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Closure of Rikers Island Moves Another Step Forward

In Oct 2019 NYC Council Designated Neighborhood Jail Locations in Four Boroughs

Community Board One in Astoria Only Approved the Closure of Rikers Island

rikers island closing rikers island correctional facility history rikers island development astoria queens rikers island hunts point bronxJanuary 26, 2020 / Bronx Neighborhoods / Queens Neighborhoods / Queens Politics / Bronx Politics & Government / Queens Buzz NYC & Bronx Buzz NYC.

A week ago, on Tuesday, January 21st I attended the Community Board One meeting at the Astoria World Manor where the board was asked to approve the closing of the Rikers Island Detention Facility effective sometime before the end of the year 2026.

The photo at right was taken from an airplane while landing at LaGuardia in a prior year. Rikers Island Correctional Facility is a stone's throw away from LGA.

 

Queens Community Board One in Astoria Votes on Rikers Closure

The presentation consisted of two slides. One highlighted the social / moral blight that Rikers Island had become. The second slide simply proposed the request in very limited terms - the closing of Rikers Island and the conversion of it to a ‘public place’. The presentation to the Committee was done by a team lead by Dana Kaplan, Deputy Director of the NYC Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice.

So please note that the Community Board had no role in the placement of neighborhood jails, nor did they sign off on anything that may become of Rikers Island going forward. They only approved the closing of the Correctional Facility and the allowance of use for it as a "public place".

I spoke with CB1 District Manager Florence Kolouris after the meeting about what exactly that meant. She told me that there isn’t any definition, per se, given for public place – but a couple of examples of prior public places include Lincoln Center, Fort Totten and Queens Borough Hall.

The Community Board approved the measure with a recommendation that CB1 be kept in the loop throughout the closing process, including any demolition. Plenty of questions followed regarding what would become of the 400 acre island. Nothing concrete was proposed at this time, but the audience was assured that any changes would have to come through the Community Board via the ULURP process [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure].

 

The Bronx & Queens - Rikers Island Community Jurisdiction & Prison Population

rikers island closing rikers island correctional facility history rikers island development astoria queens rikers island hunts point bronxIt’s worth noting that technically Rikers Island is a part of the Bronx – not Queens – even though the only road traveling onto the island originates in the Astoria / East Elmhurst neighborhoods of Queens. In addition to Queens Community Board One, Bronx Community Board Two, representing the Hunts Point neighborhood, also has influence over the island. Since the Dinkins Administration in the 1990's, there's been a floating barge facility that's docked in Hunts Point, that is considered a part of the Rikers Island Correctional Facility.

Currently there are an estimated 7,000 plus inmates on Rikers Island. At its height, in 1991, Rikers Island held an estimated overcapacity inmate population of nearly 22,000. By the time the facility is to be closed in 2026, the inmate population is expected to have declined to between 3,000 and 4,000.

The photo at right shows the Rikers Island Correctional Facility which will be closed by the end of 2026.


Closure of Rikers Island Moves Another Step Forward

In Oct 2019 NYC Council Designated Neighborhood Jail Locations in Four Boroughs

Community Board One in Astoria Only Approved the Closure of Rikers Island

January 26, 2020 / Bronx Neighborhoods / Queens Neighborhoods / Queens Politics / Bronx Politics & Government / Queens Buzz NYC & Bronx Buzz NYC. Continued.

Rikers Island Correctional Facility - A History of Inmate Abuse

rikers island closing rikers island correctional facility history rikers island development astoria queens rikers island hunts point bronxBetween 1991 and today, the Rikers Island Detention Facility earned a reputation for inmate abuse that according to Wikipedia included strip searches, sexual assault, misuse of solitary confinement and officer brutality including using inmates as enforcers. In May 2013, Mother Jones Magazine rated Rikers Island Correctional Facility as one of the ten worst detention facilities in the United States. A February 2016 report by WPIX TV noted that in 2015 there were 9,424 assaults at Rikers Island, the highest in five years.

Perhaps one of the most moving incidents related to abuse at the Rikers Island Detention Facility was when Kalief Browder committed suicide two years after being released. Browder had been arrested at age 16, accused of stealing a backpack. He would not accept a plea deal and was held for three years ending in 2013, two years of which included incarcerating Browder in solitary confinement. Two years after his release, in 2015, Browder hung himself [age 21]. His family couldn’t make the $3,000 bail mandated upon his arrest, and he was never taken to trial.

