Low turnout at first public hearing on full plan for borough-based jails
The city hosted the first public hearing on all four jails proposed as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s borough-based jail plan on Wednesday, failing to fill an auditorium at John Jay College of Criminal Justice during the early Wednesday morning hearing.
With recommendations submitted from all four borough presidents from the boroughs in question (each one except Staten Island), the City Planning Commission heard from members of the public, as well as the city departments that proposed the jails. In Brooklyn, the city is pushing for an entirely rebuilt facility in Boerum Hill at 275 Atlantic Ave., where the 11-story Brooklyn Detention Complex currently stands. The new jail would fit 1,150 beds and could be as tall as 395 feet.
In light of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ recommendation Tuesday, which called for a drastic reduction in the size and number of people housed in the proposed Brooklyn facility, one City Planning Commission member asked whether the city would reduce the number of beds at the facility to 900 from 1,150, as the BP demanded.
“For all of the recommendations that we received from the borough president — yesterday from the Brooklyn borough president — we’re looking very closely at each aspect of the recommendation. We know they spent a great deal of time,” said Dana Kaplan, deputy director of Close Rikers at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
Kaplan did not comment directly on whether the application would be reduced to reflect Adams’ call for only 900 beds.
The application has passed through the advisory phases of the mandatory Universal Land Use Review Procedure, where it was considered and commented on by community boards and borough presidents. The City Planning Commission’s vote is the first legally binding one. If the commission approves the application, it will then be presented to the City Council, which would host one more public hearing before a full-body vote.
Former Chief Justice of the New York State Court of Appeals Jonathan Lippman, who chaired the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which called for the closure of Rikers Island in 2017, testified at Wednesday’s public hearing. It was the first time he testified at one of the public hearings on the borough-based jail plan.
“The mass incarceration model does not work,” Lippman said at the hearing. “We need it to be replaced by more humane, smaller, local jails, closer to families and communities. Our plan was to reduce the population dramatically, get criminal justice reform, build five local jails in each of the boroughs and in the end it would save the city money.”
The city’s application calls for only four borough-based jails due to the small percentage of crimes committed on Staten Island. Kaplan said Staten Island made up just four percent of crimes in the city.
“[The new jails] will erase the stain on the soul of the city,” Lippman said.
Before Lippman, the commission heard testimony from Herb Sturz, former deputy mayor of criminal justice under Mayor Ed Koch.
“Despite the city’s recent success in reducing crime and the number of incarcerated persons in Rikers, no one underestimates how hard it is to put an end to Rikers. But today we have a chance to do this,” Sturz said.
At one point, rowdy audience members, some from No New Jails NYC, disrupted the hearing, with one standing on top of a chair, leading City Planning Commission Chair Marisa Lago to call for the NYPD to remove one audience member. It was not immediately clear if the man was removed from the auditorium.
The City Planning Commission will consider the application for 60 days before making its decision.
The hearing is ongoing; check back for updates.