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Rikers Island Closure Depends on City Council NIMBYs, Mayor Says

By Gwynne Hogan | June 22, 2017 3:32pm
 Bill de Blasio called on city council members to support new jails in their districts.
Bill de Blasio called on city council members to support new jails in their districts.
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DNAinfo/Theodore Parisienne

NEW YORK CITY — A plan to close Rikers Island unveiled Thursday won't happen without the support of local city council members willing to clear the way for local jails in their districts, the mayor said on WNYC's Brian Lehrer's show

The 85-year-old jail has been plagued by concerns for inmate mistreatment and deaths, security issues and mismanagement, won't close without new satellite jails, Mayor Bill de Blasio, said Thursday morning.

While de Blasio's ten-year-plan included a combination of criminal justice reforms to drive down the city's inmate population by making it easier to pay bail, investing more in mental health programs and decreasing crime rates, details of the satellite jails are conspicuously absent.

The mayor put the onus squarely on neighborhood NIMBYs.

"We're going keep driving [the inmate population] down with every tool we have, but we can't get off Rikers, unless there are specific places where the local leadership accept a jail facility," he said. "It just cannot happen without a vote of the City Council."

No new jail facility is being considered on Staten Island because of low numbers of arrestees who come from there, he said, but in the other four boroughs, local leadership will have to step up and support new jails.

"We got four other boroughs. We need a specific location and a specific councilmen to step forward in an appropriate location and say, 'I'm ready to get this process going," he said. "We need to see a commitment from the city councilmembers in the districts that have been initially proposed to start the land use process to achieve it."

In March of 2016, DNAinfo exclusively reported that the city was quietly eyeing several sites for new satellite jails including locations in Hunts Point in the Bronx, in College Point in Queens, at 287 Maspeth Ave. on a vacant lot owned by National Grid in East Williamsburg, at 803 Forbell St. in East New York and at two sites on Staten Island. 

The 2016 report shocked and enraged local officials who represented those districts who came out in ardent opposition against new jails in their districts.

Local City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, a vocal advocate on behalf of the Close Rikers campaign, slammed the plan for proposing to put a satellite jail in his district on Maspeth Avenue though he didn't immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Councilman Rafael Salamanca who represents Hunts Point also opposed a lockup in his district.

"Council Member Salamanca is in favor of closing Rikers, but feels strongly that the fact that the South Bronx has historically been overburdened with correctional facilities should be taken into consideration when it comes time to site new jails, " spokesman Ryan Monell said.

City Councilman Paul Vallone, who represents College Point, said the city still hasn't given him a specific location for a new jail building but that he was against the idea. 

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

"They just say College Point as if it's a dumping ground for the city," Morales said. "We've been working hard to create a Renaissance down there and we really feel that putting a jail in that area would be really detrimental."

De Blasio touted a 23 percent reduction in Rikers Island inmate population in the time he's been in office, down to an average of 9,400 people a day, but said local jails will have to be built in the neighborhoods.

"Even a jail population of 5,000 — significantly smaller than the jail population today — will still require identifying and developing appropriate sites for new jails as well as renovating existing facilities in the boroughs," the report said.