Brooklynites fume over lack of community input in jail planning process
Brooklynites called on the city to halt the planning process of a 430-foot jail in Boerum Hill at a public hearing Thursday, citing lack of community input opportunities to the plan.
In front of hundreds of attendees, city officials presented the Borough-based jail system Draft Scope of Work that aims to develop four jails in the boroughs as part of the plan to close Rikers Island and provide appropriate conditions for the inmates.
The first of four public meetings was held at PS 133 William A. Butler School and focused on the reconstruction of the existing Brooklyn Detention Center at 275 Atlantic Ave. The city plans to increase the size of the high-rise jail.
Though most of the community leaders, business owners and residents support Rikers shutting down and recognize the need of a new jail in Brooklyn, they expressed their concerns about the community’s lack of engagement in the plan.
“Conversations with the community have not occurred prior to the development of the city’s plans,” said Amy Breedlove, president of the Cobble Hill Association at the meeting. “As a result, our community lacks trust in this process. It’s not too late for the city to take the steps necessary to build community trust.”
Representatives from neighboring Brooklyn Heights also chimed in at the meeting.
“We also believe that the process has been driven by political expediency not by the imperative to create the very best criminal justice system and to change the culture of that system,” said Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association.
One of the main concerns expressed at the meeting was that the proposed jail is intended to be nine times larger than the current 60,000-square-foot site.
The oversized jail in Brooklyn would house inmates with criminal cases in Staten Island, the only borough that is not expected to house a new jail. The Brooklyn jail’s capacity would increase from 810 beds to 1,510.
“This is completely unacceptable,” said state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery. “[It] contradicts the city’s borough-based jail system plan for smaller, safer, fairer jails.”
Local residents like Marci Rosa say the increased size of the jail in their neighborhood wasn’t something they expected when moving to the area.
“I clearly am okay with living across the street from the jail, I bought my house 19 years ago and I raised my three children there,” said Rosa, resident of the State Street Houses in Boerum Hill. “I did not sign up for something that is eight times the size of what it is now, especially with all of the development that is happening on every single corner in Downtown Brooklyn.”
Community members also feared that a jail of that scale will increase traffic, cause parking issues and increase air pollution, among other concerns.
“Some of the community concerns that we’ve already heard and that we are committed to focusing on is parking,” said Dana Kaplan from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice at the hearing. “Parking will be provided on site and underground for facility staff and services providers at the new facilities.”
The plan to close Rikers Island seeks to reduce the jail’s daily population to 7,000 people over the next five years with an ultimate goal of reducing the total number of inmates in the city to 5,000 by building jails across the boroughs.
“No alternatives have been considered and according to this process we must accept this density or Rikers stays open,” said Justin Pollok, a Downtown Brooklyn resident. “The cake is in the oven and the city is here to only ask you what color you would like the frosting, that’s the level of public engagement they are offering us. This cannot be the only solution.”
Public meetings on the drafts will also be held in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx in September and October.
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