakers repeatedly argued that, instead of building large, borough-based jails and taking inmates out of Rikers, the facilities on the island could be rebuilt and modernized to meet the justice reform demands of today.
One attendee pointed out that most the facilities on Rikers had been built in the 1970s and were not “19th-century dungeons.”
A representative from Koslowitz’s office bore the brunt of scorn from the crowd as he argued that his boss was simply taking a tactical approach to the situation by not taking a hard stance against the jail so she can have a seat at the negotiating table.
“The reason why she hasn’t come out against it – and I won’t say she is for a jail in Kew Gardens – but the reason why she hasn’t come out against it is because she’s dealing with the political reality that it’s likely to pass,” Alex Anderson, Koslowitz’s rep, said. “I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but she’s looking out for the people of Kew Gardens.” His remarks were punctuated by a frustrated wave of murmurs and laughs from the audience.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi stood up for Koslowitz’s strategy, arguing that the de Blasio administration would shut her out completely if she made her opposition clear.
“This tactic, while you may not like it, is smart,” Hevesi said. “If she becomes the enemy and the yeller and screamer, and if they bulldoze over her, which is a distinct possibility … she will have zero say as to how this goes down.”
The proposed jail will be 29 stories, if it passes through the City Planning Commission and the ULURP process, and will be located where the parking lot behind Queens Borough Hall is on Union Turnpike.