BY JON CRONIN
Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the next stage of his plan for closing Rikers Island and instituting a borough-based jail system that would create a new facility in the recently opened municipal parking lot that is adjacent to Queens Borough Hall and Queens criminal court.
The plan included renderings of facilities that would be integrated into the communities with retail spaces, community spaces and parking.
““Now we can move full steam ahead on the engagement and planning for our new facilities, so we can close Rikers as fast as possible,” de Blasio said.
In a statement regarding the plan, the mayor said, “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.”
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said she doesn’t believe that Rikers Island can function as a modern-day penal institution, and that relocation of the inmates is in the interests both of the prisoners and the correction officers.
“I have been a local resident for 56 years and I do not recall any neighborhood complaints against the facility,” said Koslowitz in regard to the previous correctional facility, which operated in Kew Gardens for 40 years and was closed in 2002.
Still, she pointed out that the community should have its say in the process.
“The construction of this jail is subject to ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure],” she said. “As such, our community will have the ability to air their reservations, and at the same time, I hope that they will use this opportunity to work with me in making this facility an asset for our neighborhood.”
She also believes that construction of the jail could be an economic boon to the community. ”Queens Boulevard could use some nighttime economic revitalization, which I believe this facility can provide,” she said. “And I do not think it is unrealistic to ask the city to incorporate into this project additional parking for an area that is starved for parking spaces. While I am aware of the fears of some, it is my belief that they are unfounded and the prison will be a plus for our community.”
Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) said that the “new facilities are designed to be safer for both the people incarcerated as well as the staff.”
The aim of the plan is to reduce the jail population to 5,000 people before inmates are separated into borough jails. According to the mayor’s office, the current population has dropped 13 percent since the City Council and the mayor announced plans to close Rikers in June 2017. The jails held approximately 9,400 at that time, and now hold around 8,200 inmates.
Reach reporter Jon Cronin via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.