Rush to cell: City moving too fast in plan to expand House of D, close Rikers, locals say

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Mayor DeBlasio must pump the brakes on his plan to replace Atlantic Avenue’s House of Detention with a jail eight times its size in his quest to close Rikers Island, according to some locals, who blasted the city for moving too fast with the massive redevelopment it announced last month, and hopes to start pushing through a necessary public-review process before the end of the year.

“The cake is already in the oven, and the city is here to only ask you what color you would like it frosted,” said Justin Pollock, who lives on Smith Street blocks from the House of D. “The plan needs to be withdrawn and the affected communities brought to the table in order to meaningfully engage in the planning of the borough-based jail system.”

Pollock joined members of a standing-room-only crowd who came out to Park Slope’s PS 133 on Thursday for a meeting about DeBlasio’s scheme, which calls for building a jail as high as 40 stories with the square footage of roughly 24 football fields to fit 1,150 detainees who’ve been convicted or are awaiting trial — 335 more than can occupy the current 11-story building’s 815 beds — and with about half a football field’s worth of space for community organizations or potential retailers interested in opening storefronts at the facility.

But before breaking ground, officials must first sign off on a rezoning of the Atlantic Avenue lot and three companion sites in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, as part of a collective Uniform Land Use Review Procedure that will unfold in each borough the facilities would be located in, which local civic gurus said could kick off as early as the end of this year after the city fleshed out its plan in August.

Pollock said he contacted the offices of Boerum Hill Councilman Stephen Levin, a supporter of Hizzoner’s plan to expand the jail on the border of Downtown, and DeBlasio after the mayor last year announced his 10-year scheme to relocate roughly half of the 9,500 inmates locked up in the East River island’s violent cells to “safer” ones across the five boroughs, hoping to share thoughts on how to successfully do that from the perspective of a House of D neighbor.

But the mayor’s office denied his request for a sit-down, he claimed, saying the city would request locals’ opinions in early planning stages — and then dropped its plan to massively grow the jail and subsequently kick-off the required ulurp process to the surprise of residents.

“The plan was clearly rushed,” Pollock said. “And with the city’s announcement, the clock started ticking.”

And he wasn’t the only local who demanded the city take its borough-based-jail plan back to the drawing board — the leader of a neighborhood civic group argued that if four boroughs must get new facilities, then a fifth should be built out on bucolic Staten Island, so that families and attorneys of inmates from the Rock don’t have to schlep to Kings County to visit them.

“A jail must be built on Staten Island,” said Cobble Hill Association president Amy Breedlove.

But the small number of Staten Island detainees currently held on Rikers Island made it impractical to build a new facility to hold them in their home borough, according to a rep for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

“There are currently around 350 people in jail from Staten Island, roughly 4 percent of the jail population, and this number will be closer to 200 by the time that the [Rikers] population reaches 5,000,” said Patrick Gallahue.

Other attendees from prison-reform group No New Jails NYC argued the city can reduce the number of inmates on Rikers Island — and ultimately close its jails — without building new ones in the boroughs at all, by instead ending pre-trial detention, cash bail, and end restrictive probation and parole policies.

And another Smith Street resident said the city should first find ways to improve inmates’ mental-health treatment before rushing to build local jails, claiming that packing more detainees in an expanded House of Detention without doing so would simply relocate people with violent tendencies from Rikers Island to Boerum Hill.

“All of the problems that exist on Rikers would exist equally, if not more so, at the localized borough facilities such as the Brooklyn House of Detention,” said Maryanne Fishman.

City officials will now hold similar sessions in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens, before they kick off the borough-based-jail scheme’s ulurp process, and set a deadline of Oct. 15 for locals to share written comments on the plan with the Department of Corrections.

Written comments can be submitted to Howard Fiedler at 75-20 Astoria Blvd., Suite 160, East Elmhurst, NY 11370, or e-mailed to

Posted 12:00 am, September 24, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

