BY GLORIA PAZMINO | OCT. 09, 2019
The land Rikers Island was built on may never again house a new jail.
Ahead of a vote this month on the approval of a plan to close Rikers, the City Council will submit a new proposal to ban the future construction of new jails on the facility’s land and ban the existence of the current jail facility, the city confirmed to NY1 on Wednesday afternoon.
“We know that it’s legally binding and enough to ensure that we will not see another jail on Rikers Island,” said Donna Hylton, senior justice advisor for the Katal Center for Health Equity and Justice.
A DEAL FOR NO NEW JAILS ON RIKERS
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Mayor Bill de Blasio have agreed to a plan they say will legally codify the closure of Rikers by 2026.
“We’re making our commitment ironclad and ensuring no future administration can reverse all the progress we’ve made. Mass incarceration did not begin in New York City, but it will end here,” de Blasio said in a statement to NY1.
This proposal would require filing a city map change application with the City Planning Commission so the area cannot be used as a correctional facility. The Land Use Committee is set to vote on that Thursday. The mayor appoints several members of the City Planning Commission.
“We will be filing a ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] application to essentially make it impossible to have incarceration on Rikers Island,” Dana Kaplan, deputy director for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
After the Land Use Committee vote, the application will move through a process which typically takes months and goes before local community boards and the borough president before it heads back to the Council for a final vote.
“We are going to be asking for a city map change that will make Rikers Island a public a place,” Kaplan said. “This is an exciting step forward to make it legally binding that there will be no detention or jails on Rikers Island at the point at which facilities are complete.”
It’s not yet clear what the land of Rikers Island will be used for in the future. Some have suggested using it for energy purposes, such as consolidating water and energy treatment plants, because the land is toxic and not environmentally-friendly; much of the land is landfill.
A COMMITMENT TO NO JAILS AFTER CRITICISM
The proposal comes after criticism of the plan to close Rikers has increased, mainly from groups that oppose the building of jails anywhere in the city. Some, like Queens and Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have singled out that the plan lacks a legal requirement to close Rikers.
Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that there was a lack of legal guarantees in the city’s original plan.
“This is a guaranteed closure of this horrible symbol that Rikers Island has been,” Johnson said.
“This puts teeth into what we already envisioned,” said Darren Mack, of JustLeadership USA. “We’d love to see Rikers Island be utilized for the benefit of the people who have been impacted by Rikers Island.”
“The goal of this was always to close Rikers, but I think there was a point that was being made which was, what is the guaranteed closure look like?” Johnson said. “We though the strongest and strictest way to get this done was a map change, and we wanted to start the process as soon as we arrived at how to get there.”
Despite initial opposition, the mayor now supports the plan to close Rikers, which calls for replacing it with four borough-based jails, one on every borough except Staten Island. Three of them would be built on the site of current or former detention facilities in lower Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, and Kew Gardens in Queens. The Bronx jail, to be built on the site of an NYPD tow pound, is the most contentious.
In early September, members of the City Planning Commission voted 9 to 3 on the plan to permanently close Rikers and replace it with the new jails.
That plan has proven to be controversial, with even some criminal justice reform advocates criticizing the opening of the borough jails, while other protesters express fear of closing the facility.
Vidal Guzman, who says he spent years on Rikers, is part of the Close Rikers coalition, which supports the city’s plan.
“These borough-based facilities are making sure that people are closest to the courtroom, closest to their lawyer,” Guzman said.
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