Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan last week to close Rikers Island—the 85-year-old jail that has long been a source of controversy due to violence, abuse and neglect of prisoners—within 10 years.
The mayor’s announcement was followed by a 150-page report by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform that outlined a new prospective system that would include jail facilities in all five boroughs, as well as a proposal for what could replace the jail that includes a possible LaGuardia Airport expansion and energy infrastructure base.
Under the commission’s proposal, the new jail system would include one facility per borough that would be located near a courthouse and public transportation. The facilities are projected to save the city $1.1 billion, while the proposed LaGuardia expansion and infrastructure base are expected to create more than 50,000 jobs and generate $7.5 billion in annual economic activity.
But the question remains: Which Queens community would have to bear the brunt of a new jail facility? College Point, Southeast Queens, Forest Hills and Willets Point are likely to be recommended locales. Regardless, the community where the facility will be located should have a prominent voice in the decision-making process.
Rikers is obviously located on an island that can only be reached via bridge. But the new jail facility would likely be placed in the middle of a Queens community and, therefore, could threaten that neighborhood’s quality of life. Currently, borough residents are already complaining about the abundance of homeless shelters, and a jail facility would likely exacerbate the situation.
The city should not dump a new facility right in the middle of one of the borough’s middle-class neighborhoods, nor should it take public or private land to do so.
There’s no question that Rikers has long been— as Councilman Danny Dromm put it—a “black hole for human rights” that has threatened the safety of corrections officers and the incarcerated alike. But if the city plans to replace Rikers with its proposed five-borough jail system, it should take extensive feedback from the communities where it plans to locate the new facilities to ensure that those facilities don’t become headaches for the sites’ neighbors.