Boerum Hill

Borough-based jail plan fails first test as community board rejects recommendation

May 9, 2019 Noah Goldberg
The Brooklyn Detention Center. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

In a decision that came down to a single vote, Brooklyn Community Board 2 decided not to support a modified version of the city’s plan to expand the Brooklyn Detention Complex Wednesday night, after a contentious meeting where the board’s chairman threatened to have rowdy community members escorted out by security.

It was an important first test for the borough-based jail plan, which would see four new jails rise, including the one in Boerum Hill, to allow for the closure of Rikers Island. Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 is the first of four community boards to vote on any of the new jails. The other community boards — the Bronx’s CB1, Manhattan’s CB1 and Queens’ CB9 — will vote later this month. The board in Queens is likely to follow suit; a committee voted against the plan on April 23 and earlier this year the full board demanded the process stop in its tracks.

“This sets a precedent for everyone else,” said CB2 board member Sam Johnson, who voted no on the recommendation. “The no means something. There’s a lot of people saying no because they don’t want a facility of this magnitude, whether it be from a NIMBY perspective or a human rights perspective,” she said.

The board’s vote is purely advisory, and it voted not to recommend support for the proposal rather than to make a specific recommendation against the project. When the proposal ends up in front of the council, the councilmember whose district includes the project tends to follow the recommendation of the community board, and the rest of the council often follows suit.

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The final vote saw 17 board members against the recommendation and 16 in favor, with two abstentions and one recusal. It was the community board’s last step in their portion of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), and came after board’s land use committee presented their conditional plan to support construction of the new jail. The land use committee voted 10-1 to support their own plan on April 16.

Community Board 2 member Sam Johnson explains why she is voting no on the land use committee's recommendation. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg.
Community Board 2 member Sam Johnson explains why she is voting no on the land use committee’s recommendation. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg.

The land use committee’s recommendation supported a much smaller jail at 275 Atlantic Ave. than the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice originally proposed. MOCJ’s Brooklyn Detention Complex proposal is part of the mayor’s borough-based jail plan, which seeks to build a new jail in every borough but Staten Island, with the goal of closing the jail complex at Rikers Island by 2026.

Community members with the group No New Jails NYC attended CB2’s meeting, chanting “shame” as the chair of the land use committee presented their recommendation.

“$11 billion to build jails? Ain’t nobody was involved in that discussion,” yelled one No New Jails NYC member.

“We’re going to need to take whatever measures we can to make sure that our voices are heard. We’re not going to stop until this jail plan is defeated,” said Tres Freeborn, a member of No New Jails NYC, after the vote. “I hope [CB2] eventually disapproves of the actual jail plan,” he said.

The land use committee recommended that the city reduce the number of beds at the proposed facility to 875 from 1437, the number proposed by MOCJ. The Brooklyn Detention Complex currently has 815 beds. The committee also supported the construction of a jail in Staten Island, the expansion of the city’s alternative sentencing programs and the creation of a new and improved training facility for jail guards.

An unofficial rendering of the proposed jail designed by the Cobble Hill Association. Rendering courtesy of CHA
An unofficial rendering of the proposed jail designed by the Cobble Hill Association. Rendering courtesy of CHA

The issue now goes to Borough President Eric Adams, who will hold a public hearing on the proposed jail June 6. Adams’ vote is also purely advisory.

“We are grateful for everyone who participated in today’s meeting, and tonight’s split vote shows there are many Brooklynites who support the proposed plan,” a spokesperson for MOCJ told the Brooklyn Eagle in a statement. “We will continue to take all community feedback seriously as we work to close Rikers and create the fairest possible justice system.”

“I applaud the Community Board for giving this plan the thoughtfulness it deserves and look forward to hearing more from residents and community members as the process moves forward to the Borough President’s Office,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents the district housing the jail. “Constituents have been clear that we need to close Rikers, and I am committed to working with the community on how we best get there.

“The board’s decision to move forward with no recommendation on the plan highlights the complexity of this process and the importance of getting this right.”

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