NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The New York City Council held a public hearing Thursday on the mayor’s plan to replace the Rikers Island jail complex with four borough-based jails.
Emotions ran high as people on both sides voiced their opinions, reports CBS2’s Jessica Moore.
The city’s planning commission approved the controversial proposal Tuesday. The plan calls for shuttering Rikers and setting up jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
In front of a packed city council chambers, representatives with the mayor’s office and Department of Correction were grilled over the plan to replace Rikers with four borough-based jails.
At a cost fo $8.7 billion, Rikers would be closed by 2026, replaced with facilities in Brooklyn, Queens, lower Manhattan, and the Bronx.
Community members were pleading with the city council to close Rikers the right way.
“There was no community association, civic association, to provide work for the city, for these borough-based jails before it was dropped on the public with glossy brochures,” said Alfred Brand, chairman of the Kew Gardens Civic Association.
“We are having a big struggle with the proposal that will double the size of the jail,” said Howard Colins of the Borum Hill Association. “It will be a skyscraper to incarceration, a monument to detention, an insult to Brooklyn and the entire city.”
Former Riker’s Island inmates say smaller jails won’t make a difference with the Department of Correction still in charge.
“There’s a culture that breeds violence, disdain, mistreatment within that island,” said former inmate Rev. Sharon White Harrington.
“It is not about where the building is, it’s about who’s running it,” said former Rikers inmate Donna Hilton. “I do not agree with DOC running it. Why? They were my worst abusers.”
“I’m aware voices in the community suggest DOC is incapable of the type of culture change these new jails command,” said DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann. “I want to assure you, this is not the same department as it was five years ago.”
Advocates say closing Rikers is a moral issue and the mayor’s plan is the only way to get it done.
“There is no viable path to closing Rikers that doesn’t include borough-based facilities,” said Judge Joanthan Lipman. “Rejecting this plan will mean Rikers will continue to exist for generations to come and that cannot be our legacy.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. says he supports closing the complex but opposes building a new jail at the NYPD tow yard in Mott Haven.
“Rikers Island is a stain in the heart of the city. It should be closed,” he told CBSN New York’s Alex Denis in an interview Thursday. “We have to do it the right way, however.”
WATCH: Bronx Borough President Weighs In On Borough-Based Jails
Diaz says the community already has a plan for the area around the tow yard.
“A plan that we all supported to create housing, to create jobs, to create a supermarket, recreational facilities for the kids there,” he explained. “This is a residential community, and this is a plan by the community for the community.”
He is proposing another location near the Bronx Hall of Justice instead.
“If you want to do justice reform in the right way, then you have to allow for defense attorneys to be better equipped to represent their clients in front of a judge. The best way to do that is to have the courthouse attached to the jail so that they can go back and forth easily,” he said. “It’s going to be the case for Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, but not the Bronx.”
The NYPD tow yard is owned by the city, but the other location is shared with the state.
“City planning commissioners listened to and carefully weighed all recommendations and testimony it heard, including during a lengthy public hearing and from community boards and the borough presidents… Thanks to the tireless efforts of criminal justice reform advocates, local elected officials and community organizations, we hope Rikers Island will soon be able to close,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “The city will continue to actively engage with Mott Haven residents to ensure the best possible plan for the community.”
Under the plan, the other jails would be located at the Manhattan Detention Center, known as “The Tombs,” in Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Detention Complex in Boerum Hill and the Queens Detention Facility in Kew Gardens.
City council approval requires two votes, a committee vote and a full city council vote. There is no word yet when either vote might happen.