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Community Board 2 narrowly votes not to approve mayor’s House of D expansion

Not having it: Dozens of protesters packed Community Board 2’s general meeting demanding members vote against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s borough jail plan.
Brooklyn Paper
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Call it a jailhouse knock.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to raze Atlantic Avenue’s House of Detention and rebuild a larger incarceration complex in its stead stumbled when it failed to get the approval from Community Board 2 members by a hair-thin margin at a raucous meeting Wednesday night.

Members issued their purely advisory vote with 17 to 16 voting against their land use committee’s previous conditional recommendation to accept Hizzoner’s plan to raze the Boerum Hill lockup and replace it with a larger jail as part of the city’s borough-based jails plan.

One member scolded the city’s criminal justice record toward people of color and abuse by jail guards.

“If an institution is built 80 years ago or whatever and they can’t get it right then, they’re not going to get it right now,” Samantha Johnson said at the board’s May 8 meeting inside a packed auditorium at New York City College of Technology in America’s Downtown. “Melees and assaults and rape have happened in these institutions. We cannot trust that the culture is going to change when we train people,” the Fort Greener said. “Nobody is going to hold these people accountable, not even the mayor, because we all know, he’s running for president.”

The land use committee at their meeting last month voted in favor of de Blasio’s plan to close the beleaguered jail complex by 2027 and move its incarcerated people to four borough-based jails with several conditions, including lowering the jail’s target population from 1,437 to 875, cutting the building’s proposed size by almost half — both in accordance with recent and future criminal justice reforms — and adding a new jail to Staten Island, the only borough spared from the plan.

Several board members said they couldn’t vote for the scheme due to the city’s continually-changing plans for the post-Rikers jail’s size and population.

State legislators passed a sweeping package of reforms on April 1, which will end cash bail and pretrial detention for almost all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony defendants, among other reforms, and which will reduce the amount of people awaiting trial in jail because they can’t afford bail.

The legislation will not come into effect until Jan. 1, 2020, but a recent study by the criminal justice reform advocacy group the Center for Court Innovation found that more than two out five people detained pretrial in the five boroughs would have been released under the new laws.

On May 6, the mayor’s office promised to shrink the jails due to the drop in inmate population and criminal justice reforms, reported The City.

Citing that report, one board member said that it was difficult to decide on the city’s plan if it kept changing and due to the fact that bureaucrats were not forthcoming with precise figures.

“This shows that the plan actually keeps changing, which is really unfortunate, because we very much want to do the right thing and we’re constantly given different information and misinforma­tion,” said Sandra Rothbard. “The biggest problem for us was that a lot of issues with the city’s plan were very vague. When we asked for specific numbers, they were not provided.”

Council Speaker Corey Johnson reportedly chimed in, saying that he was worried about the size of the proposed facility between Smith Street and Boerum Place, according to a leader of the board, who said he had a private conversation with the Manhattan pol.

“He [Johnson] too had concerns about the density of the facility proposed for 275 Atlantic Ave.,” said District Manager Robert Perris. “It was a private conversation with someone I’d known before he was in government services.”

A spokesman for Johnson said that communities around the four jail sites were concerned about their height and density, but stopped short of confirming whether the speaker himself shared these concerns with regard to the Boerum Hill jail, ahead of the council’s future vote on the proposal.

“Communities around the four proposed new jail sites have expressed concerns about the height and density of the buildings,” said Juan Soto in an emailed statement. “Now that the scaled back proposal is going through our public review process, we expect to hear substantive feedback from local community boards and other stakeholders, which the City Council will consider when it’s our turn to review the proposal.”

Reps for the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice handed out guidelines and principles for the proposed jail by the borough’s Neighborhood Advisory Committee — which included local community and business leaders — exclusively to board members at the beginning of the meeting, which one member criticized as being too short notice to take into serious consideration.

“The mayor’s office handed us this now today, which didn’t give us enough chance,” the member said.

She asked for the reps to explain and take questions on these guidelines but Lenny Singletary, the board’s chairman, told her that he could not fit that into the board’s procedure ahead of a vote.

Protesters — some of whom said they were from No New Jails NYC, the activist group opposed to any new jails — packed the room and shouted their opposition to the mayor’s plan, demanding the board reject the proposal.

Soon after land use committee Chair Carlton Gordon began explaining his group’s proposal and answering board members’ questions, activists drowned them out with chants, saying that the board wasn’t representative and that the city should invest in its community instead, as the meeting descended into disarray.

“This so-called community board does not represent the community,” protested one audience member.

