Council Member Rory Lancman debated Assistant District Attorney James Quinn on the future of Rikers Island Wednesday. // Eagle photo by David Brand 

Debate Highlights Contrasting Views On Rikers’ Future — And On Justice Reform

Council Member Rory Lancman faced off against Queens Assistant District Attorney James Quinn in a heated debate about the future of Rikers Island at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills Wednesday night.

Of the many accusations, complicated budget scenarios and impassioned declarations volleyed back and forth between the two men and audience members, one exchange seemed to crystallize the fundamental difference of opinion on the future of the massive jail complex — and on broader criminal justice reform.

During his opening statement, Quinn, speaking for Queens Defense Attorney Richard Brown and the D.A.’s office, critiqued efforts to close Rikers as a “movement.”

“A movement doesn’t look at details,” Quinn said, before outlining budget underestimations and hammering what he considered impracticalities, like where the city would house inmates during the development of four proposed “borough-based” jails.

An hour later, Lancman addressed the specific statement in his closing remarks.  

“The effort to close Rikers Island is a movement,” Lancman said. “It’s part of a larger movement to reform a criminal justice system that is dysfunctional, broken and overwhelmingly falls on the backs of poor people.”

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It’s Lancman vs. Quinn at Civic Association’s Rikers Debate

The debate over what to do with Rikers Island has roiled Queens and one community in particular stands to experience the biggest impact from the city’s plan to close the massive jail complex.

Kew Gardens, home to the now-vacant Queens House of Detention, would absorb more than 1,500 Rikers inmates, according to the city’s proposal — a notion that has encountered split reactions from residents.

Thus, with community members divided and uncertain about the plan, the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association will host a debate featuring two prominent voices on either side of the issue at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills on Sept. 5.

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