Shutting down the infamous Rikers Island jail and replacing it with four borough jails in the middle of a record-setting crime surge is proving to be a powder-keg topic for New York City Mayor Eric Adams, and newly-elected Lower East Side Councilman Christopher Marte may have just sparked a match.
At the heart of the matter is a plan, approved in pre-pandemic 2019 by former Mayor Bill de Blassio and several former members of the City Council.
“The four new jails are slated to be built on the site of the NYPD’s Bronx tow pound, at the now-closed Queens Detention Center in Kew Gardens and at the current sites of the Brooklyn Detention Complex in Boerum Hill and Manhattan Detention Complex in Chinatown,” the New York Post explains.
Adams’ position on the plan has been largely “undefined,” according to a Jan. article in The New Yorker.
While acknowledging that Rikers has deteriorated into an out-of-control bastion of “municipal horrors,” The New Yorker claims that “beyond de-escalating the situation with the unions, the Adams administration’s plan for Rikers is still mostly undefined… Adams says that he supports the broad strokes of [de Blasio’s] plan. But he has also noted that even a successful rollout would keep Rikers in operation for another five years.”
Meanwhile, local activist groups have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to building new, high-rise jails in their neighborhoods, especially at a time when Progressives are pushing for bail reductions and fewer incarcerations.
Our Bronx borough counterpart in this fight against #MEGAJAILS in communities, Arline Parks. If you build it, they will fill it. We know who they will fill these MEGA-SIZE jails with…. let's hear from Ms. Parks:👇 pic.twitter.com/HFf9Kvx4Pz
— Neighbors United Below Canal (@NUBCNYC) March 2, 2022
The writing on the ground #NoNewJails #NoChinatownJail new jails same problems. A new building helps no one if you don't fix the broken system. @NYCCOBA1 @NYCCouncil @NYCMayor @JumaaneWilliams @bradhoylman @AMWilliamColton @BobHoldenNYC pic.twitter.com/RTvLqRILBy
— Karlin Chan 陳家齡 (@Karlin_C) March 5, 2022
One such group, the Community Preservation Coalition, from Queens, has called on Adams to ditch the idea and modernize Rikers, according to the New York Post.
“The high-rise tower plan is no solution, but simply a transfer of Rikers’ problems into residential communities,” the group argues. “This alternate plan provides solutions; services that can reduce recidivism and provide professional treatment for the mentally ill who make up 49 percent of jail detainees. It deserves consideration and a positive response.”
Adding to the debate is Adam’s new budget, which proposed a $52 million boost for jails, but cut funds from education.
.@NYCMayor push to cut DOE budget by nearly $1B drew ire from @nyccouncil. @crystalrhudson said could be devastating & downsizing of education & other services was esp problematic when contrasted w/his proposal to boost funding for jails by >$52M. https://t.co/Qpj0u8eXBa
— leonie haimson (@leoniehaimson) March 3, 2022
Which is why it came as a surprise when the Village Sun reported that, during his inaugural speech, Marte announced that he’d convinced Mayor Adams to scrap the Chinatown “mega jail.”
“Let me tell you what happened this past Friday,” Marte stated. “I met with the mayor and his leadership team, and made the case not to build a jail in Chinatown. There were people on that call that want the jail to happen. But we won the mayor over to our side.”
According to a New York Post source who attended the inaugural event, news that Adams opposed the borough jail left him “stunned.”
In a statement in response to the claim, Adam’s office carefully passed the buck to de Blassio.
“Before the new administration took over, the city began to move forward with plans for a Manhattan Detention Complex site as part of its commitment to closing the jails on Riker Island by 2027,” Adams spokesperson Fabien Levy said. “As supported by groups across the city, four new, smaller, more modern facilities close to courts and communities were to be built across the boroughs.”
“The city will continue to meet with communities, hear their concerns, and incorporate their feedback into the on-going process,” Levy added.
When contacted for a comment from Marte, The Post was told that Marte was misunderstood. It wasn’t that Adams was opposed to the jail in Chinatown, Marte contends, it was that he’s “listening to the community.”
“I was excited that Mayor Adams was listening to me on this issue,” Marte claimed.
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