Now Approved, Actually Building the Borough-Based Jails Might Take More than Political Wrangling [OP-ED]

Posted on: November 4th, 2019 at 5:03 am by

The Tombs

The following editorial was written by vociferous Chinatown activist Karlin Chan.

As expected, City Council last month unanimously passed an unprecedented city-wide ULURP for the Mayor’s borough-based jail plan. Despite the lack of a concrete plan and the testimony of dozens calling for no new jails. So will these local jails ever get built?

That can is likely kicked down the road to the next Mayor and City Council, where a majority of seats will be filled by newly elected members replacing the outgoing term limited members.

Revisiting the ULURP hearing October 17, most who spoke were against constructing new jails. Not to mention poll findings by the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, which showed 70% of New Yorkers were against the plan. So why did the Council pass a plan without specific details and ignore the voters who put them there? Perhaps because most were term-limited and would face little backlash.

Mayor de Blasio and other electeds did this city a great injustice by pushing and passing a flawed plan; a plan to house detainees closer to court proceedings and home thereby making them readily accessible to visiting families and saving the city $200 million annually in cost of transporting them from Rikers Island. They seem to forget that suspects answer to charges in the county where they are accused of a crime, not the county of residence; and if the accused is remanded, they are housed in a detention center near the court. So, it appears none of the goals of the plan can be achieved.

The argument to close Rikers by prominent politicians has gone on for years, citing horrific conditions and treatment of detainees. Yet, in the same period of time, nothing has been done to improve conditions for detainees, correction officers or staff. Not even the visitor’s center. It would appear these government officials purposely let Rikers rot to make their case for closing.

Whether the borough-based jails are actually built remains to be seen. The plan will likely face challenges in federal court by community groups across the city. Civic and resident organizations in Mott Haven & Kew Gardens have announced intent to sue and so has a newly formed local group NUBC which represents thousands of residents along with hundreds of orgs has also announced a pending lawsuit and started an online fundraising effort to pay legal fees. The GoFundMe fundraiser started in September and has already raised $600.

Whether threatened litigation derails the borough prison plan or not, I remain skeptical given the city’s track record on major projects. For instance, the Second Avenue Subway – long a punchline in inefficiency – originally announced in 1919, yet wasn’t funded until 1972 when work began. Construction came to a screeching halt in 1975 due to the city’s fiscal crisis; 47 years later, we have three stations to show at a cost of billions. The jail plan estimated at just under $9 billion would likely go much higher with construction delays, cost overruns, inflation and other economic factors.

Will future mayors be as apt to back the plan or modify it?

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