A day after the City Council voted to close Rikers Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio told advocates that they had “witnessed the impossible.” He’s right: New York will never build four adequate jails in four boroughs by 2026. The council hasn’t voted for “conscience,” as Council Speaker Corey Johnson said. It has dumped a nightmare onto some future mayor’s lap.
The plan: New York will spend $8.7 billion to close an inhumane, isolated, outdated Rikers and build jails in lower Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, central Queens, and the South Bronx. Pretrial prisoners and those serving short sentences will be closer to family. It will be easier to bring prisoners to court.
Just building these jails, and doing it within five years, would be a feat. To build three — in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens — the city must demolish existing mid-rise buildings, likely requiring asbestos mitigation. Demolition will take years.
Then, how do you build a jail? The Brooklyn jail will require new tunnels so prisoners can get to court. A jail also requires a perfectly reliable power source in a blackout, meaning on-site generation.
The city scrambled to scale down the bulk of the new jails last week to win over skeptical council members; the size of the proposed Manhattan facility fell to 295 feet from 450 feet. But a 30-story prison in a dense neighborhood poses another question: Where will outdoor space be?
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