Court says plans for jail on White Street can continue

A New York State appeals court ruled that the city can go ahead with its plans for the monstrous jail on White Street, overturning a successful case brought by Neighbors United Below Canal last September.

Then, the judge agreed that when the city switched its plans from 80 Centre to 125 White Street, it neglected to re-do the land use approval processes, such as the Environmental Impact Statement, and the subsequent approvals from the City Council must therefore be “annulled.” But this time, the four-judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, overturned that court’s ruling and found “that the environmental review considered a reasonable range of alternatives.” In other words, the original scope was both locations, and the process just happened to settle on one.

NUBC will hold a press conference at 140 Centre tomorrow, April 2, at 11a to give an update on the legal case and next actions.

I have to let loose — once again — on this topic; if you don’t want to hear it, stop here since all the news is above. Maybe I am naive, but I just can’t believe this project is still on the docket. Nothing could make less sense: in the interest of racial justice and prison reform, spend billions of dollars to build new jails in neighborhoods that don’t want them, and do nothing to actually fix the problem you claim to address.

And in the process, go about the construction with no regard to environmental concerns like waste, pollution, congestion or the health of neighbors who will live with a 10+ year construction project.

I keep coming back to this one thought: Too bad we don’t have an abandoned island where we can put our [neighborhood-killing] jails.

Before I took over the Tribeca Citizen, I ran two community newspapers in the South Bronx, which has just about every noxious municipal use you can think of — including jails. Community leaders in Hunts Point finally got rid of Spofford, the juvenile detention center, and are in the process of redeveloping it now. They are also plagued with the Vernon Bain Center, the jail barge docked at the foot of the peninsula. And Mott Haven will get one of the borough-based jails in this plan as well.

I mention this to say it can’t be just a NIMBY issue when every neighborhood in the city feels the same way. The added layer here is the sites here on White already are jails. And the solution is to make them twice as big? And there is no option for adaptive reuse? There just must be a better way around this.

 

 

25 Comments

  1. Completely agree. You’re absolutely right that no neighborhood wants this in the midst of their community. This plan is sheer madness. Even before the pandemic, this was an insane and misguided use (or rather, abuse) of funds, a disaster for this neighborhood, and with no guarantee of any real criminal justice reform. It’s just moving the pieces around, for a cost to taxpayers estimated at over $8 billion… and does anyone doubt that it would probably be double that cost by the time it’s done?

    Now, with the pandemic financial crisis of the city, this is doubly insane. City is in huge budget deficit and we can barely keep basic services like public transit functional. Where are the billions supposed to come from to pay for this pointless relocation? This plan has to go.

    • Agree with you and Marcus. Adding one point: as Asian Americans face unprecedented abuse, violence and racism, the egregious devastation that will be felt by the fragile Chinatown community is a glaring act of civic disregard and inhumanity. So much for Judge Lippman’s “moral imperative” to close Rikers, whose inhabitants will suffer for the next 10 years+ while the skyscraper jail is built. Shame!

  2. Good reasoning you explained. Agree.

  3. Mayor, city council, state senators, Governor all compete to come up with the dumbest, irrational ideas to really bury this city once and for all. Pandemic has caused such economic Tsunami and this project still lives. Mayor continues to find ways to burn $ and state continues to find new ways to tax. Mayor would rather release criminals, spend Billions on jails, render Police innefective and leaves others after him to figure out this mess. My distaste for DeBlasio holds no bounds. City council not far behind.

  4. I’m not taking a stance on this particular project or location here, but just want to add one note to your comment about having an abandoned island to house a jail for all boroughs.

    The location of Riker’s creates great difficulty for many of the friends/family members/others who want to visit the incarcerated. It is inconvenient to get to, and most people in the city, particularly the people who would visit, do not own cars. It’s a remote place.

    One of the reasons for borough-based jails, along with not overburdening one borough with a facility, is to make it easier for people to visit. It’s an equality issue. Perhaps you don’t think it’s a strong enough reason, but let’s not elide it.

    Maybe adaptive reuse of all the current jails in the boroughs is a better option than building a huge new one. As you said, in the interest of racial justice and prison reform, that doesn’t seem like the right use of funds. But pretending the right answer is to just keep everything on Riker’s misses some other justice-based issues.

    • I actually do appreciate visiting — certainly as an argument for helping prisoners rehabilitate and rejoin the world when they are released if not simply as a humane gesture. Visitors also provide some oversight — or just plain sight — on what we know to be a corrupt system. However, there is no reason to assume that because a prisoner’s family lives in Manhattan, he will be placed in the Manhattan jail. Your family could live in Canarsie and you could end up in the Mott Haven jail, which is not a great commute either.

