Photo of Rikers Island courtesy of Wikimedia
A group of Queens City Council members urged Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday to use a shuttered Kew Gardens jail as an alternative to the Rikers Island jail complex. The Queens Detention Complex at 126-02 82nd Street, which closed 15 years ago, once housed more than 450 prisoners but is now used to shoot television shows and film, including Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” (h/t DNAinfo). In a letter to the mayor, the 11 elected officials wrote that the Queens complex is “centrally located in a civic center, it is connected to the courts, and with the proper capital investment it can be functional for this use.”
The idea for the Kew Gardens jail follows a report released in July by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice, along with the Van Alen Institute, that provided guidelines to decentralize Rikers Island. The commission’s “Justice in Design” report outlined recommendations for healthier and safer jails, with one of the first steps listed as closing Rikers and creating decentralized borough-based jails tailored to the needs of detainees, officers, lawyers and community members.
The Queens politicians say the complex in Kew Gardens worked well when it was operating. “The center was originally built for this purpose and for many years operated with little incident to the surrounding community,” officials wrote to the mayor. “At the same time, selecting this facility would avoid the fraught process of placing community jails in residential neighborhoods throughout the borough.”
The de Blasio administration, which announced its 10-year plan to close Rikers Island in June, says the first step is reducing the inmate population to 5,000 from its current average daily population of 9,400. And while the city’s report called for building new jails outside of Rikers and fixing up existing ones in other boroughs, the mayor never named a specific site for one of these new jails.
In response to the letter from the Queens politicians, a spokesperson for the mayor, Natalie Grybauskas, thanked the officials and assured the mayor is committed to closing Rikers. “Expanding and reopening the Queens Detention Center would be an ideal first step and we have already started to take a hard look at this site to determine its feasibility,” Grybauskas said.
[Via DNA info]
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