OP-ED: Community jails are a bad idea

Former Justice Gregory Lasak is running for Queens district attorney. Photo courtesy of Lasak’s campaign.

Former Justice Gregory Lasak is running for Queens district attorney. Photo courtesy of Lasak’s campaign.

By Gregory Lasak

Special to the Eagle

Throughout my career serving the people of Queens, I have seen firsthand the problems at Rikers Island — the violence and the decrepit conditions. It should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been housed, visited or worked there that there would be a call for reform.

I agree with that call. We need to close Rikers.

But the answer to the violence and conditions is not to replace it with community jails. For a multitude of reasons, the answer to closing Rikers is to redesign it and rebuild it on the island itself. The island is the best place to create a state of the art facility that could be done with an eye toward rehabilitation of those who would be housed there.

First of all, the communities don't want a jail here. Kew Gardens residents have made themselves loud and clear. And it's about time the politicians listened to those they serve. It's their neighborhood, their home values, their quality of life and their safety.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan sets out to replace Rikers in a decade and with money the city can't seem to identify. The conditions are dire at the jail. We can't afford to wait that long. We need shovels in the ground yesterday so that the inmates can start to realize the conditions and basic human dignity that we are all entitled to.

Furthermore, de Blasio’s plan is disingenuous. It professes to be about making the inmates more accessible to their families and attorneys. Yet, one of the first steps he wants to take is to house all female inmates in Queens regardless of their county of residence or county of arrest. Right away, this plan proves to be counterintuitive by making a large number of inmates inaccessible to their families and lawyers.

Instead, let's house all of the inmates on the island and make it more accessible.

We can do that by adding ferry service from each of the four boroughs where the mayor proposes building a community jail. We can invest in and expand the mass transit system to cover the island and the surrounding area. We can improve videoconferencing for attorneys and their clients, allowing them the use of software so that inmates can access documents and have the ability to review video and audio evidence while speaking to their lawyers. We can take advantage of housing all inmates in one location to invest in the best care and treatment possible that would otherwise be split among four locations.

Politicians have spent countless hours debating this issue for more than a year. And the best they could come up with for the people they claim to care about is, in essence, a long kick of the can down the road. It doesn't have to be that way.

We can satisfy the community, make the island more accessible, and improve conditions at the same time. Build a new facility on Rikers Island and keep a jail out of our backyards.

Former Justice Gregory Lasak is a candidate for Queens District Attorney. Lasak served as an assistant district attorney in Queens for more than 20 years.