City Planning Approves Borough Based Jail Application

Protestors opposed to the borough-based jails project attended the special hearing. Image Credit: City Planning Commission

Borough based jail proposal moves to City Council. On September 3, 2019, the City Planning Commission approved the Department of Corrections, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ application for a special permit to create a borough-based jail system with modifications. The application passed by a 9-3 vote with Commissioners Alfred C. Cerullo III, Orlando Marin and Raj Ramphershad voting against the proposal.

The application proposes to shut down Rikers Island and create four jails at 124-125 White Street in Manhattan, 745 East 141St Street in the Bronx, 126-02 82nd Avenue in Queens and at 275 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. To see a summary of the certified application, read past coverage here.


The City Planning made seven modifications to the application. They are as follows:

(1) There should be additional space for pedestrian flow and circulation around the entrances of all four facilities.

(2) Setbacks should be added to all four facilities to increase light and air for the surrounding blocks. City Planning purports doing so will improve the urban design of the facilities.

(3) Retail depth should be increased to at least thirty feet in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.

(4) The Brooklyn facility should remove the State Street Skybridge and increase minimum transparency requirements for retail and community space along Atlantic Ave from 30% to 50% transparency. This matches the existing transparency requirements on Atlantic Avenue and according to City Planning, ensures an active and inviting streetscape for pedestrians.

(5) The White Street arcade walkway at the Manhattan facility should be changed from a minimum height of 29 feet to 55 feet. City Planning claims this modification will generally increase visibility and let more light and air into the arcade.

(6) The community facility at the Queens location should be moved from the ground floor of the jail to the ground floor of the adjacent 126th Street parking structure.

(7) Height, floor area ratio and square feet for each of the four facilities should be decreased from their respective certification proposals.

Commissioner Comments

Chairperson Marisa Lago stated that this application “is among the most consequential applications to come before the City Planning Commission in years, and is an application that has been years in the making.” She cites the application’s importance in terms of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure’s (“ULURP”) coordination with the design-build process but more importantly how the application is the first crucial step in closing Rikers Island.

Chair Lago stated she was “proud that the Commission can play its part by voting to approve the four borough-based jails, an essential component of closing Rikers Island. Today’s vote is so much more than a vote on-site selections and special permits – it’s a vote to end a bleak era in New York City’s criminal justice history, and a step toward critical justice reform.”

All commissioners were in agreement that New York City is more than ready to move on from Riker’s Island. It appears this need was the paramount factor in approving the application (with modifications).

Dissenting, Commissioner Marin expressed concern over the application’s failure to address uncontemplated prison and criminal justice reform and how such reform might affect approval for a new jail system. He believes this requires more time and scrutiny.

Commissioner Rampershad questioned the culture in place at Rikers Island and how it would affect the new facilities. He stated, “if the culture in Rikers does not change we would essentially be replacing one distressed facility with four.” Commissioner Marin expressed a similar sentiment, citing the testimony of the inhumane treatment of both inmates and their families.

Both dissenters and those who approved the application echoed concern over the location of certain facilities. The two most troublesome being the Bronx facility and the Women’s correctional facility in Queens. A driving principle behind this application is that correctional facilities should be built immediately adjacent or adjoined to a court building so inmates, courts, and family might interact with efficiency and human decency.  Neither the Bronx facility nor the Women’s facility appear to address this important concern, as the inmates would be far from their respective administrative centers.

Mayor Bill De Blasio commented “With today’s vote, we are one step closer to closing Rikers Island and creating a smaller, safer, fairer system. That’s one step closer to bringing people back to their communities and families, one step closer to ending the cycle of recidivism and one step closer to ending mass incarceration once and for all.”

As reported by the Mayor’s Press Office, City Council approval will allow the City to close jails on Rikers Island and replace existing borough facilities in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens by 2026. It will reduce the City’s current operating jail system capacity (including non-operating facilities) by more than two-thirds by 2026 and the City’s jail system will be reduced from eleven to four active facilities.

This application is now before City Council. A public hearing will be held before the Council’s subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses at 10:00 AM today.

By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)



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