blogger Bill from from Boerum Hill says:
Credibly captures the feelings of long- suffering residents across and near Boerum Hill. Talking first before approving the plans...seems to be a novel concept to City Hall. Recent reminder of failure: BQX
Sept. 24, 2018, 7:53 am
Fred from Windsor Terrace says:
This is the way the Mayor intends to fulfill his pledge to build affordable housing.
Sept. 24, 2018, 8:34 am
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Hurry up and close Rikers - the developers need that land NOW to build luxuryluxuryluxury housing. You won't mind a jail in your neighborhood. Rikers has only been a jail for over 120 years. I hear about "affordable housing" all the time, but never "affordable real estate taxes." I wonder why.
Sept. 24, 2018, 9:29 am
frank from furter says:
I don't see why they can't separate pre trial detainees from those that had been already convicted. The rationale that they need to be near the court doesn't apply. If they are sentenced to more than a year they are transferred to state custody and the short term less than a year don't need to be near the court. and the convicted ones can be put anywhere..even park slope.
Sept. 24, 2018, 9:34 am
blogger Bill from from Boerum Hill says:
"frank from furter" lands a good point. While it is said that the existing BHOD is outdated, in what ways is this true? And why has the criminal court not used closed circuit TV for pretrial/pleading rather than trucking detainees back and forth, as done successfully elsewhere? Imprisonment is a major NY industry, sadly, yet many upstate facilities have closed. This leaves NYC in a squeeze--perhaps not a bad thing. But the way it is being done by de Blasio only punishes the Brooklyn residents at the expense of intelligent jailing.
Sept. 24, 2018, 10:17 am
Sterno from Red Hook says:
This is NIMBY at its worst. Most of the people posting here know nothing about this issue. This has been under discussion for several years; the idea is to decentralize the jail system, and they do intend to reduce the jail population as well. This facility has been operating, almost continuously for decades, so what difference does it make that it expands a little. The only greed I see here is from self interested land owners in the neighborhood. And by the way, video arraignments sound great, but they are less than ideal; people deserve the right to actually face a judge. This makes it easier to get to court, and for local families to visit. Remember, these jails are full of "innocent" people - they are awaiting trial, and have not been convicted.
Sept. 24, 2018, 2:54 pm
Cato the Elder from Rome says:
Not since "Carthage must be destroyed" have I heard a phrase as powerful as “A jail must be built on Staten Island.”
Sept. 24, 2018, 7:30 pm
Frank from Furter says:
Look let's face it traffic in downtown Brooklyn is already a nitemare. Bringing the guards for 1150 and new larger staff visitors lawyers etc will be a disaster of biblical proportion. Guards will drive and park anywhere they want. Deliveries will be constant and disruptive. And mass transit is already at the breaking point. I didnt oppose reopening the jail. I don't oppose bail reform..haven't we done some of that already? But each boro needs to take its fair share reducing this jail by 200 plus will in fact make a difference. As far as I know Staten Island isn't Carthage.
Sept. 25, 2018, 6 am
Frank from Furter says:
Bigger isn't necessarily better. In fact haven't we done the opposite with mini schools within larger schools. Replacing Rykers with 4 mega jails in a 40 story building imo is not the reform that will end in success. It needs a campus like setting perhaps on state land at one of the former state hospital settings..arent they empty already?
Sept. 25, 2018, 6:17 am
Frank from Furter says:
We do have the opportunity to do it right.let's do it right in a place that will give flexibility..this isn't it. Imo
Sept. 25, 2018, 6:20 am
Frank from Furter says:
So my specific proposal would be not rebuilding the House of dees at all use it for a temporary holding facility for pre trial detainees when they are needed for court appearances and build a second state of the art facility with mental health and substance abuse treatment at what is the campus of Kingsboro Pysch Center.
Sept. 25, 2018, 6:32 am
Frank from Furter says:
and lastly(I promise) State Land is not subject to ULURP. so construction could begin sooner than later and the Governor wants to close Rykers before De blasio so he can take credit. I can be reached at Nathan's eating a furter...
Sept. 25, 2018, 7:04 am
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
It isn't about closing a jail. It's about turning over Rikers Island to developers. I wonder what they will name the new luxury buildings. De Blasioland? Cuomoville? Once they make the mess of jail for everyone they will be long out of office. Then try to unring that bell. How long before the new residents complain about the noisey jets at Laguardia?
Sept. 25, 2018, 7:55 am
Pina 109 from Bay Ridge says:
And the Award for the BEST MAYOR IN THE HISTORY OF NYC goes to......... Mr —— DiBlasio 🏆
Sept. 25, 2018, 5:43 pm
Never Been Jailed from America says:
Why oh why are we bending over backward for CRIMINALS?? Yes Rikers is bad -- but so what? Why do we always suppress the rights of the law abiding to coddle those who do not. Ridiculous. Not only shouldn't there be a new jail in Brooklyn, this whole plan should be scrapped. DeBlasio loves criminals more than the hard working New Yorkers who pay his salary. Worst Mayor ever.
Sept. 26, 2018, 8:24 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Maybe (just maybe) if NYC didn't arrest people and put them in solitary confinement for TWO YEARS based on a false accusation and then have a judge throw out the case, we wouldn't need such larger facilities in the first place.
Sept. 26, 2018, 11:07 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I don't exactly see why does Rikers Island need to be the center of new development and why the new jails can't just be built while leaving that place alone.
Sept. 29, 2018, 1:25 pm

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