Immigrant groups oppose building new city jails
by Benjamin Fang
Oct 16, 2019 | 788 views | 0 0 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Immigrant community organizations are asking the City Council to vote against the proposal to build four new city jails as part of an effort to close Rikers Island by 2026.

Ahead of the October 17th vote, the groups, led by the Jackson Heights-based Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), say the $11 billion plan would be better spent on investing in communities affected by the criminal justice system.

At a rally at Diversity Plaza last Wednesday, Roksana Mun, DRUM’s director of strategy, said the city should close the jail at Rikers Island now.

“Rikers is slated to be closed in 2026,” she said. “That’s too late for many of our communities.”

DRUM was joined by nearly 20 other community groups at the rally. They held similar events on Thursday in Richmond Hill and on Friday in the Kensington section of Brooklyn.

Benya Valencia, a member and leader of the group Centro Corona, said more investment in local communities is needed to ensure safety, not more jails.

“We know that access to schools, hospitals, affordable housing and well-paid jobs is what will actually create the conditions for our folks to be safe,” they said, “not the police or the carceral system.”

Valencia argued that opening the proposed women’s jail in Queens will mean increased criminalization of trans-women and sex workers.

“While the city continues to count jail beds, we are pushing for a radical imagination into the image of a city where there are no jail beds at all,” he said.

“This is why we demand access to the resources we need to live a dignified life,” Valencia added. “It’s time to invest the $11 billion in our communities.”

Among those who will vote “no” on October 17 is Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who said at the rally that the city has to end the “prison industrial complex” and address systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

“This is a historic moment, where all of us are being called to conscience,” he said. “All of us must do the right thing.”

Van Bramer, like many other speakers from community groups, said if the city builds the four new facilities in Kew Gardens, Downtown Brooklyn, Mott Haven and Chinatown, the “system will fill those jails.”

He said the $11 billion should be invested in schools, libraries, mental health services and alternatives to incarceration.

“If you engage in a serious and meaningful movement, in a decarceral world, you can reduce this population and not have to build new jails,” he said.

Last Thursday, the City Council Land Use Committee passed a resolution authorizing the City Council to file an application with City Planning to remap Rikers Island.

The map change, which will be done through ULURP, will ensure that the land will never be allowed to house incarcerated people after 2026, when the jail is slated to close.

The application was co-filed with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Department of Corrections. The city will seek to have the island designated as a “public place” on the city map.

Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin, who represents Downtown Brooklyn, said in a statement that up until today, there was nothing to assure the closure of Rikers.

“Today’s resolution provides the assurance the public needs,” he said. “By codifying this in zoning law, we are ensuring this is not an expansion plan, this is a reduction plan.”
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