Thursday, September 2, 2010

City to Reopen Kew Gardens Jail

By Eric Yun

Not in my backyard. Kew Gardens’ residents are weary of a comprehensive overhaul of the New York City Department of Corrections fa- cilities, which includes reopening the 467-bed Queens Houses of Detention near Queens Boulevard Kew Gardens.

The city Department of Corrections (DOC) revealed the plans to reopen the detention facility, located at 126-01 82nd Street, on August 11. DOC officials claim the overhaul repre- sents the most cost effective way to upgrade and maintain their facilities while ensuring they have enough space for prisoners. The department hopes to have the Kew Gardens facility reopened within a year.

The plans call for 50 deteriorating housing buildings at Rikers Island to be torn down and replaced with a new 1,500-bed jail that will be completed in 2017. DOC Deputy Commissioner Sharman Stein explained the 50 houses were originally intended to be temporary solutions when the city needed extra beds during the crack epidemic in the late 1980s. Overall, as a result of the project, the capacity of Rikers Island will decrease by approximately 3,000.

To compensate for the lost beds, the DOC will reopen a 759-bed Brooklyn jail along with
the 467-bed Kew Gardens jail. This plan replaced an earlier idea to build a new facility at Hunts Point in the Bronx and doubling the capacity of Brooklyn facility. The total cost of that proposal was $1.1 billion. The new plan, however, is expected to cost approximately $660 million—a taxpayers’ saving of approximately $415 million, according to the DOC.

The Kew Gardens jail was closed in 2002 due to budget concerns. There is now concern among residents regarding safety as a result of the plan to move inmates back to the neighborhood. Council Member Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) pledged to diligently work to ensure necessary precautions are met.

“I will be working closely with community leaders, residents and elected officials in the area to ensure that the number one concern—safety—is at all times met,” said Koslowitz. “Our community has always been vigilant, and I have expressed this sentiment to [DOC] Commissioner Schriro. The commissioner has assured me of her commitment to the safety of the community.”

Community leaders are concerned about the type of inmates who are held at the jail. “The Kew Gardens Civic Association and myself need to have more information on the type of clientele that will be held there,” said Mary Ann Carey, District Manager of Community Board 9. The community does not want murderers, rapists, or other hardened criminals living next door."

Carey said the Community Board was not co tacted about the DOC’s plans until after they made inquires about the project.

DOC Deputy Commissioner Stein said the agency have been in contact with, and will continue to work with, the community about their concerns.

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