The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) said the jail proposal in Kew Gardens will serve the estimated 200 women in detention on a daily basis to centralize services to that population in one location, on Wednesday morning.
With the public questioning their intent in placing the women from all five boroughs in Queens in the close Rikers plan, MOCJ Deputy Director Dana Kaplan said this decision was made after speaking with focus groups that advocate for women in the justice system.
But in regard to the fact that the city plans to move jails off Rikers Island to reduce resources used to transport detainees to court, as well as facilitate visitations, Kaplan said Kew Gardens is not nearly as isolated as the island.
“Some of the benefits of the Queens location – obviously it’s not as central as other locations might be. But it’s far more transit accessible than Rikers Island,” Kaplan said. “What we really heard from the women’s organizations was that it wasn’t just about having women all housed together, it was also about being able to provide dedicated visitation space, intake, medical and those were all things planned in the Queens facility.”
Out of a population of about 8,000, Kaplan said there are currently about 400 women under city lock and key. There will be a maternity ward and a nursery in the facility.
In terms of building a facility that will look “less fortress-like,” the de Blasio administration looked to other jails built in the last decade for inspiration.
Kaplan said the Denver Justice Center formed the basis for how the city would like to model borough-base jails on an aesthetic level, but would have to go a different direction with interior layout.
Instead of having all the cells on different levels in a single row, the Kew Gardens facility will have living arrangements wrap around a central open area so Department of Corrections officers can view detainees all all sides.
MOCJ is looking to take a different approach to the ground level of the facility, compared to other borough-based detention houses such as one in Manhattan where visitors are forced to line up outside to check in at the front door.
The Kew Gardens jail will have a large lobby with retail space that can be rented to community organizations and will also have an abundance of natural lighting, Kaplan said.
Initially, the city had planned to place an infirmary within the footprint of the facility, but they have since removed that feature from the draft environmental review. Nearby Elmhurst Hospital will provide medical service to the facility, Kaplan said.
While the Queens facility has the largest footprint of all four jail proposals, Bronx and Manhattan’s detention centers will be larger by square footage and height.
The Kew Gardens jail is expected to stand at 26 stories with about 1.2 million square feet and over 600 parking spaces in the garage that will be built at 126-02 82nd Ave.
There will be a public hearing April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Queens Borough Hall regarding the jail plan where residents can view a presentation of the proposal as it stands.