Advocates and officials have been pushing for the closure of Rikers Island for years. That day, it appears, is getting closer.
The City Planning Commission on Wednesday in Manhattan held its first public hearing on the future closure of the sprawling jail complex and the proposal to open four new jails to replace it. The city has promised to close Rikers by 2026.
One would be on the site of the Manhattan Detention Center, another would be on the site of the current jail in downtown Brooklyn, another in Kew Gardens in Queens, and one would be in the Bronx on the site of an NYPD tow lot in Mott Haven.
Not surprisingly, the proposal has been met with intense opposition. Some do not want new jails in their neighborhood. Others do not want new jails at all, interrupting the hearing:
"Don't invest in a jail; invest in the community," one attendee said after the hearing.
"There is wide recognition in this city that closing Rikers Island is the right thing to do," said Dana Kaplan of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. "It is good for everyone in New York. Obviously, there are a lot of different perspectives on the best way to do that, and as the administration what we are focused on is developing the best possible plan that allows us to close Rikers."
The local community boards voted the plans down.
Two of the borough presidents — Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — said yes, but with conditions. Two others — Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz — rejected the proposal. The plan does not call for opening any jails on Staten Island.
"We don't love jails, but we do know Rikers needs to close, and this particular building is already a jail," Brewer told NY1. "The question is, can we make it a building that is a better community, literally, for those who are detained and for their families?"
The city is trying to make changes to appease critics. Initially, each facility was slated to have 1,500 beds. Now that number is down to 1,150.
For now, it's in the hands of the city planning commission. If approved, this proposal will then head to the City Council, which has the final say.
The city planning commission has 60 days to make its decision. That deadline will be in the beginning of September.
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