Advocates and opponents of the city’s plan to close Rikers Island and build four new jails will pack City Hall for the council’s public hearing on the proposal Sept. 5. That’s also the first day of public school for hundreds of thousands of New York City students, and stakeholders say the hearing date could pose a big obstacle to community engagement.
The hearing will take place during a scheduled meeting of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses. A City Council spokesperson told the Eagle that it is expected to be the only hearing on the topic.
“Since the issue of closing Rikers and opening ‘borough-based’ jails is one of the most controversial issues of our time, I’m expecting a very crowded hearing, a very passionate hearing,” said Councilmember Adrienne Adams, the subcommittee’s chair.
“Most importantly, the people who are impacted one way or the other by the city’s jails need to be heard,” Adams continued. “I still believe the communities should have a voice in the decision.”
Some community members and activists say setting the hearing for the first day of school is the latest maneuver to reduce community input in a process that opponents have criticized for lacking transparency.
“Why would you push the calendar for that week with that schedule?” said Justin Pollock, a resident of Boerum Hill who lives near the site of the proposed 395-foot facility in Brooklyn. “It adds to the disrespect that this process has had for the general public.”
No New Jails organizer Kei Williams, a jail plan opponent, said the “monumental decision” before the council necessitates multiple public hearings on dates that are more convenient than the hectic first day of school.
The council hearing will also take place just two days after the City Planning Commission casts its binding vote on the plan Sept. 3, the deadline established by the city’s Universal Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. If the CPC votes against the land-use application, it would not proceed to the council, but that is considered unlikely.
The city’s plan calls for building a new 1,150-bed jail in every borough except Staten Island by 2026, and depends on the city’s ability to reduce the jail population to 4,000 detainees from a current total of roughly 6,500.
The CPC can make modifications to the plan, such as permitting smaller facilities with fewer beds. That means the version that reaches the council could differ from the plan put forth by the city. But the final decisions rest with the council, meaning any changes made to the proposal by CPC could be reversed in the final stage of the land use process.
Williams said the tight time frame could make it difficult to evaluate the impact of any new changes.
“The one public hearing is scheduled … before the public will have had a chance to digest the Planning Commission's vote or comment on further changes to this ever-evolving plan that the City Council will not vote on until October,” Williams said.
Supporters of the city jail plan say community members will find a way to have their voices heard, even if the hearing date seems inconvenient.
The only way for communities in the targeted areas for these jails can attend is to keep their kids home with a boycott of the first day of school, then show up to this hearing and disrupt this stupid plan.