City transfers portion of Rikers Island land from DOC, moves closer to Renewable Rikers

Photo via REUTERS/Mike Segar

In the most recent move to implement the Renewable Rikers Act, the city has authorized the transfer of 43 acres of vacant, unused land on Rikers Island away from the Department of Corrections.

Former City Council Member Costa Constantinides, who represented Rikers Island, Astoria, East Elmhurst and parts of Long Island City and Woodside while in office, originally sponsored the set of three bills known as the Renewable Rikers Act. The bill passed in February of 2021, creating a framework to reach climate goals by utilizing a post-carceral Rikers Island.

City Council Member Tiffany Cabán, Constantinides’ successor, said that this land transfer is a push towards environmental and racial justice alike.

“The communities that have suffered most from over-incarceration and over-policing are the same ones who are most under-resourced and most acutely affected by climate destruction,” Cabán said. “Low-income Black and brown communities experience some of the worst air quality, environmental dumping, mold and other in-home hazards.”

The 43 acres transferred out of DOC’s jurisdiction include three discrete land parcels, located on northern, northeast and southeast portions of the island, according to advocates.

Cabán said that this land transfer can also provide reparations to marginalized communities by prioritizing jobs for past victims of the legal system.

The Renewable Rikers Act is a reparative justice plan meant to bring innovative policies to Rikers Island, alleviating the long-suffering of communities who bore the brunt of the carceral system and climate change. Advocates say New York City residents who have been subjected to police misconduct, are also often burdened with the most polluting infrastructure, causing higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Marco Barrios, who was previously incarcerated on Rikers and now a member of Freedom Agenda, said that this land transfer brings the city one step closer to leaving the “horrific legacy of torture island behind.”

“[We’re] moving towards repairing the communities that have been harmed by mass incarceration and environmental racism,” Barrios said. “We need to make sure that we keep moving forward — by pursuing alternatives to incarceration, closing and demolishing the jails on Rikers, and transferring the land so that its purpose can be transformed.”

While advocates welcome the land transfer as a first step to complying with the Renewable Rikers Act, they call on the city to go further. Local Law 16 of 2021 institutes a committee to recommend ways to effectively use the land in sustainable and renewable ways. This city has not yet established this committee.

Zachary Katznelson, executive director of A More Just NYC, said that they look forward to working with Mayor Eric Adams and other officials to build on this progress.

“With every transfer of land, we draw a critical step closer towards closing Rikers forever and ensuring the island is a green energy hub that benefits the entire City,” Katznelson said.

The full 413 acres land transfer of Rikers Island from DOC to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 31, 2027, according to the Renewable Rikers legislation. Eventually, a study will be conducted on renewable energy options on Rikers Island, according to the DOC.