A 27-story jail housing 1,437 inmates is proposed for the current site of the Queens Detention Complex, just steps from where the rally took place.
Andrea Crawford, a member of the Kew Gardens Improvement Association and Community Preservation Coalition, argued the neighborhoods around the proposed jail site are for meaningful criminal justice reform, but said adding new jails won’t fix the issue.
“This is not criminal justice reform, this is building Rikers into four different boroughs,” she said. “The more cages you build, the more people will fill those cages. Why are we building jails if we want to shrink the number of incarcerated persons?”
Dominic Pistone, president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, said that while borough-based jails would allow inmates to be closer to family members, the Kew Gardens location wouldn’t be as convenient as other options that the city hasn’t considered.
“From the beginning, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan was to site the jails where there was a courthouse and an existing jail,” he said. “It was never his intention to seek community input on the sites.”
Pistone encouraged residents to attend a public hearing on the jail on April 24 at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall.
Gregory Lasak, a candidate for district attorney, suggested that instead of building borough-based jails to replace Rikers Island, the city should use two facilities on Rikers to house inmates until they rebuild the current structures.
Lasak also recalled a time in the 1980s, when as an assistant district attorney he was in charge of investigating how two inmates escaped the Queens House of Detention for Men.
The pair used fire hoses and bed sheets to escape from the sixth floor in the middle of the night.
“These are not escape-proof jails,” he said. “It’s dangerous for the correction officers and for the inmates.”
Sheryl Fetik said she can’t understand why the mayor and elected officials want a new jail in Kew Gardens.
“I would like a full explanation of what’s happening, because I tried to attend a meeting with the mayor’s office and the local councilwoman last week but I was told that it was invitation only,” the Rego Park resident said. “What is the proposal really about? Why do we have to close Rikers completely?”
Fetik said the city is pushing the jail through like other initiatives, such as the bike lanes, without consideration of the local community.
Residents Nancy and Eric Horn attended the protest with their daughter Allegra, a student at nearby PS 99.
“It’s going to be the size of a skyscraper and our school is right there,” she said. “
Her friend, Lea Deutchman, collected signatures for a petition against the jail.
“There are really tall buildings near my house, and they are only half the size of the jail,” Deutchman said. “If the mayor wants this to be built here, then he should come and live in this area to suffer like everyone else.”