Candidates for Queens district attorney do not see eye-to-eye on closing Rikers Island prison complex

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

When the City Council passed the land use plan to close the prison complex of Rikers Island and build four borough-based jails by 2026, it offered a litmus test in the Queens district attorney’s race which will be decided next month.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will face the Republican nominee Joe Murray on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

“There is a deep culture of violence and lack of accountability at Rikers Island and I applaud its closure,” Katz said. “I don’t support the plan to build a 1,500-person jail in Queens, regardless of where the city wants to build it. Rather, we need a small, community-based facility that will allow people to be closer to their communities and receive the services they need, but is not so large that we end up putting more people behind bars.”

Republican nominee for Queens DA Joe Murray is adamantly opposed to closing the prison complex on Rikers Island. (Courtesy of Joe Murray)

Joe Murray, a former NYPD officer turned criminal defense lawyer, has an office on Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens where the city plans to build the new jail at the old Queens Detention Complex. Unlike Katz, Murray opposes Mayor de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers Island, and even appeared at an afternoon protest outside City Hall in support of Keep Rikers Open on Oct. 16.

“If Rikers Island closes, the mayor’s plan would place a new jail in Kew Gardens directly impacting the residents of our community. Their logic is to build new facilities across the boroughs to allow families and friends of detainees easier access for visitation, but this is simply not true,” Murray said. “In essence, they would like to normalize incarceration as if it’s another after-school program. I believe jail should be a place you don’t want to go back to and not something that should be normalized in our community. I believe that the closing is also a serious public safety concern should inmates escape. As an attorney, there are always lockdowns at the detention centers. No one has ever escaped from Rikers Island. It was built to detain people who have committed crimes against New York City citizens. It was never supposed to be pleasant and a comfortable environment for criminals.”

Murray was a registered Democrat and supporter of Judge Greg Lasak during the Democratic primary. When Lasak finished a distant third in the race, Murray sought, and was given, the GOP’s party line after attorney Daniel Kogan left the ticket following his nomination to the state Supreme Court in August.