By David Brand
The vacant Queens House of Detention is one step closer to re-opening as a key component of the city’s plan to shutter Rikers Island.
On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the four proposed borough-based sites to replace Rikers. The Queens jail will be located at 126-02 82nd Avenue, the site of the vacant House of Detention, which closed as a cost-cutting measure in 2002.
“We’re taking a big step forward in the process of closing Rikers Island and creating a modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer and fairer,” de Blasio said. “Now we can move full steam ahead on the engagement and planning for our new facilities so we can close Rikers as fast as possible.”
Council Member Karen Koslowitz said the jail will serve as an economic driver for the area.
“Closing Rikers Island and opening community based facilities is not only beneficial for New York City’s corrections officers and incarcerated population, but also beneficial for the Kew Gardens community,” Koslowitz said. “The new facility in Kew Gardens will bring significant economic development, and provide hundreds of new parking spaces for the community.”
Last month, District 24 Council Member Rory Lancman told the Eagle he commended his colleague’s support for re-opening the jail and noted that his council district begins a few hundred feet from the site.
“If we’re going to close Rikers and put jails in the boroughs, it’s incumbent upon us who support the plan to pick where the jails will go,” Lancman told the Eagle. “Fortunately Council Member Koslowitz very early on, courageously and responsibly supported reopening the Queens House of Detention.”
The project description posted on the city’s website states that each of the proposed facilities will host approximately 1,510 beds in addition to “support space for correctional programming” and therapeutic services, community space and parking.
The support space will feature a “public entrance and lobby, visitation space, space for detainee programs and services, health services, infirmary and therapeutic units, and administrative space,” the description states.
The plan also calls for redeveloping an existing parking lot and adding about 676 new public parking spaces. The public parking structure would be located on the northwestern portion of the project site with an entrance from the Union Turnpike service road, according to the proposal.
Rather than go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure separately, the city will combine each site into a single application. The mayor said the application could be submitted for certification as early as the end of this year and the design process could begin as early as 2019.
Last month, Community Board 9 Chair J. Richard Smith told the Queens Daily Eagle that the issue had not yet come before the community board.
“When something actually begins that’s when the community board will get involved,” Smith told the Eagle.“Too many times you get wound up and involved in something and it doesn’t happen. We want to see actual plans before we get involved.”
The board will next meet on Sept. 13
In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council officially agreed to move forward with a plan to close Rikers Island and house inmates in borough-based jails in Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx — though not Staten Island. The plan called for the construction of a new jail in the Bronx and renovation of three sites — including the repurposed Queens House of Detention — in the other three boroughs. Combined, the four sites would jail about 6,000 detainees.
The plan calls for a jail to be constructed at 80 Centre Street in Manhattan, a building that includes the city’s Marriage Bureau. The Brooklyn jail will be located at the Brooklyn House of Detention, which currently has room for 815 inmates. The Bronx site will require that a new facility be constructed in Mott Haven, despite community opposition
The city will hold a scoping meeting about the proposal on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Queens Borough Hall.
Queens already has three functioning neighborhood jails. The Queensboro Correctional Facility is a 424-bed medium-security prison in Long Island City, the Queens Detention Center is a private jail near JFK airport that houses detained immigrants and the Elmhurst Hospital Prison Ward holds female inmates who require acute psychiatric care.
Since June 2017, the number of people inside New York City jails has decreased by roughly 13 percent, from 9,400 people to about 8,200, the city reported.
In order to continue driving down the number of detainees inside city facilities, the city must proactively support low-income communities and reduce recidivism among people with criminal histories, community leaders say.
“It is important to treat violence as a public health issue and to create facilities that help people heal and transform. LIFE Camp, Inc. supports the Mayor in the closing of Rikers jails,” said Erica Ford, CEO and Founder of LIFE Camp, Inc. “Additionally, we believe supporting programs like the NYC Crisis Management System will help prevent individuals from entering the prison system all together.”