Brooklyn Boro

OPINION: Locating new jails, difficult no matter what

October 26, 2018 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photo courtesy of Cagle Cartoons
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Since Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last year that he plans to close the city’s troubled Rikers Island jail complex within 10 years, controversy has rippled throughout the city.

The reasons, cited by an independent commission, included poor conditions for inmates and guards, difficulty in visiting inmates, the high cost of transporting prisoners in and out of the remote facility and more. The commission, headed by former New York state Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, also cited the “deep-seated culture of violence at Rikers Island,” although the same could probably be said about at least half the jails and prisons in the United States.

This past August, the mayor announced four borough-based sites to replace Rikers. The borough that has been “left out” is Staten Island — de Blasio said at a press conference, “I know of very few inmates from Staten Island.”

In Brooklyn, the mayor plans to expand the Brooklyn Detention Complex, better known as the Brooklyn House of Detention, on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. It seems like only yesterday that neighborhood groups were agitating to close the jail, which they saw as an impediment to development in the area.

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The city’s plan would demolish the existing building, then construct a tall new building containing nearly 1.5 million square feet. Although Councilman Steve Levin supported the plan, at a meeting at P.S. 133 in September, other elected officials as well as representatives of organizations such the Brooklyn Heights Association spoke out against it. They say the building would be out of sync with the surrounding low-rise neighborhood.

“The problems that exist on Rikers exist in the borough jails,” Miriam Fishman, who lives nearby, told Gothamist.

A similar scenario is taking place in Queens, where the city wants to reopen and rebuild the long-vacant Queens House of Detention on 72nd Avenue in Kew Gardens.  Local Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz said that the new facility would bring significant economic development to the area and provide hundreds of new parking spaces.

But in Queens, too, many local community leaders are opposing the plan. Kew Gardens Civic Association President Dominick Pistone said that “all this means is more congestion.” State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said, “If there’s an issue at Rikers, then delve into that problem. Don’t waste money spreading the pain across the five boroughs.”

Although such issues are often left unsaid, one problem may be the fear that some, although certainly not all, of the visitors to the new jail facilities may come from the criminal subculture and may commit crimes in the neighborhood.

Mary Frost of the Brooklyn Eagle recently wrote an article detailing the three recent gunfire incidents over the course of three months in the Downtown Brooklyn area. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer, blamed this outbreak on gang members and other criminal defendants visiting court and parole offices there.

On the other hand, locating the new jails in the boroughs, fairly close to the courthouses, will save untold time and dollar costs when transporting prisoners to court and back again.

Building jail facilities is a sensitive topic, and I don’t pretend to have the answers. Input from everybody who would be affected — correction officers, the prisoners themselves, judges and lawyers, police officers, neighborhood residents, people who use street parking in the affected areas and others — is vitally needed before we make a decision.


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