Plan to close Rikers must be stopped

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Concerned about crime and safety in your community? You need to carefully consider the city’s plans to close Rikers Island and open a system of neighborhood prisons in every borough except Staten Island.

The plan has gained enormous traction since it was announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio last year. With few exceptions, nearly the entire City Council is on board. Transparency about their position on closing Rikers is not a strong suit among most elected officials and that support for shutting Rikers is never reflected in their taxpayer‑funded council newsletters. It’s easier to find out if your council member is having a Rain Barrel giveaway than their position on replacing Rikers with neighborhood prisons.

Last week, the Kew Garden Hills Civic Association held a wide-ranging debate on the Rikers shutdown plan. City Councilman Rory Lancman, a leading voice of shutting down Rikers and a likely future candidate for Queens District Attorney, debated longtime Queens County Assistant District Attorney James Quinn, who vigorously opposes the neighborhood prison plan.

Quinn was prepared with clear statistics and data on the current prison population and the dangers of closing Rikers. After their opening remarks, both men were peppered with questions from the audience. Lancman unfortunately devolved into a racially charged diatribe.

“The issue of closing Rikers, whether it should be closed, is about race — and I know that’s painful, fellow white people, I know that’s painful,” Lancman said.

Judging people by the color of their skin is bigotry and racism on display. In language that clearly suggests those who disagree with him are “racists,” Lancman created a racial divide in the audience and effectively ended any meaningful conversation. The debate can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.

There are obvious reasons to oppose this plan and none of them have to do with race.

The Queens neighborhood prison plan calls for the construction of a 35‑story building to house 1,500 inmates, triple the size of the formerly shuttered Queens House of Detention. When I asked Lancman if any civic groups support his plan or if he sought community input, he acknowledged that he doesn’t “know any civic associations in this part of my council district who support this plan.”

“I don’t represent the civics. Frankly, a lot of the civic associations — I love them — they’re not what they used to be,” Lancman said.

When asked what he meant by “they’re not what they used to be,” he declined to elaborate. I found his “dog-whistle” remark to be deeply offensive to the thousands of volunteers who generously devote time and energy to their neighborhood civic associations.

Sadly, many constituents in Lancman’s mostly diverse middle-class district are in the dark about his extreme position on this issue. His colleague, City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, whose district actually includes the proposed new prison site, shares Lancman’s position, and has hailed the planned neighborhood prison as beneficial to the community and local commerce.

One of the rare voices of reason on the City Council is newly elected City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Middle Village), who suggested putting the brakes on the neighborhood-prison plan until we can study the cost of upgrading Rikers at its current location. The projected Rikers relocation cost, including interest, hovers between $15 billion and $30 billion. This expenditure is another burden being placed on the shoulders of New York’s shrinking middle class.

The neighborhood prisons being proposed can only accommodate 5,500 inmates. This means the Rikers relocation scheme can only work if the current, already historic low Rikers prison population of 8,500 can be further reduced by 3,000 to 5,500 inmates. How can this be done? Where will prisoners be housed if there is a sudden spike in crime?

Lancman proposes to reduce the current prison population by releasing non-violent felons at Rikers back into the community. What he doesn’t tell you is that most of these non‑violent felons in Rikers have significant prior arrest records. According to Quinn, non-violent felons currently at Rikers have an average of six prior felony arrests and eight prior misdemeanor arrests.

Non-violent felonies include attempted assault, burglary, car theft, attempted purse‑snatching, ID theft, stolen credit card possession. These are not the types of individuals that most families would want back in their community. To put it bluntly, the “non-violent felons” that Lancman wants to release back into your community are “career criminals.”

Unless voters wake up soon and become more discerning about those representing them, they risk becoming pawns in these social engineering experiments. Lancman said as much when he reminded the audience that he was elected with 89 percent of the vote in the last election and felt empowered to drive this program forward without conferring with a single Civic Association and acknowledging a lack of support for the program.

Bob Friedrich is President of Glen Oaks Village, a civic leader and former New York City Council Candidate.

