City Council Announces Height Reductions to Borough-Based Jails

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York)
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York)

The City Council’s plan to instate borough-based jails to replace Rikers Island is well underway – and undergoing some dramatic changes.

Today, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen), Subcommittee on Landmarks Chair Adrienne Adams (D-Queens), and Council Members Diana Ayala (East Harlem, Mott Haven), Margaret Chin (D-Battery Park City, Chinatown), Karen Koslowitz (D-Queens) and Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) announced that the new maximum height for the borough-based facilities needed to close Rikers Island will range from 195 to 295 feet.

This is a significant drop from the original proposal, which called for maximum heights of 245-450 feet. The Council enacted the design changes in response to input from the communities that will house the planned borough-based jails.

The reduction was the result of a new, more conservative projection for the average daily jail population for 2026. Originally, the Council designed the borough-based facilities to accommodate an average daily population of 5,000. However, Speaker Johnson announced yesterday that their new projection predicts a daily population of 3,300.

The revised projection was likely the result of a number of state and citywide reforms designed to reduce the prison population. Last April, for instance, the State passed sweeping legislation that restricted the use of cash bail and pretrial detention.

“I want to thank Council Members Ayala, Chin, Koslowitz and Levin for their dedication to their communities,” said Johnson. “People said these buildings were too large for their neighborhoods, and they listened and fought for changes. I thank the de Blasio administration for working with us to better serve these communities.”

Council Member Chin was wholly satisfied, saying that the height reduction had been one of her top priorities since the borough-based facility planning began.

“From the start, one of my top priorities was to achieve a serious reduction of the height of the Mayor’s proposed jail at 124/125 White Street,” said Chin. “This goal was one that many community members shared and echoed throughout the land use review process. Working with residents, I secured a significant height reduction from 450 feet to 295 feet. The 155-foot drop ensures that the proposed jail will no longer be out-of-scale with the neighborhood.”

Council Member Ayala took the opportunity to reassure New Yorkers of the Council’s commitment towards citywide decarceration.

“These height reductions are a direct response to concerns expressed by various communities about the sizes of the proposed borough-based facilities,” said Ayala. “With reduced heights and a projected jail population of 3,300 by 2026, the borough-based jail plan will shrink our criminal justice system and puts us on the path to decarceration.”