“A jail as a good neighbor,” reads the shiny brochure promoting the proposed four jails in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens to replace Rikers Island. But not every local elected official agrees.
While the de Blasio administration is trying to present the proposed jails sites as peaceful and attractive, the plan has months of public hearings planned to dissect it. The hearings and reviews include the community boards, borough presidents, the city planning commission and finally the New York City Council.
Every City Council member whose district includes one of the proposed jails has come out in support of the plan so far. This includes Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, Stephen Levin and Karen Koslowitz, who were all quoted in a Wednesday press release stating their support. This may be pivotal, since local City Council members have significant sway over local land use decisions.
The Bronx proposal, which would build a jail at what is currently New York City Police Department tow pound, has drawn the most criticism among city officials. Councilman Rafael Salamanca, whose district sits close to the proposed site in the Bronx, criticized the placement of the proposed jail in June because it would put three jails within short distance of each other. The recently released plan, however, would decommission one of the jails, the Vernon C. Bain Center, which Salamanca has previously suggested shutting down. Salamanca reiterated his opposition to site on Friday, saying in a statement that the city should also set a hard date on closing the correctional center.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has also opposed placing the jail at that site and called out the administration in February for failing to consult him about the plan. State Sen. Jose Serrano also opposed the city’s process so far, saying in a statement that the process for siting facilities has “historically neglected local community input” in the South Bronx.
Other than Diaz, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was the only borough president to take a stance on the proposed sites, saying in a statement that the Manhattan site could be good but there should have been more community input. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ communications director said the borough president was reviewing the plan, and the communications staff for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz did not respond to emails and calls from City & State. In a May interview with City & State, Katz was noncommittal about siting a jail in Queens but said “whatever happens has to have significant community input.”
Greater opposition has come from the state Legislature. Four of seven state legislators whose districts encompass the proposed sites have opposed the plans, referring to a lack of community engagement although a series of public hearings are scheduled for the coming months.
Besides Serrano, Manhattan Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou held a press conference Thursday to criticize the proposal. “I am enraged by the fact that once again we are left in the dark as critical decisions are made behind closed doors,” she said in a statement. The Manhattan jail would replace the existing Manhattan Detention Center two blocks away.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, whose district encompasses both the proposed jails in Manhattan and Brooklyn, in statement acknowledged the expansion may be necessary but called the process a “fiasco” with “very limited community outreach.”
Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, whose district also includes the location for the Brooklyn jail, told City & State she was concerned about the lack of community engagement, the size of the proposed facility, which would replace the Brooklyn Detention Center on Atlantic Avenue, and the impacts of construction, which would coincide with several other construction projects in the area. Simon, who had also hosted a town hall with Levin several months ago, also said she was interested in hearing from the city about other possible sites for the jail.
A spokesman for state Sen. Leroy Comrie, whose district covers the Queens site, said he was still reviewing the plan. Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal was unavailable for comment and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The following are the addresses of the proposed sites and the latest positions of the elected officials who represent the districts in question.
320 Concord Ave., Bronx
City Councilwoman Diana Ayala: “I am a firm believer in closing Rikers Island, as the jail’s current conditions are neither safe nor conducive for detainees and staff. Creating a humane, innovative environment where detainees will be in close proximity to their loved ones and have access to educational, recreational, and health services will drastically change our City’s approach to detention and reduce recidivism. With that said, I am cognizant of my community’s concerns regarding the proposed Bronx site. I am committed to launching a robust engagement plan that will target both residents and community-based organizations to ensure all of their voices are being heard throughout the input process.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.: No response
Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo: No response
State Sen. Jose Serrano: "For far too long, The Bronx, in particular the South Bronx, has shouldered the burden of numerous facilities that other boroughs and neighborhoods rejected. The process for siting these facilities has historically neglected local community input by members of the public and our local elected officials. I am deeply saddened that the process in which the city selected this site was no different, but I stand by my beliefs that Rikers must be shut down and I remain committed to working with my colleagues in the Bronx, as well as the community, to ensure that our concerns are at the forefront of all discussions about this potential facility in the Bronx going forward.”
