Aida Vernon, a Briarwood resident and member of Queens Residents United, argued the administration forcing communities to accept the borough-based jails in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx in its rush to close Rikers Island.
“The mayor and his allies who are pushing this plan say this is absolutely necessary to achieve criminal justice reform,” Vernon said. “As we now know, the mayor is running for president, so this might be something that’s on the checklist to placate certain constituencies.”
She added residents favor the fair and humane treatment of people in the criminal justice system, but there isn’t a need for high-rise jails when there are neighborhood concerns that should take priority.
“We have overcrowded schools in Kew Gardens, Briarwood, Forest Hills, South Bronx, Chinatown and Downtown Brooklyn,” Vernon said. “We have people who are homeless and mentally-ill and needy on our streets. We have decaying NYCHA housing, as well as many challenges when it comes to our public transit system.
These are priorities that I believe have greater moral imperatives,” she added.
The initial plan called for 1,437 beds in a 27-story structure, but the city slashed the bed count down to 1,150 because of a move to end cash bail, which would mean fewer prisoners.
Richard Hellenbrecht, executive vice president of the Queens Civic Congress, said the organization is adamantly opposed the closing of Rikers Island.
“There will be fewer cells, but that will leave 3,000 people on the street who should be in jail,” he said. “That increases homelessness and that increases crime on the street. We’re very concerned about that.”
Arlene Parks, a member of Community Board 1 in the Bronx, said the board has been charting a course over the last 22 years to bring the Bronx back to its glory days, working to rid the area of drugs, vacant lots and crime.
She argues a new jail in the community will set that progress back.
“They are betraying us,” Parks said.
Last Wednesday, Borough President Melinda Katz stated her opposition to the proposal.
While she said she supports closing Rikers Island and supported the idea of inmates held in borough-based jails in order to be closer to family and other means of support, she expressed concern over the lack of meaningful community involvement.
“Reforming our city’s jails system is too critical a mission to take on without adequate community engagement or proper planning,” she said in a statement. “We must strive to avoid recreating the same atmosphere of violence and dehumanization found on Rikers Island.”
The City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on July 10 and render a decision within 60 days. The proposal will then be sent to the City Council for a vote.
Dominick Pistone, president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, encouraged residents to reach out to members of the City Council.
“Only four districts will be affected, but all 51 will have to pay for them,” Pistone said. “My own opinion is that most people in the City Council know that is a bad idea and a waste of money, but they are afraid of being called insensitive to the need for reform.”
Nancy Kong, founder of Boroughs United, argued the Neighborhood Advisory meetings set the city held were “sham” because the city didn’t take the recommendations and concerns of residents seriously.
“Borough presidents Ruben Diaz and Melinda Katz have come out to say no, and I hope Eric Adams and Gale Brewer are listening and seeing what real courage and leadership looks like,” Kong said. “Everyone says this is a done deal but clearly they haven’t met all of us, have they?
“To the two other borough presidents and City Council members, we will remember at the polls,” she added. “Either do your job or you will be out of a job.”