By David Brand
New York City will concentrate all detained women in a single jail next to the Queens Criminal Courthouse in Kew Gardens, according to a plan to close Rikers Island jails and build four new detention centers. The facility would also house detained men, the Mayor’s Office said.
The Marshall Project and the New Yorker first reported on the plan to house women in the proposed Queens facility ahead of Mayor Bill de Blasio’ announcement Friday. The city plans to construct three other jails in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx and close Rikers detention center by 2017.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration held a briefing on the City’s Draft Environmental Impact Study for the jails on Friday afternoon. The city will package each site into a single Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application, rather than expose each plan to individual review. ULURP is scheduled to begin March 25.
City jails currently house about 8,000 people, many of whom are defendants in pretrial detention. The plan to close Rikers Island jails depends on reducing the jail population to about 5,750 people, the Mayor’s Office said Friday. The mayor’s 2017 proposal called for reducing the jail population to 5,000 people and building enough new beds to hold 6,000 people.
“The era of mass incarceration did not begin in New York City but it will end in New York City,” de Blasio said in his State of the City Address in January.
Criminal justice reformers say the plan to move detainees from Rikers into new facilities does not address mass incarceration, however.
“Bill de Blasio doesn’t want to end mass incarceration or close Rikers, he just wants to spread it around,” wrote No New Jails Coalition members Justin C. Cohen and Kei Williams in a op-ed for City Limits.
The plan has also met significant resistance from local residents.
On March 12, Queens Community Board 9 members voted unanimously in favor of a resolution opposing the jail.
The resolution states that the 30-story jail would “quite simply overwhelm and destroy the small historic residential neighborhood of Kew Gardens, and also adversely affect the adjacent community of Briarwood.”
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the city continues to engage the community on the jail project.
"We're working with local residents every day to create a jail system that shortens the distance between detainees and the family and support networks that are so crucial to their eventual re-entry into the community,” the spokesperson told the Eagle. “We’ll continue to respond to the concerns of local residents while we work to close Rikers and improve conditions for those detained and for their families supporting their rehabilitation."