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City unveils plans for 4 borough-based prisons as part of Rikers Island closure

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The facilities will be subject to the city’s public review process

Max Touhey

The city’s plan to close Rikers Island and replace its myriad detention centers with borough-based facilities is making progress: Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio released plans for those new facilities, including potential addresses and preliminary renderings that offer a glimpse at what these new community-oriented facilities—which would have ground-floor retail and open space in addition to the correctional centers—might look like.

The city is looking at four locations across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens: 320 Concord Avenue in Port Morris, an NYPD tow pound lot where an entirely new facility would be built; 275 Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, already the site of the Brooklyn House of Detention; 80 Centre Street, a nine-story government building that could give way to a 40-story tower; and 126-02 82nd Avenue in Kew Gardens, home to the Queens branch of the Family Justice Center.

According to a release, each of the new facilities would have about 1,500 beds, which would allow the Department of Corrections to house up to 6,000 incarcerated individuals—right now, existing facilities in the boroughs can accommodate less than half of that. Part of the city’s goal in closing Rikers is to reduce the incarcerated population to 5,000 people; it’s currently at about 8,200.

“These new jails will enable this city to close Rikers Island, which I know will help make this city a better place,” City Council speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement. “The new facilities are designed to be safer for both the people incarcerated as well as the staff. The next chapter of criminal justice in New York City is beginning, and I couldn’t be prouder”

And crucially, these new, smaller detention centers would provide support for incarcerated individuals and their families, including educational and vocational training programs, mental health facilities, and more.

These plans are just the beginning; the city will soon begin the ULURP process for the facilities (which will be reviewed under a single ULURP application, rather than one for each borough), which will give the public and elected officials a chance to weigh in. During that period, members of the public will be able to engage with neighborhood advisory boards, who will look at “design, program, neighborhood integration and … quality of life concerns” in each borough.

Already, some South Bronx residents have pushed back on the proposed Port Morris facility, citing the need for more community facilities, and fears that it would be an “unwelcome step backward,” according to an April New York Times report. According to the city, the Bronx prison could also lead to more affordable housing, thanks to a rezoning that would allow for residential construction on the site.

But the city is already proceeding, with the goal of closing Rikers entirely in the next decade: In January, the city announced that it would close the first of nine facilities on the island, the George Motchan Detention Center. A date for that has not yet been announced, though a “ceremonial closure” happened in June.