Justice reforms before new jails: central Queens tells de Blasio to hold off on Kew Gardens jail

Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Thursday’s Queens Advisory Council (QAC) meeting on the proposal to install a jail in Kew Gardens, part of a 10-year plan to make incarceration on Rikers Island history, was not for the faint-hearted — as aggravated residents made their demands clear to exasperated city representatives.

Not only did QAC warn the representatives on Feb. 28 that a tower jail is unsafe, among other concerns, but the advisory council was adamant that criminal justice reforms should be made before any new jails are built in order to accurately gauge the demand for new facilities in the years to come.

“We have heard it often said that we are not listening. Tonight we’re spending this first part [meeting] to say, ‘We listened, did we hear correctly,'” Arnold Bloch, a senior project manager with the planning firm Fitzgerald and Halliday, said.

The representatives went through pages of bullet guidelines and principles making revisions for all decision-makers, such as City Council members voting on the ULURP application to be informed of the council’s demands before making a decision.

A representative from the Deputy Mayor of Operations’ office attempted to pacify residents in the room by reminding them they would put the recommendations on the desks of “people who can kill this project [after] reading your words.”

The council was opposed to building a jail facility in any other part of Queens, but some suggested Jamaica or Long Island City, particularly Anable Basin, as better suit because of the proximity to courthouses. College Point was also offered up as a suggestion.

But criminal justice reform is still not far from the minds of the council, many of whom expressed the need to legislate away from mass incarceration.

“We’ve brought this up at every single one of these meetings; criminal justice reform has to be worked out. We don’t know what the legislature is going to devise … If they do pass [reforms], maybe you don’t need some of these jails,” one member of the council said. “Why in the world are we even talking about a jail without having first gotten the criminal justice reform in place and see how it works?”

Representatives of the de Blasio Administration reminded the advisory council that the plan to close Rikers is still eight years out and just because the city obtains a ULURP does not mean they will build in Kew Gardens.

The was also opposition to the jail rising up to 29 floors, claiming that a modern jail facility would be low-rise which protects staff who may be required to move prisoners through elevators and which they believed would only lead to trouble if there was an emergency in which the jail needed to be evacuated.

The current proposal, which is in the early stages calls for 1.9-million-square feet, which would mean the building would rise 310 feet, but the city claimed it is working to reduce height.

The land city is looking to redevelop the existing Queens Detention Complex at 126-02 82nd Ave., next to the Queens Criminal Courthouse, as well as a parking lot to house 1,500 inmates in 29-story building that would be one of four across the city.

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