80 Centre St., Manhattan
City Councilwoman Margaret Chin: “By leading the movement to close Riker's Island for good, our City is setting a roadmap for comprehensive criminal justice reform through the creation of a borough-based system that will be more safe, humane and integrated with the surrounding community, and I commend Mayor De Blasio, Speakers Johnson and Mark-Viverito and all the advocacy groups for their tireless work to reach this moment. This announcement presents an opportunity for neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan to be part of this critical criminal justice conversation, while addressing longstanding needs regarding safety, quality of life, traffic and parking. I thank our local stakeholders who have weighed in on this proposal, and will continue to fight to make sure the community’s voices are heard in this process.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: “80 Centre Street could be a good location for the new facility, but the community deserved to have a lot more input on the plan before the mayor’s office put it forward. Neighborhood organizations had good ideas for affordable housing, community facilities, and more that can’t be built in later in the process. If we’re going to build a massive new facility that will stand in the heart of lower Manhattan for decades, we ought to take the time to fully involve the community and get it right.”
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou: “Time and time again, we have seen the Mayor completely ignore the voices of our community. A whole new site was selected without any prior notice to our community. The draft scoping released today, locks down the site and the use with no community engagement. As the plan to close Rikers Island proceeds, I am enraged by the fact that once again we are left in the dark as critical decisions are made behind closed doors.
Our community has been erased from the conversation over and over again like in the closure of Rivington House through the lifting of a deed restriction, the controversy around Elizabeth Street Gardens, Extell Towers, Two Bridges developments, and now for the Manhattan Detention Center. The Mayor’s disregard of our asks to discuss the plan, and his arbitrarily tight deadlines while Community Boards are out for the summer, make it nearly impossible to adequately assess the proposal. There is little indication of a clear plan showing they can and will change their current operations and address the community’s concerns about garbage piles, parking usage and traffic congestion. The Mayor has failed to make the process fair, transparent, or responsive to the community.
We deserve to have our voices heard. The people who live here, work here, and built this city, our city, matter. We have heard the stories in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. We stand with our neighbors in our complaints about the lack of community engagement in this process. We were the only site which had a completely different location proposed and the only proposal that did not include the community in any of the conversations when making that decision. This is unacceptable and we will not stand for this.”
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh: "Closing Rikers Island and creating a more humane and effective criminal justice system is a moral imperative. Achieving this will require an ambitious plan, including significant changes--and some expanded capacity--near the courthouses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as the other boroughs. So the City's broad goal is admirable, but, to date, the process has been a fiasco. Key decisions that clearly have been in the works for a while were made in secret; there has been very limited community outreach; and what little communication the City has attempted has been highly selective, excluding many relevant stakeholders. This approach is already making the process unnecessarily divisive and diminishing the chances that they will achieve meaningful reform. It is my hope that the City will do better going forward and include all stakeholders in an open dialogue that includes a wider range of options for achieving the critical goals of justice system reform and gives due consideration to the concerns of the communities in which our jails will be located."
275 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn
City Councilman Stephen Levin: “Rikers must close. It has fallen short on safety, severs familial and social ties, and its outdated design and remote location work against our commitment to justice and fairness for all New Yorkers. We have an opportunity to create more just, better integrated, and safer facilities close to courts, community services, and transportation. I look forward to robust engagement with the Administration and the community to reimagine 21st century facilities in Downtown Brooklyn.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams: “Borough President Adams is reviewing the plan in consult with community stakeholders.”
Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon: Concerned about the size of the proposed facility and the impact of construction.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh: See above
126-02 82nd Avenue, Queens
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz: “Closing Rikers Island and opening community based facilities is not only beneficial for New York City’s corrections officers and incarcerated population, but also beneficial for the Kew Gardens community. The new facility in Kew Gardens will bring significant economic development, and provide hundreds of new parking spaces for the community. I look forward to taking the next steps in opening community based facilities.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz: No response
Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal: No response
State Sen. Leroy Comrie, Jr.: Still reviewing the proposal, no comment
Correction: A previous version of this article cited information from materials provided by the city that incorrectly stated that the proposed Brooklyn jail would be at 175 Atlantic Ave., two blocks from the existing Brooklyn Detention Center. The article has been updated to reflect that the new jail would be built at the site of the existing jail at 275 Atlantic Ave.