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More Neighborhoods Surface as Possible New Jail Sites for Rikers Shutdown

By  James Fanelli and Jeff Mays | April 4, 2016 7:53am 

 Mayor Bill de Blasio walks through a facility at Rikers Island. The mayor's office has been looking at a proposal to shut down Rikers Island and move inmates to two new jails and renovated borough detention facilities.
Mayor Bill de Blasio walks through a facility at Rikers Island. The mayor's office has been looking at a proposal to shut down Rikers Island and move inmates to two new jails and renovated borough detention facilities.
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Susan Watts Pool/Getty Images

NEW YORK CITY — A Sanitation Department garage in East New York, a barren Greenpoint lot owned by National Grid and an industrial site on Staten Island are possible locations for new neighborhood jails that could replace Rikers Island, sources said.

The three sites are in addition to three others that DNAinfo New York identified last week in an exclusive report on how Mayor Bill de Blasio's office has been studying a proposal to shut down the city’s central jail by moving inmates into two new jails and renovated borough detention centers.

The National Grid location is on Maspeth Avenue near Newtown Creek. The lot formerly housed two 400-foot-tall steel oil tanks dubbed the Maspeth Holders. The giant drums were demolished in 2001 by Keyspan, which later became National Grid.

The Staten Island location is on an 18-acre property known as Teleport B-1, which is jointly overseen by the city’s Economic Development Corporation and the Port Authority. It is part of a larger industrial hub that was created in the 1980s to house telecommunications companies. In recent years, Staten Island developers have turned part of the site into an office park.

Last spring, the EDC and the Port Authority put out a request for proposals looking for tenants for Teleport B-1, hoping to attract businesses focusing on modular construction, green energy or flood-defense systems.

The East New York location, which is used to store Sanitation trucks, is on Forbell Street and borders Queens.

City Hall has not decided on any of the locations, and some may not be viable or realistic for a jail, sources said.

Chris Banks, the director of community advocacy group East New York United Concerned Citizens Inc., said the city should scratch the Forbell Street location off the list of possible jail sites.

“The last thing they should bring to East New York is a jail,” said Banks, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. “We are oversaturated with shelters. We are already dealing with dwindling resources.”

Banks said there are three large homeless shelters in East New York. Each houses 150 beds or more, he said.

He said that his neighborhood already has a tense relationship with City Hall after its bruising yearlong battle over the rezoning that would allow developers to build more densely in exchange for affordable housing.

“Putting a prison in East New York would send the wrong message and it would definitely meet strong opposition,” he said.

DNAinfo reported last week that the other jail locations include land next to the newly opened NYPD police academy in College Point, waterfront property in Hunts Point adjacent to an 800-inmate jail barge, and a city-owned site in the Rossville section of Staten Island.

After DNAinfo’s report, City Council members who represent two of those locations vehemently vowed to fight any jails in their district.

Councilman Joe Borelli, of Staten Island, said a jail doesn’t make sense in residential area like Rossville.

"Somebody really smart decided we're going to put people who are potentially violent criminals on an island away from society. No one wants a jail next to their house," said Borelli, whose district includes the Rossville site.

Meanwhile, Councilman Paul Vallone, whose district includes the police academy, said in a statement that a jail in College Point would stymie the renaissance the neighborhood is undergoing.

“Any attempt by the city to target College Point for a proposed jail site will be met by fierce and complete opposition,” Vallone said.

Councilman Steven Matteo also rejected as a "non-starter" the possibility of any jail in his district, which includes Teleport B-1.

"My priority is keeping Staten Island the way it is—residential," Matteo said. "You have to look at the problems of Rikers and come up with a plan to fix the issues, not just relocate the jail."

Bronx Councilman Rafael Salamanca, whose district includes Hunts Point, declined to comment on the possible jail locations.

Inez Barron and Antonio Reynoso, the Brooklyn council members whose district could be affected, did not respond to a request for comment.

City Hall has been studying the Rikers shutdown proposal for more than a year, according to sources. The plan under consideration involves building two jails that can each house 2,000 inmates while renovating and expanding the detention centers in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Mayoral spokeswoman Monica Klein previously said in a statement that the city's top priority is creating a culture of safety at its jails.

"While the City continues to examine whether Rikers Island’s closure is feasible, our focus today remains on reform of the correctional system that will make our jails safer now, and into the future — whether at Rikers or elsewhere," she said.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who made criminal justice reform the centerpiece of her state of the city address in February, has also created a commission to examine a Rikers closure. City Hall sources said the mayor's office would fully cooperate with the commission and that could include turning over any studies.

"The speaker believes that jails belong in our neighborhoods because the inmates' families are there. But for my district that's just not true," Borelli said, citing the low crime statistics of the 123rd precinct. "A residential community like Rossville doesn't  want a jail."