      Also there is no reason the city could not make visiting Rikers easier, if that is indeed the goal with the construction of these borough-based jails (and I really hope it is not). There are cottage industries of drivers now who pick people up in the Burger King parking lot on 123rd Street, for example, and drive families out to Rikers. There could be ferries or express shuttles that do the same thing, if the city deems it so important. And that would be a lot cheaper than building these jails.

    • Legitimate points, and those have to be weighed against other factors. Can Rikers be made more easily accessible to visitors?

      If not, and if this is considered a deal-breaker problem for the Rikers location, that still does not justify putting the jails in these already extremely dense communities. They could be built outside the population centers but in more easily accessible places.

      But it still seems like the least expensive solution is to repair Rikers rather than rebuild, and find ways to fix the accessibility issues to Rikers, plus use technology to reduce need for in-person interaction through video conferencing, etc.

      In idea world with limitless resources we could fix all problems at once. We don’t live in that world. (Well, actually, ideal world wouldn’t have these problems).

      No solution is perfect, but let’s address the most pressing problems with criminal justice system. Despite the government apparently being able to magically print mad money during the pandemic, it still seems clear that at some point the bill comes due (in terms of higher taxes and/or cuts to other projects and services). So every dollar mis-spent on this or other ineffective plans is a dollar lost, that could have been spent on something effective.

  5. If you want your family to visit you with ease don’t commit a crime and end up in Rikers. Simple

    • Not everyone at Riker’s has committed a crime.

      Even those who have are people, too.

      I’m sorry if that’s too complicated.

      • you’re right not everyone at Rikers has committed a crime, Mayor has released all criminals onto the streets. I’m sorry just can’t sympathize with a difficult family commute as a poor excuse to build new jails in residential neighborhoods at a cost of $8Billion minimum when we are in a pandemic, economic crisis to me is just plain asinine. $8Billion can go a long way in funding all the other problems that lead people to end up in Rikers. Education, Homeless, mentally unstable, battling crime etc… the list is long. Mayor is a moron, city council not far behind

    • Your snarky response is so utterly tone deaf. Shame on you. Have you not bothered to educate yourself on our racist, class discriminatory justice system?
      Hey no one wants a jail – how about housing the mentally ill who are alone and homeless in our city.
      And for all you mayor complainers – I’m no fan but from the onset during the Koch Administration on up the problem festered and grew. The mentally ill need our help; it may not be pretty but what kind of society are we?
      But “S” is not the neighbor I want to have.

  6. I agree with Malcolm here. Most of these comments are knee jerk reactions to overcrowding the neighborhood – and were the same complaints pre-pandemic. A repurposing of the current facility seems best. And many of the folks on Rikers are there because they can’t afford $250-$500 bail. Thus the bail reform bills of last year.

    The question I have is: if we want real justice reform and plan to reduce the size of our jail population, why are we building 4 of these huge facilities? We’re supposed to have less incarcerations, not more.

    • G, By reducing the jail population are We to assume crime goes down? or are we saying prison population cannot be more than smaller jail capacity, what do you do if crime continues to rise? I guess we just won’t prosecute and have dangerous criminals roaming the streets freely, like we do now? or we would send overflow to prisons not in the 5 boroughs and make the family visits more difficult? renders that point moot. Would be interesting to know stats of Rikers population that are in for real low level crimes that have $250-$500 bail against it, I’ll bet that universe has been let out since bail reform so disagree with you
      on that point.

    • Overcrowding the neighborhood is just one factor. There are other concerns to the community, like the years of construction, concerns about safety for residents, traffic congestion, noise and pollution, etc.

      There are also concerns about whether this plan even addresses the actual issues of criminal justice reform. Such reform seems a separate issue from the location of the jail, so moving things around does not necessarily fix them.

      There is also concern about the cost, as I mentioned above, and where this money can come from, and what other projects that money will be taken from.

  7. We don’t need another jail downtown. We have the “Tombs “which is already on White Street. Prison Reform is needed, I agree. Not everyone in Riker’s are hardened criminals, I agree also. But this Mayor and this administration with their Bail Reform have unleashed mentally ill and some who even killed their own mothers, like the other day onto our streets to assault people! I have no words for these people in our hotels living and assaulting our citizens. Every second of every day the citizen app goes off with another assault in another neighborhood, especially downtown. So who needs more of this in our neighborhood that people are fleeing because of the uptake in crime not shown on the news! Prison Reform but Law and Order are priority in our city.

