City Council committee approves plan to replace Rikers Island with borough-based jails

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The New York City Council's Land Use Committee voted 4-1 Wednesday in favor of the plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with smaller borough-based jails.

The vote paves the way for a full City Council to vote on the proposal, which is expected Thursday.

The $8.7 billion plan would close Rikers by 2026, with the city opening modern and what it calls more humane jails.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's 10-year plan would replace Rikers with 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, and the city has tried to appease critics by reducing the number of beds at each facility.

Regardless, protests have been going on for years on both sides of the argument.

Karen Koslowitz, of Queens, has served on the City Council for 20 years.

"This has been the hardest issue I have ever worked on, the hardest," she said. "I will be voting yes on this tomorrow with stars and stripes and everything. That's how important this is to me."

DeAnna Hoskins, the president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA, said Rikers perpetuated a culture of violence and was erected on toxic land.

"So not only are the people who are detained there in danger, the actual employees there are in danger as well," she said.

But plenty of people are still opposed, saying the replacement plan does nothing to correct an unfair system that lets rich people post bail while the poor cannot.

"And we still have judges who have the ability to determine whether someone who is black or brown will be detained as opposed to someone who is white who will not be detained," City Council member Inez Barron said. "And the statistics bear that out."

One council member recalled what she told her mom, a former corrections officer at Rikers.

"When I told her mom we're going to be talking about closing Rikers, she said, 'Baby, they should've closed it a long time ago,'" Adrienne Adams said.

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," Hylton said.

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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