Architects make case against de Blasio’s plan for city jails

New York Post 1 month ago

A team of Manhattan architects-turned-activists has launched an 11th-hour bid to derail Mayor de Blasio’s plan to overhaul city jails — in favor of a new college-campus-like prison complex on Rikers Island.

De Blasio has proposed shuttering Rikers by 2026 and opening four smaller high-rise jails in every borough except Staten Island.

But the architects, recruited by an activist group in Chinatown — where de Blasio’s plan calls for a 45-story prison tower to be built on the current site of the Manhattan Detention Complex — says their plan is not only infinitesimally cheaper but much less disruptive, too.

“This is exactly the type of proposal the city should be considering for the future of criminal-justice reform,” said Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens), who previously called for creating a commission to study the cost of renovating Rikers.

“We have to consider all options to address the state of Rikers Island rather than pushing forward with a plan that will significantly impact several communities and is hugely unpopular within those communities,” the pol said.

The architects’ 45-page plan — delivered to council members Friday — calls for razing Rikers’ existing facilities and building a new state-of-the-art complex for inmates that would include hospital and mental-health facilities, gyms and athletic fields, work-training centers and a small area for farming.

It also would add ferry service to Rikers, which proponents say would significantly cut down on travel time for both visitors and inmates headed to and from the jail.

The proposal, drafted by a dozen lower Manhattan architects and engineers, is being floated at the eleventh-hour in a desperate bid to convince the City Council to reject de Blasio’s $8.7 billion plan. The council is set to vote on de Blasio’s plan Oct. 17.

Although the vast majority of the 51-member council supports the concept of shutting Rikers — which has come under fire for its poor treatment of inmates —many say they still have serious concerns about the effects of building new jails in local neighborhoods.

Bill Bialosky, one of the group’s architects, said their plan could be completed “faster and cheaper for taxpayers” — at a cost of $5.6 million over five years — and, most importantly, “won’t burden” any neighborhoods with new development.

His team of volunteers was recruited by the Ling Sing Association, a prominent 120-year-old Chinatown-based group that vehemently opposes de Blasio’s plan.

Two of the four council members directly affected by the mayor’s plan — Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) and Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) — said they’d at least consider the new proposal as an alternative.

Chin represents the site eyed for Lower Manhattan’s White Street, while Levin’s district is in line to get a new high-rise prison on the site of the Brooklyn Detention Complex in Boerum Hill.

De Blasio spokeswoman Avery Cohen declined to address questions about the rival plan but noted in a statement that “the city’s plan, shaped by extensive input from community members and stakeholders, will ensure the permanent closure of jails on Rikers Island, and the creation of a more humane and safe justice system.

“We consider this a historic opportunity to build on the city’s decarceration efforts that have fundamentally reshaped our criminal justice system, and will continue working with the Council as we move forward to finalize our plan,” she said.

De Blasio hopes his plan will reduce the city’s jail population to 4,000. There are currently about 7,000 in the jail system, compared to 9,400 in 2017.

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