Residents, advocates clash over Kew Gardens jail
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Apr 30, 2019 | 1306 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hundreds of Queens residents and criminal justice advocates squared off at Borough Hall last Wednesday during a public hearing on the proposed community jail in Kew Gardens.

The hearing offered a chance for community members to address the city officials who are overseeing the plan.

The nearly four-hour long event began with a presentation from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Department of Corrections, which was interrupted several times by the restless crowd.

Many shouted out that the proposal had gone forward without community input.

Several weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and residents from Kew Gardens and Briarwood in a closed-door meeting where he promised that the city would make improvement in the neighborhoods as part of the project.

Andrea Crawford, a member of the Queens Advisory Committee and Community Preservation Coalition, cited issues with traffic, and noted that the cost for the four proposal community jails throughout the city is anywhere from $11 to $30 billion, money that could have gone towards other needs.

“The reality is that we are in a transportation black hole,” said Crawford. “There is no money in this city for infrastructure.”

While Crawford supports criminal justice reform, she doesn’t see the proposed Kew Gardens jail as a place to propel change.

The city’s current plan includes a 1,258,000-square-foot building with 1,437 beds for inmates, as well as a public parking lot with 676 spaces.

As part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process, the city received a special permit for retail or community space on the ground floor.

To build the jail, which will be located at 126-02 82nd Avenue, the city would need to rezone the area and de-map 82nd Avenue.

While most agreed that Rikers Island needs to be closed, speakers struggled to keep their emotions at bay as they argued in favor or in opposition of the borough-based jail plan.

“They’re talking about making an extravagant area for people to be comfortable and to have fresh air,” said one resident. “How about our kids that will have to stay home because it is not safe? They won’t have fresh air.”

In testimony submitted to Community Board 9, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance and former commissioner of the Department of Correction, spoke about the importance of visitors to inmates.

“For a jailed person, a visit from the outside is a lifeline that improves behavior inside the jail and when that person returns home,” Jacobsen said. “But the inaccessibility of Rikers makes visiting difficult or even impossible for many family members and other loved ones.

“Transporting pretrial detainees to the courts is long, miserable and complicated process that is hard on the detained people and burdensome and expensive for the Department of Correction and its officers,” he added.

But dozens of residents suggested the city use the money to build the jails to support affordable housing and address homelessness.

Advocacy group No New Jails NYC pleaded with city officials to abandon the idea of building borough-based jails in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Meanwhile, dozens of supporters for the #CloseRikers campaign argued that the facilities at Rikers have severely inhumane conditions, and that the cost of building new jails shouldn’t be weighed against human lives.

Edwin Santana warned the crowd that if Rikers wasn’t closed, it would be turning a blind eye towards the problems within the criminal justice system.

“There is no need to look towards Medieval movies that shock you with their dungeons, because Rikers Island is one of the those dungeons,” Santana said. “I know firsthand of walking in fear of the travesties that go on behind those walls.

“I once was preyed upon and hurt by a group of men,” he added. The officers did nothing but bet against my odds of surviving the attack.”

Community Board 9’s public hearing was the first of many that the city will hold as it reviews the four jail plans.

As part of ULURP, Borough President Melinda Katz, City Planning Commission and City Council will all get an opportunity to review the proposal.

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