By: Dusty Wolfe
New York City is ramping up construction of a new jail in Queens as part of its plan to phase out problem-plagued Rikers Island — sparking outrage from residents, The New York Post reports. The presence of a lockup became more tangible for Kew Gardens locals recently when the Department of Design and Construction sent out a notice that it was restricting access to the area around Queens Borough Hall to lay the groundwork for the jail, writes Brigitte Stelzer.
“We are upgrading the infrastructure in your community. These temporary access restrictions are necessary to facilitate preliminary work for the offset of a 48” Trunk Water Main for the Queens Borough Based Jail in the above-mentioned location,” the DDC said.
Mayor Eric Adams had promised to deliver on former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $8.3 billion plan to shutter Rikers Island’s troubled jail complex and replace it with four smaller, more humane high-rise lockups in each of the city’s boroughs but Staten Island. Opponents have submitted an alternative plan to build a more modern complex on Rikers — and the controversy could dog Adams when he runs for re-election, sources told The New York Post.
The phase-out of Rikers in favor of the borough-plan was developed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but crime has skyrocketed in the years since. Residents are unhappy about the increase and letting Adams know about it, according to a recent Quinnipiac College Poll.
“The city is not going to improve the jail culture by closing Rikers. They’re just going to transfer the problems,” said Sylvia Hack, a member of the Community Preservation Coalition that is fighting the borough-based jails and proposed the alternative jail complex on Rikers.
The first phases of the project started last June and will be completed before year’s end, said DDC spokesman Ian Michaels. As for the watermain work, Michaels said the DDC’s contractor dug two test pits to examine field conditions before construction at 82nd Avenue and 126th Street and 82nd Avenue and 132nd Street.
“The attached notice was issued to the local community prior to the work and shows the overnight parking restrictions. In the fall, DDC will begin an 18-month project to relocate a 48-inch main on 82nd Avenue from 126th Street to 132nd Street because that part of the street will be closed to complete a new jail at the location,” the DDC rep said.