After two years of debate, the de Blasio Administration, officially proposed closing the facility by the end of 2026. On October 17, 2019 the NYC Council approved the measure, which included moving the inmates to jails within the four boroughs, as Staten Island was exempted from the building or expanding of a facility as there were few inmates at Rikers Island from that borough.

The photo at right was taken at the Bronx Art Space in October of 2017. The artist showed the amount of space given to an incarcerated person.

 

Rikers Island Replacement Jails - Going to Neighborhoods in Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan & Queens

rikers island closing rikers island correctional facility history rikers island development astoria queens rikers island hunts point bronxThe new neighborhood jails will be dispersed in the remaining four boroughs. The rationale behind opening / expanding neighborhood jails is that it will enable inmates to stay in touch with their friends and families, which should help them along the trail of rehabilitation, and just as importantly help smooth the transition from incarceration back into civilized society.

The neighborhood jails were designated in the October 2019 City Council vote. According the the NY Post the new jail sites include: 1) using the former Queens Detention site adjacent to Borough Hall at 126-02 82nd Avenue in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, 2) erecting a new jail on the land that is currently an NYPD Tow Pound at 745 East 141st Street in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, 3) replacing the Detention Complex at 125 White Street in Downtown Manhattan only a few blocks north of the Supreme Court & NYPD HQ, and replacing the Brooklyn Detention Complex at 275 Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn only a few blocks south of the Kings County Court & Borough Hall. Each new neighborhood jail would have about 1,150 beds, be built in a high-rise fashion, and the total cost was reported by the NY Times at $8.7 billion.

It's worth mentioning that Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. advocated putting the Bronx site closer to the courthouses - if not adjacent to them - just like in the other boroughs. The reason for this is to provide attorneys easier access to help defend their clients. The proposed Bronx site is at least a couple dozen blocks away.

The photo at right was taken at the Community Board One Meeting regarding the closing of Rikers Island Correctional Facility by 2026.

 

Rikers Island - A Brief History of the Lent - Riker Homestead

rikers island closing rikers island correctional facility history rikers island development astoria queens rikers island hunts point bronxA brief history of the Rikers and Rikers Island is worth including at this point. It was a piece of land purchased by a Dutch settler, Abraham Rycken in 1664 according to Wikipedia. Rycken also owned a piece of land across the water in Queens, that was his homestead / farm.

The homestead remains to this day as one of the oldest houses in Queens. It is called the Lent-Riker Homestead and is occupied by its curator Marion Duckworth who continues to give interesting historical tours and performances [she was formerly an actress] on a periodic basis for a modest fee.

The Lent-Riker Homestead is privately owned, but has been landmarked. There’s a cemetery in the backyard, which includes the tombstones of the Riker’s extended family, but many of the tombstones have faded. Click here to read a related report on the Lent Riker Homestead in East Elmhurst.

The photo at right shows a small glimpse of the historical artifacts on display at the Lent-Riker Homestead in colonial Queens.

 

Rikers Island - A Brief History of the Correctional Facility

rikers island closing rikers island correctional facility history rikers island development astoria queens rikers island hunts point bronxRikers was used as a training location during the Civil War.

In 1884 the Rikers sold the land to New York City . The first jail on the island was proposed to replace the overflowing one on Roosevelt Island - then called Welfare Island - and it was completed in 1932. A high security prison was erected in 1935 during Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's Administration.

The photo at right shows Marion Duckworth with a couple of descendants related to colonial / original occupants of the Lent Riker Homestead.

The island was originally about 100 acres, but through the use of landfill the island was expanded to about 400 acres, which is the area it covers today. It’s only a stone’s throw from LaGuardia Airport which was opened in 1939 and you can see it from the window of the plane when landing from the north [see photo above].

The Rikers Island Bridge was opened in 1966 and it departs from Queens at 19th Avenue and Hazen Street along the Astoria / East Elmhurst neighborhood boundary, adjacent to LaGuardia Airport. The Lent Riker Homestead is only a couple of blocks away should you care to also make a visit there by contacting the owner using her website at www.rikerhome.com.

There will be plenty more on this evolving story as discussions follow on what to do with / how to use Riker Island following the closing of the correctional facilities. Stay tuned.


Queens Buzz Rikers Island Closing Astoria Queens Hunts Point Bronx

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