With yes vote, jail plan heads to City Council

Kei Williams of No New Jails yells at City Planning Commission members during a vote on the borough based jail plan.  Eagle  photos by Noah Goldberg.

Kei Williams of No New Jails yells at City Planning Commission members during a vote on the borough based jail plan. Eagle photos by Noah Goldberg.

By Noah Goldberg

The City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to approve the mayor's plan to build four new borough-based jails as part of the effort to close the violence-plagued jail complex at Rikers Island by 2026.

The vote — which sends the land-use proposal to its final destination with the City Council — came during a heated meeting in Manhattan where protesters with the group No New Jails NYC chanted "shame" and accused the commissioners of having "blood on [their] hands." 

The 9-3 decision to approve the proposal with modifications was the first binding vote in the land-use process known as ULURP. A "no" vote from the commission would have killed the process. The "yes" vote, however, was largely expected, as the commission has voted to approve all 644 city land-use applications in the last 19 years.

"Today's vote is so much more than a vote on site selection and special permits," said commission Chairperson Marisa Lago over shouts from protesters before the vote. "It's a vote to end a bleak era in New York City's criminal justice history."

The city's plan would bring a new jail to each borough except Staten Island for a total cost of $8.7 million. The jails would each contain 1,150 beds to accommodate a projected 4,000 residents, according to the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, which is spearheading the plan.

The commission made a few modifications to the plan, such as reducing the square footage of each jail. With their changes, the proposed Queens facility would be 130,000 square feet smaller — down to 1,330,800 square feet from 1,460,800. The commission did not change the proposed height of the facility.

In addition, the proposed Queens facility would see the location of its jail’s community facility moved from the ground floor of the jail to the ground floor of an adjacent parking structure along 126th Street.

The City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to approve the mayor's plan to build four new borough-based jails.

The City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to approve the mayor's plan to build four new borough-based jails.

The plan has received pushback from community boards across the city, as well as from some borough presidents, both of which have advisory roles in the process.

The final say rests with the City Council. All four councilmembers whose districts would house new jails have given tentative support to the mayor's plan.

Protesters with No New Jails — a group that advocates for the abolition of prisons and jails — argue the city can close the complex at Rikers Island without opening new jails, and that money spent on building the new facilities would be better allocated to funding NYCHA and education. They also argue that the construction of new jails would expand the city's jail system, because there is nothing legally requiring the city to close Rikers Island.

"Our communities who are directly impacted should not take [the risk of Rikers staying open]," said Brittany Williams, an organizer with No New Jails. "We know what Rikers has done."

Commissioners explained their thinking before casting their votes on Tuesday but were drowned out by boos and chants from protesters. One commissioner, Allen Cappelli, began to speak about his background as a criminal defense attorney. "Nobody cares about your history," a protester called.

The three votes against the borough-based jail plan came from commissioners appointed by the borough presidents of the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens. Both the Bronx borough president and the Queens borough president oppose the mayor's jail plan.