Posted 12:00 am, September 17, 2018
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Reader feedback

Mayordumbdumb from Queens says:
This has to do with putting criminals (violent criminals, child predators and gang members) into a community that is already overcrowded as it is. Then putting everyone in that community in jeopardy if heaven forbid a huge jailbreak happens. Also, you tell us that there is no room to build housing so how does mayor dumbdumb plan to build jails that take up a lot of space? This has everything with mayor dumbdumb wanting to set up unaffordable housing on rikers island. Criminals belong in a place where they don't put the taxpayers in harm's way. People dont want to live a few blocks away from a child predator or a serial rapist when they have children to protect. And the second that piece of trash Is let back out into society, the first thing he will see walking down the street is his next victim. Or heaven forbid there is some kind of jailbreak that happens. Then we will be forced to lock our doors and hide inside our houses just to not be their next victims? No thank you. Atleast when they are on an island away from society, they can be caught more easily if something like that does happen. Mayor dumbdumb is out of his mind! Hence the name mayor dumbdumb!
Sept. 17, 8:20 am
Fred from Glen Oaks says:
Glen Oaks is the worst neighborhood in Queens. Crime have spiked. I am glad I am moving out.
Sept. 17, 9:21 am
Retired CO from formerly bayside says:
100% true that the city is manipulating stats and plainly lying to the general public closing rikers is purely a land grab by real estate developers that have city hall in their pockets. Crime is not down simply because some crimes are no longer "criminal".law abiding citizens are under siege by this administration and need to let them know enough is enough
Sept. 17, 10:10 am
Justin from Queens says:
Bob is stupid. Lanceman is running for Queens DA position. He has the campaign money to run. Just like Bob uses the co-op money for his purpose.
Sept. 17, 10:47 am
Helton from Flushing says:
Lancman is a longtime political prostitute who despises law enforcement and panders to criminals because he thinks it will help him get elected. (Sad to say, in NYC, it probably will). He supported decriminalizing many quality of life crimes. Here's a good barometer to use: If Lancman is for it, decent law abiding people should be opposed to it.
Sept. 17, 12:39 pm
Timmy from Glen Oaks says:
Bob has been arrested before and a court appointed lawyer defended him. It was for assault.
Sept. 17, 3:07 pm
Dean from Glen Oaks says:
Bob has no power or influence just plain sore loser and a bully. Why is Times Lesger giving this hated man of Glen Oaks to write . No one likes him in Glen Oaks. Go ask around and you will know.
Sept. 17, 4:13 pm
Fran from Staten Island says:
Staten Island has Italians and we are powerful force in NYC. We will never make it happen here.
Sept. 17, 6:19 pm
Ava from Glen Oaks says:
Glen Oaks is where I used to live. Bob is a bully with arrogant attitude. He walks around with business card showing he is the president of Glen Oaks Village. He is a volunteer actually. That’s a real embarrassment for him but we all know better.
Sept. 17, 10:45 pm
Rex from Glen Oaks says:
Glen Oaks is the worst neighborhood in Queens.
Sept. 18, 6:52 am
Yo from Queens says:
Bob looks like Hitler from his picture.
Sept. 18, 8:57 am
The Filth of Forest Hills from Forest Hills says:
Lancman is using the old race baiting and dividing playbook. He has used this tactic the majority of his career. For the most part, one goes to jail, not because of his race, religion, looks, etc, most go because of their actions, criminal actions. And Lancman along with Koslowitz, wants to make sure that "career criminals" are let lose to continue their behavior. AND what communities will be harmed by this, well, of course communities of color like Jamaica. AND communities like Forest Hills/Kew Gardens will see quality of life issues really go down (they have already gone down due to the Comfort Inn homeless shelter)with a placement of a jail smack in the middle of it. Time for voters to WISE UP, and toss career elected officials like Lancman and Koslowitz, who seemed to be more concerned with criminals than hard working tax payers and their community. If you would prefer NOT to have this facility in our neighborhood, where IT DOES NOT BELONG, you can voice your opinion at a hearing to be held regarding this proposal on: September 26, 2018, at 6:00 PM Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens, NY 11424.
Sept. 18, 9:59 am
neillevine3 from Coney says:
Make Rulers Great again. Rename it the Big House.
Sept. 18, 1:01 pm
Candi from Bellerose says:
If Lancemans becomes DA, Glen Oaks will have a jail. What a loser Bob.
Sept. 18, 1:37 pm
Jessica from Glen Oaks says:
I used to work in Glen Oaks Village. It’s a corrupt place with old people running the board. They don’t adapt and worst they don’t listen to no one.
Sept. 18, 8:44 pm
Jerry Lynch from LIC says:
From one island to another. If the political will has decided to close Rikers, so be it. Does anybody remember Brother Island? Put the prison there, not in every community except that Italish outpost on Staten Island
Sept. 28, 11:51 am

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