While the city’s plan to build four borough-based jails to replace the prison complex on Rikers Island is still in question as it makes its way through the public review process, several elected officials in western Queens are moving forward with a discussion about the island’s future.
City Councilmen Costa Constantinides and Daniel Dromm, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz will co-host a Jackson Heights forum on June 6 that will focus on converting the island in the East River into the heart of New York City’s green infrastructure.
“Closing the jails on Rikers Island is a moral imperative we must see through for the sake of communities long ripped apart by injustice,” Constantinides said. “Closing Rikers presents a unique opportunity to also get power plants out of those same communities, correcting another historic injustice. I look forward to this valuable discussion on how we make this land actually serve our city productively.”
Professor Rebecca Bratspies, founding director on CUNY Law School’s Center for Urban Environmental Reform, will moderate a panel that includes: Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director and Director of Policy Initiatives at WE-ACT for Environmental Justice; Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN; Rachel Spector, Director of the Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; and Marco Barrios of Just Leadership USA.
“I am very excited to co-host the Renewable Rikers Island town hall and begin a discussion on using the land in a way that actually benefits all New Yorkers,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I look forward to hearing how we can begin reversing the historic injustices committed on Rikers, as well as help communities held back for generation by environmental injustice.”
The city pledged to close Rikers by 2027, after the Lippman Commission recommendation that using the remote island for jails had led to almost nonstop brutality, extremely inefficient operational costs, and negative health risks for both inmates and correction officers. The independent panel suggested using the 415-acre island for critical environmental infrastructure. Constantinides has proposed using 100 acres of the island for solar generation and battery storage that would justify closing nearly a dozen power plants built in the last two decades near low-income and minority communities in an area of western Queens known as “Asthma Alley.”
The island could also host a new, resilient wastewater treatment plant that could allow aging, overburdened facilities in northern Queens and other areas of the city to close.
“We are presented with an opportunity, with the closing of Rikers Island, an institution plagued with a dark history of corruption, mistreatment and injustice, to use this space in an innovative way that will help our community and the entire city,” Cruz said. “I’m excited and honored to take part in this dialogue, and listen to the ideas of my colleagues and neighbors about how we can best do so.”
The forum will be held at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, located at 37-06 77th Street at 37th Avenue, and is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.