Queens Community Board 8 is calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel the Four Borough Detention Plan in recommendation of a phased replacement of the Rikers Island facility to make use of available space on the island.
In its letter to the mayor on April 14, the board cited several circumstances that have arisen since the initial proposal to create a more “modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer and fairer” in each borough, was announced by the de Blasio administration in August 2018.
The $8.7 billion proposal, which was approved by the City Council in a historic vote in October 2019 to shut down the 84-year-old facility, would redevelop the dormant Queens Detention Complex, located at 126-02 82nd Ave., adjacent to the Queens Criminal Courthouse. The nearby municipal parking lot would be transformed into a corrections center with space for 1,510 prisoner beds. The block of 82nd Street between 126th and 132nd streets would be de-mapped to allow for the facility’s development.
The planned facilities will also provide a safer environment to work and will allow people in jail to remain closer to their loved ones, as well as offer quality health, education, visitation and recreational services that will help people reintegrate once they return to their communities, according to de Blasio.
While CB 8 acknowledged that the present situation on Rikers Island is “unacceptable and that there is an urgent need to replace the facilities, as well as implement jail reform practices,” they noted the financial cost of the project, the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s budget, and the design planning process that has been delayed.
“It is probable that the cost of $8.7 billion, which does not include financing costs, will cost significantly more,” the board said in the letter. “There are many other vital capital projects that will not get approved due to this massive plan … the plan is far too expensive particularly given the current financial realities.”
According to the board, the project is two years behind schedule and the design planning process has not yet begun with a projected completed date now pushed to 2028.
As crime has been increasing, the board cited a 38.2 percent increase in homicides from 2019 to 2020. Despite early releases in response to COVID-19, and the major bail reforms initiated by New York state, the jail population stood at 4,749 individuals in November 2020, according to the board. The capacity for the inmate population is approximately 3,544.
While the Queens Detention Center was approved to be a 23-story building and there is an option for it to become a 33-story building with rooftop mechanicals, the board said this has become a concern, recommending that detention centers are not built as high rises in dense, low-rise communities.
“This should be done at a far lower cost and still meet the desired goal of improving and modernizing conditions in the jails,” the board said.
Additionally, the board said there has been no plan presented for the eventual evacuation of a 23- to 33-story building in the event of an emergency, such as a fire or the equivalent. While the original parking garage called for 676 parking spots, the board said it has been reduced to a minimum of 600 spots due to budget concerns. The underground parking on the original plan has been reduced from 605 to 300 spaces.
“The parking facilities will be completed before the final jail size is determined, potentially resulting in fewer spaces than needed in a community that already struggles with parking,” the board said.
During the ULURP process, CB 8 made comments and passed a resolution due to the proposed construction being adjacent to the border between CB 8 and CB 9. Following a meeting that occurred between representatives from Design and Construction (DDC) and representatives of CB 9 on March 25, CB 8 said that they requested to be included in future scheduled meetings.