Planning Commission approves plan to replace Rikers Island with borough-based jails

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The New York City Planning Commission on Tuesday approved Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposal to build four borough-based jails in an effort to close Rikers Island.

The plan now goes to a City Council subcommittee, which holds a hearing Thursday.

Protesters chanted and shouted through the entire hearing, rendering the commissioners almost completely inaudible.

But they continued and got through the vote in about 20 minutes.

The administration hopes to open modern and what it calls more humane jails, citing a declining population at Rikers.

De Blasio's 10-year plan would replace Rikers with smaller borough-based jails in Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, Kew Gardens in Queens, and Mott Haven in the Bronx.

All four community boards in those neighborhoods oppose the proposal.

"It is unfortunate that the city Planning Commission has declined to listen to the serious concerns of the people of my borough, and has instead chosen to move forward with a plan to close Rikers Island that builds a new jail in the wrong place," Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz said after the vote. "Throughout this process, I have made it crystal clear that Rikers Island must be closed. But that closure should be handled in the right way. Instead, the administration has weaponized the land use process against The Bronx in order to protect their plans to build a new jail on the wrong site, the Mott Haven tow yard. We have provided the city with a perfectly appropriate site to build a new jail, adjacent to the existing Bronx Hall of Justice. It is now up to the City Council and its members to listen to the people of this borough and adjust this proposal accordingly. Any failure to do otherwise will deleteriously alter the face of this borough for decades to come."

The city has tried to appease critics by reducing the number of beds at each facility.

Donna Hylton knows something about Rikers, having spent a year and a half there.

"It is the most toxic, cruel, inhumane, violent and abusive detention center that we have in this country," said Hylton.

She spent 27 years in prison for a crime she was involved in as a teenager, and she believes just the sheer size of Rikers makes it incapable of helping inmates, and that smaller regional jails have a better chance of preparing inmates for the future.

"We can have these centers where we start focusing on re-entry and rehabilitation as soon as a person is placed inside, then that's what we need, that's what we should be doing," Hylton said.

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