Queens residents rail over community-based jail plan in their backyard

More than three dozen community members and leaders from across Queens gathered on Friday, Aug. 6 to protest the construction of a controversial community-based jail in Kew Gardens. 

The jail, located on Union Turnpike near Queens Criminal Court, broke ground in June. It will be 19 stories, 1.4 million square feet and will hold about 886 inmates. 

The borough-based jail was approved after the New York City Council approved plans in 2019 to close the detention facility on Rikers Island by 2026. To go forward with closing the 10,000-bed facility, the city plans to build smaller jails in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx to house the inmates currently at Rikers.

But protestors expressed their support for fixing and rebuilding Rikers instead of moving inmates to their community.

City Councilman Robert Holden, the only elected official at the rally, said Rikers Island should be rebuilt with mental health facilities available and a courthouse. 

“The mayor doesn’t want to do that, and my City Council colleagues would rather close [Rikers] as a symbol of mass incarceration,” Holden said. “It’s going to cost a lot more money, we don’t have that money and we’d rather put it into the infrastructure of the city.” 

Holden, whose Council District 30 doesn’t include Kew Gardens, criticized his colleagues for not showing up to the rally and encouraged residents not to vote for anyone who supports this community-based jail and closing Rikers.

Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa also spoke at the rally, saying there is no money for community jails. 

“Bill de Blasio, who has single-handedly destroyed our city, is leaving behind a $6 billion growing debt,” Sliwa said. “How are you going to finance new community jails?”

Donghui Zang, one of the protest organizers, said that Republicans and Democrats had come together on this issue to stop the building of the Kew Gardens jail. 

“The community does not want it,” Zang said. “This is our community, our streets, our schools and our children — we don’t want the jail. It costs $8.7 billion. Keep Rikers open. We have homeless that need to be taken care of and schools that need money.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to QNS’ request for comment by publication time.

The borough-based jail is expected to be completed by 2027, housing inmates from Rikers and a separate facility for all of the city’s female detainees.

Julia Moro
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Julia Moro

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