City Planning Commission approves plan to build four borough-based jails as Rikers replacement

September 3, 2019

Rikers Island, photo by Tim Rodenberg on Wikimedia

The City Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a plan to replace the Rikers Island complex with four new jails across the city. The plan, unveiled by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017, would close Rikers by 2026 by moving inmates to new, smaller facilities in Lower Manhattan, the South Bronx, Downtown Brooklyn, and Kew Gardens. Despite disapproval from four community boards, three borough presidents, and criminal justice advocates, nine CPC members voted in favor of the plan, with three opposed and one abstained. The proposal will move to the City Council on Thursday for a public hearing.

The four proposed new jails, which have been lumped together in one Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application, will feature roughly 1,400 beds each and space for community or retail. The plan calls for new jails at 275 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, 125 White Street in Manhattan, 126-02 82nd Avenue in Queens, and on a former South Bronx tow pound on East 141st Street.

De Blasio has said the new jails would be closer to “family and support networks that are so crucial to people’s re-entry into the community.”

Critics argue the city did not allow for enough community input from residents and public officials before beginning the public review process, which kicked off in March. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said the de Blasio administration “weaponized the land use process against the Bronx” and called the East 141st Street location the “wrong place” for the new jail, proposing a jail near courthouses on 161st Street.

“We have provided the city with a perfectly appropriate site to build a new jail, adjacent to the existing Bronx Hall of Justice,” Diaz Jr. said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is now up to the City Council and its members to listen to the people of this borough and adjust this proposal accordingly. Any failure to do otherwise will deleteriously alter the face of this borough for decades to come.”

CPC members Alfred Cerullo III, Orlando Marín, and Raj Rampershad voted against the proposal, citing issues with the application’s lack of detail, the proposed location of the new Bronx facility, and the size of the proposed jails. During Tuesday’s meeting, advocates from the organization No New Jails (NNJ) loudly protested during statements from members explaining their vote.

The group, which argues that Rikers can be closed without building new jails, said CPC’s review of the plan was “riddled with secrecy, lapses in transparency, conflict of interest, and potentially illegal actions.”

“The City Planning Commission, in rubber-stamping the Mayor’s plan, just gave Bill de Blasio a blank check to expand mass incarceration,” Kei Williams of NNJ told 6sqft in an email. “At any point members of the CPC could have had an honest discussion of the plan’s substance – namely, building thousands of cages for humans – but they steamrolled the public while focusing on space for retail and building height. The cruelty is almost surreal.”

As reported by The City, the four City Council Members representing the areas where the jails have been proposed have all voiced support for the plan. And traditionally, members rarely reject plans supported by the local council member.


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