Supporters, Critics Gather At City Hall As Council Considers Plan To Close Rikers

Erica Brosnan
September 05, 2019 - 12:50 pm
Rikers Island

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The City Council held a hearing Thursday on a plan to shut down the Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with four borough-based prisons.

The city’s planning commission approved the controversial plan on Tuesday.

If approved by the City Council in October, Rikers Island will be shut down and inmates will be moved to smaller, high-rise jails in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

The controversial idea has been in the works for years after Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to reduce the city’s inmate population and create a smaller, more humane jail system. Though, since the de Blasio announced the plan, it’s created a number of debates.

On Thursday, those debates continued outside City Hall with protesters and supporters clashing outside.

“It's important to me because I'm a woman that served 27 years in the New York State prison system and 13 months I spent on Rikers Island as an adolescent,” said Donna Hilton. “I know the treatment that I underwent and how they didn't treat me as a human being.”

She joined activists as they chanted their support for the new jail system. The hope for them is that the borough-based jails will allow inmates to be treated more humanely.

However, critics of the proposal feel the borough-based jails are going to create more problems than they solve, especially in the neighborhoods directly impacted by the new complexes.

"I think it's awful,” said Jeff Lee, a longtime resident of Chinatown, where one of the jails will be based. “It's the hugest structure in the whole area. There's going to be particulate matter all over the place for years to come. It's a threat to the seniors who are in that park right across the street.”

“To put a jail that's 40-stories high alters the community. It creates not only a physical problem but a problem with human beings traveling back and forth,” added Edward Chan, another critic of the plan living in Chinatown.

The new jail system is expected to cost around $8.7 billion and the city is expecting to have the new jails built by 2027.

If approved by the City Council, the jails will be constructed in Mott Haven, Chinatown, Boerum Hill and Kew Gardens.