    • Native –
      I just found out (a week late) that the City has found yet another way to mess with Downtown and make everyone less safe. Their latest debacle is a plan to lease the parking garage at Wooster and Canal to house 200 adult homeless men from corrections and Bellevue and other city sites. The good news is they will have metal detectors, but won’t bother to drug test their residents. I am just speechless at the City’s current attempts to destroy all the gains that Canal Street has struggled to achieve over the years. Maybe the City thinks a mega prison and more homeless will bring residents and tourists back to Chinatown, Soho and Tribeca. #SMH

      • “City seeks to open a men’s homeless shelter in Soho —
        The 200-bed residence would replace a four-story garage at 349 Canal Street ”

        https://urbanize.city/nyc/post/city-seeks-build-mens-homeless-shelter-soho-349-canal-street

        “[…] The four-story parking garage is currently owned by Park-It Management, which is said to already be negotiating a long-term lease through the city with David Levitan’s Liberty One Group, one of NY’s largest private-shelter landlords.

        “The new facility would reuse the garage with Liberty One taking on the gut renovation​, a process ​estimated to take 18 months.

        “Park-It Management’s owner​,​ Gary Spindler​,​ cites the city’s heavy taxes on parking facilities as his impetus ​for seeking alternative uses for his building​s. […]”

        • responding to Adam. Wow, I didn’t know that one about Soho! Sneaking all these mentally ill criminal addicts in our neighborhoods. FIDI is still fighting the Radisson Hotel Which i think 200 are suppose to come down here from uptown hotel disaster. Also another 100 men on Washington Street near the Freedom Tower. What is going to be done here! Its outrageous What about community safety! I just seen on the news the Asian community having a protest saying that not only they are being attacked but ALL Are! We need LAW And ORDER in the city!! What is going to be ? We need to watch our backs as we take trains or walk around our neighborhoods!!! Vote for a candidate that will help us get rid of this crime! We don’t want these criminals living amongst us!

  8. Could not agree more with the article and thank you for writing it. It seems to me like one more bad plan by the De Blasio and his administration. The jail that is there already is huge in relation to the neighborhood.

    No less the wasteful spending and complete lack of city planning sensitivities, the idea of piling hundreds if not thousands of people into a centralized prison (a la Bastille) after a pandemic seems irrational. Covid is not going away. Variants will be popping up and managing future outbreaks in a concentrated prison population seems to me will cause even more problems.

    They should divide the prisons into a couple of smaller more humane size buildings or rebuild Riker’s into a more humane architectural layout (For example, see Nordic prisons). No one wants giant prisons in the downtown are of a major city, especially New York. I couldn’t find any examples in other major cities.

    The worst part is that it could impact one of the very few green park areas downtown, Columbus Park, which serves many children in the downtown and FiDi area as well as residents of Chinatown.

  9. Would the next mayor have the power to revisit or reverse this plan?

  10. This whole Riker’s Island / 4 new mega prisons is nothing short of a financial and community disaster! It’s also a land grab plain and simple. Take a look at a Bronx shoreline Opportunity Zone Map and see what they are building there and then you can imagine what the developers have planned for Riker’s Island.
    We know the complaints, Riker’s Island is hard to get to, maybe that is because NO ONE WANTS A PRISON IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD! I know somehow this is shocking to the current idiots running our City, especially DeBlasio and Margaret Chin. To help alleviate this issue instead of spending $8.7 billion on a project no one wants, spend $100mm to add a ferry stop and foot bridge to the island.
    Plus everyone is overlooking that the $8.7 bil estimate was in 2019, so you can easily add 20% to that number due to raw material and labor cost inflation to get to ~$10.5 bil. Now if you know anything about how over budget these type of projects go in NYC, a safe bet would be at least $20 billion and for what? So people can more easily see their family members in jail? Maybe money should be better spent on schools, community services, job training and reducing recidivism. Not to mention with the recent reforms to the cash bail system the prison population is already declining.
    The last and also important fact its that the City does not have the money for this fiasco. If the the people running this charade ever tried this in a real company they would have all been fired and removed from the building. We need better elected representatives.

  11. We have an election coming up – do we know where the candidates stand on this issue? Can Tribeca Citizen reach out to them and let us know their position on this issue?

    • I have, and I await responses.

      • Very important to know this. Also, looks like the plan is to rush to start demolition before year end… that is, before current mayor’s term is over. That would make it difficult to reverse the plan after start of demo….although construction plan still could be radically scaled-down even then.

        It feels like a rush job again, against the wishes of the communities, and without sufficient evidence that this project would be money well spent : whether it would effectively reform criminal justice system, and whether the money takes away from other essential projects. Where is the money coming from? The city doesn’t have it. If taxpayers are to be expected to carry the cost of this for years and years, it needs to be shown that this project will actually fix the problems attributed to Rikers and criminal justice system, and address the concerns of the communities.

        So I think the key right now is to make sure the project gets postponed until after end of this year, when the mayor is gone, when a new administration would hopefully re-evaluate the entire project for the better.

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