Mayor meets with Koslowitz, community leaders about jail behind closed doors

The plan for replacing Rikers Island jails with four borough-based detention centers includes retail space connected to the facilities. Rendering via the Mayor’s Office

The plan for replacing Rikers Island jails with four borough-based detention centers includes retail space connected to the facilities. Rendering via the Mayor’s Office

By David Brand

Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Councilmember Karen Koslowitz and Central Queens community leaders to discuss the plan to build a 30-story jail in Kew Gardens on Wednesday afternoon, but the event was closed to members of the press. The discussion about the jail plan took place a few weeks after officials from the mayor’s office banned reporters from two previous meetings.

A spokesperson for Koslowitz told the Eagle that the event was “the mayor’s meeting” and that he believed about 30 people were invited, including members of the Queens Advisory Committee on Rikers. Koslowitz supports the plan for the new jail at 26-02 82nd Ave., near the Queens Criminal Courthouse.

The mayor’s office did not provide a list of attendees, an agenda or the meeting minutes when contacted by the Eagle.

“Not every meeting is subject to open meetings law because some are purely advisory and don’t have a formal government role, nor do the people involved vote on any aspect of the plan,” a spokesperson for the mayor told the Eagle. “Their purpose is to gain valuable initial feedback before having broader community meetings that will be open press. Not every conversation government has with the public is open to members of the media.”

Meeting attendees included de Blasio’s Senior Advisor for Criminal Justice Freya Rigterink and Deputy Director of Close Rikers and Justice Initiatives Dana Kaplan, Patch reported.

Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann and the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit Commissioner Marco Carrion also attended, according to Patch, which has led local coverage of the Kew Gardens jail plan.

De Blasio acknowledged community opposition to the proposed jail, which would rise 30 stories at a site next to the Queens Criminal Courthouse and dormant Queens House of Detention. The facility would house all the women detained in New York City, the mayor’s office said Friday.

"When we ask a community to do something for the whole city, which is what we're doing here, then the community has a right to say, here are things that would help our community, including things we've been trying to get for a long time and haven't gotten," de Blasio told attendees, according to a recording obtained by Patch. "How can we say to the community, we're asking you to shoulder a burden but we want to do something back that's really going to make a difference?"

The city’s plan to close Rikers Island jails and move detainees into four new community-based facilities — one each near the Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan criminal courthouses and another on the site of an NYPD impound lot in the South Bronx — depends on the city’s ability to reduce its overall jail population. Advocates say the city could immediately reduce the population by eliminating cash bail and instituting pretrial check-ins and monitoring. About 8,000 people are currently detained on Rikers Island and about 1,400 more are detained in other city jails.

As of Aug. 27, 2018, roughly 78 percent of the 8,258 people on Rikers Island were in pretrial detention, according to data compiled by the Queens DA’s Office and presented at a debate on the future of Rikers. There were 1,811 inmates not awaiting trial.

Of the 6,447 pretrial detainees, 114 were serving a sentence on another case, 1,053 had violated parole, 1,985 were remanded without bail and 320 were detainers or holds for other jurisdictions — all ineligible for release.

That left 2,975 people who could be released on bail, which would immediately decrease the Rikers population to 5,283 people.

The four proposed jails would have combined capacity for 5,750 detainees.

On Monday, the City Planning Commission certified the de Blasio administration’s application for the jails, setting in motion the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The city has combined all four jail proposals into a single ULURP package and the process encompasses seven months of community board review. The City Council will likely vote on the application in October.