The joint letter, spearheaded by councilwomen Elizabeth Crowley and Karen Koslowitz, was signed by 11 members of the Queens Delegation.
“We must return to the original jail model in which detainees are housed at the Queens Detention Complex while they await trial,” said Crowley in a statement. “Busing inmates to and from Rikers Island to get to their court appearances is fiscally irresponsible, illogical and dangerous.”
In March, a commission chaired by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman issued a 150-page report recommending the closure of the prison on Rikers Island.
“Refurbishing Rikers is not enough,” the report concluded. “Our current approach to incarceration is broken and must be replaced.”
After the report was issued, de Blasio announced a plan to close Rikers Island within the next decade and replace it with several jails spread throughout the five boroughs. That exact location of those facilities has been a political lightning rod.
The Queens lawmakers believe the Kew Gardens site would have the least impact on residential neighborhoods, as well as provide a safe facility for inmates and the surrounding community.
“The center was originally built for this purpose and for many years operated with little incident,” the letter read. “At the same time, selecting this facility would avoid the fraught process of placing community jails in residential neighborhoods throughout the borough.”
The site has not operated as a detention center since 2002 and is currently used as office space. It also occasionally serves as a set for the Netflix show “Orange is the New Black.”
It would require a significant capital upgrade in order to be used as a jail.
A spokesperson for the mayor praised the elected officials on their leadership.
"The mayor is committed to closing Rikers Island,” she said. “For that to happen, we need to continue to reduce the jail population, and we need courageous elected officials and community leaders to help locate potential neighborhood-based jail sites.”
Glen Martin, president of Just Leadership and founder of the Close Rikers movement, also praised the elected officials.
“I think this is the sort of leadership we're hoping for from city hall,” Martin said. “I’m really impressed by the City Council members coming together and pointing to a location collectively.”
Martin, a member of the Lippman commission, had an opportunity to tour the site and believes it would be perfect with the right capital investment.
“It’s right next to the courts, so it’ll have a minimal impact on the community itself,” he said.