“You all don’t have the money to fix NYCHA, but you’re using capital funding to build new jails,” said another.

When Singletary eventually called the vote, the audience yelled “shame” and “no new jails” at each member voting in favor of the plan’s approval, while applauding and cheering at those voting it down.

The community board’s vote marks an initial step in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which the city must pass before it can break ground.

The mayor’s proposal will now move on to Borough President Eric Adams, who will host a public hearing on it at Borough Hall on June 6 at 6 p.m.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 1:32 pm, May 10, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

HONEY Pooter from Williamsburg says:
No one wants to live next to a prison! Why don’t they build a jail on some island?
May 9, 9:30 am
t from bath beach says:
The board member voting against the proposal to build a new jail by grandstanding and claiming poor treatment of minorities in jails is really an apples and oranges argument with one having nothing to do with the other.
May 9, 11:23 am
Mabrina Woobles from Flatbush says:
The people are still going to be in prison - now the prison will just be more crowded and further away.
May 9, 12:30 pm
Blogger Bill from from boerum hill says:
If a modern jail is needed--not the proposed tower--might help with a little planning from Boro Hall. The Criminal Court nextdoor is 90 years old...why not build replacements for the HOD and CC together elsewhere in Bklyn? Especially since SI is sending their folks over. There are much better civic uses for these current locations...the BHOD hasn't made sense with all the congestion it brings.
May 9, 3:12 pm
Kieran from Clinton Hill says:
What is "America's Downtown?" Is it a new real estate term or is it a new part of the name of New York City College of Technology, as here in "New York City College of Technology in America's Downtown."
May 9, 4:01 pm
Gabriel from Clinton hill says:
The board member who voted against the jail and stated the abuse and mis treatment inside Is true. The reason a new jail is even begin discussed is because of the treatment “ Kalief Browder , and many others who died because of no accountability. So if this is a issue then I feel it should be addressed and by the way the New York Times in 2017 mentioned “On average, Rikers Island holds about 10,000 inmates on a daily basis, with about 77,000 people cycling through in all each year. Most of the inmates — about 85 percent — have not yet been convicted of a crime; they are pretrial detainees, either held on bail or remanded to custody. The rest have been convicted and are serving short sentences. About 93 percent of the inmate population is male. The majority are African-Americans and Latinos from low-income neighborhoods in New York. The portion of the jail population that has been diagnosed with some sort of mental health issue has ballooned in recent years, rising to nearly 40 percent of inmates.A Times investigation published in July 2014 found that 129 inmates were seriously injured, requiring hospitalization, in an 11-month span in 2013, after altercations with correction officers. Guards were found to have pressured inmates not to seek medical help for these injuries and threatened them with further violence if they did. ( New York Times ) .
May 9, 11:42 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Everyone agrees that Rikers is a hell hole and that it should be closed as it is unsalvageable. But then what? 4 mega lockups in every boro but Staten Island? Bad plan. A modern and no larger than the building there now? But not a mega jail. RIKERS was built to be a safe humane rehabilitative facility. How did that work out? Yes we need jails smaller safer and effective. The mentally ill should be treated not warehoused. The mayor's plan is not that either. They have one chance to get this right for the next 50 years. Sure rebuild the HOD no taller than it is now. Less than 875 beds.
May 10, 9:04 am
Mary from Bed-Stuy says:
I am a bit confused. The Brooklyn House of Detention was located on Atlantic Avenue since the 1950's. The mayor is not adding a ne jail, just utilizing the space that already exists (since people are up in arms and want to close Rikers). Where do they expect the prisoners from Rikers to go? SMH
May 10, 10:37 am
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Mary they have proposed tearing down the Brooklyn HOD and building a 40 story 1450 bed facility. The ULURP proposal was to allow the bigger(huge)building, and keeping Rikers open until that and the new facilities in Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan are built along with the new Brooklyn HOD.
May 10, 11:35 am
Bring back Rudy says:
Keep Rikers Island, double the capacity, add another 15k cops and start enforcing laws on the books. Enough of coddling criminals.
May 10, 5:10 pm
Wang Dong from Sunset Park says:
Don’t do the crime, don’t do the time.
May 11, 10:09 pm
mary from brooklyn from bensonhurst/bath beach/bayridge says:
why is it that staten island gets all the benefits? are they not part of nyc? no toll paid as they cross the verrazzano bridge, and they pay $5 when they re- enter staten island. plus they do not have any jails.. WHY? why should the other 4 boroughs bare the brunt of having prisons/jails..??? not fair...!
May 13, 6:07 am

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