Queens Residents Say “No” To Community Jails

Local Residents Protesting Proposed Kew Garden Jail
Local Residents Protesting Proposed Kew Garden Jail. Photo Credit Naeisha Rose.

Over the weekend hundreds were at the steps of Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens chanting “hell no de Blasio” out of anger and opposition to the mayor’s proposal to open a community prison near Queens Criminal Court.

Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced his plan to shut down Rikers Island and to build four smaller borough-based jails in 2017.

Queens District Attorney candidate Greg Lasak. Photo credit Naeisha Rose.

Queens District Attorney candidate Greg Lasak, a former Supreme Court judge who left his post last September after 15 years, was at the April 13th rally. 

“I am in favor of closing Rikers to rebuild it on Rikers Island,” said Lasak to applause. “When we were brought up we were taught different proverbs in grammar school and the one that fits this is haste makes waste.”

The borough-based jails were estimated to cost approximately $11 million, according to the Lippmann Commission, the independent criminal justice and incarceration reform group.

Lasak believes that the jails might end up costing more.

“I’ve been told that the plan from that the Lippmann Commission is going to cost $33 billion over 10 years,” said Lasak.

In 2017, days after the mayor’s announcement to close Rikers, the Lippmann Commission released its “A More Just NYC” blueprint suggesting that closing the East River prison complex would help with decarceration and save the city $1.3 billion annually.

“There is a rush here to do something to fulfill an ill-conceived plan that was not thought out properly with obviously no involvement of the community,” said Lasak.

Many residents of Kew Gardens and nearby neighborhoods said they weren’t aware of the jail being placed in the area until August 2018.

The plan to build a community-based jail in Queens calls for using an underutilized parking lot and knocking down a detention center that laid dormant for over a decade at 126-02 82nd Ave.

The proposed jail is expected to be 27-stories, 1.3 million square feet and will hold 1,437 inmates, according to initial outlines.

“I know that there are two facilities on Rikers Island that are vacant,” said Lasak. “My proposal is to build a state-of-the-art facility on Rikers Island.”

One of the reasons for the blowback in Kew Gardens are the four local schools that are a few blocks away from the proposed jail.

“My granddaughter goes to P.S. 99, which is right around the corner,” said Debbie McGirt who traveled from Laurelton to the rally. “This is a community where you have a lot of children.”

P.S. 99 is located at 82-34 Kew Gardens Rd., and the other schools include The Kew-Forest School at 119-17 Union Turnpike, Ezra Academy at 119-45 Union Turnpike and the Archbishop Molloy High School at 83-53 Manton St.

“There are plenty of places in Queens that this construction could take place,” said McGirt. “I’m here to support that school. She’s been there since kindergarten and now she is in the fifth grade.”

Donghui Zang, a Forest Hills resident, protesting proposed Kew Gardens prison as part of Mayor’s plan to close Riker’s Island and open borough-based detention centers. Photo/Naeisha Rose.

Donghui Zang, a Forest Hills resident, doesn’t like the idea of New York’s image becoming associated with jails that are as tall as high-rises. He also took issue with the facilities coming with retail space.

“When tourists come to New York City they won’t think the Empire State Building or the World Trade Center, but they will be thinking about these skyscraper prisons, so that is number one,” said Zang. “I talked to the residents here and they said, ‘what the hell, what kind of idea is that? We don’t want businesses related to criminals.”

City Council Member Karen Koslowitz
Evan Boccardi, local Kew Garden resident and now candidate to unseat City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz. Photo Credit Naeisha Rose.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) support of the prison left one resident so upset that he decided to announce that he will run for her District 29 seat.

“I’m disrupting my life because sitting on the sidelines no longer cuts it apparently,” said Evan Boccardi, an engineer. “I announce today the core message of my campaign – if there is a structure to be built here it should have one purpose – affordable housing for seniors, our veterans and the disabled. The community is being priced out. My campaign slogan is a simple one: homebound.”

Boccardi, 27, is a Forest Hills resident who was raised in Bayside.

“This whole neighborhood is our home and this is why I am running,” said Boccardi.