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Ocasio-Cortez Criticizes Mayor’s Jail Plan, Calls for ‘No New Jails’

Queens Detention Center Decommissioned in 2002. The building will be demolished and redeveloped under the mayor’s borough-based jail plan (Photo: QueensPost)

Oct. 7, 2019. By Shane O’Brien

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come out against the Mayor’s borough-based jail plan joining the likes of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and the advocacy group No New Jails.

Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram Wednesday to call on the city council to vote against the proposal or to at least delay the vote scheduled for Oct. 17.

“We shouldn’t be building new jails,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in the Instagram post. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed a report published in September by No New Jails NYC, a group of activists who want Rikers to close without any new jails being built.

The No New Jails plan involves reducing the prison population to a level where Rikers Island can be closed and no new jails are necessary.

Van Bramer shared her post on Twitter and told the public to read an op-ed he wrote in the Queens Eagle where he expressed a similar sentiment.

The city and most advocates for closing Rikers Island have condemned Ocasio-Cortez and those who share her views.

They argue that the only way to close Rikers Island is through the construction of borough-based jails since the city doesn’t have enough cells to cater to the prison population.

Excluding Rikers, the city only has enough space for 2,100 inmates. There are currently about 7,000 inmates detained across the city.

The city’s plan to shut Rikers and build borough-based jails is close to becoming a reality. The proposal was recently approved by the City Planning Commission and the last step is for it to be passed by the city council, which is voting on it next week.

The Mayor’s office is fighting back against the advocates for No New Jails, concerned that they could topple its plan.

The debate follows Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement in 2017 that he planned to shut down Rikers and replace it with four equal-sized, borough-based jails in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. The mayor’s proposal would cost around $11 billion, a sum deemed far too high by Ocasio-Cortez and Van Bramer.

The four jails would house a combined total of about 4,000 inmates and de Blasio’s plan calls for reducing the city’s jail population from 7,000 at present to no more than 4,000 by 2026.

No New Jails Group protesting at a hearing in Kew Gardens earlier this year. (Photo: Meghan Sackman)

No New Jails NYC argued in its report that the city’s jail population could be reduced to 3,000 in the same time period. The group is advocating for Rikers to be shut down without any new jails built in its place and said it is possible to do so if the city reduces the jail population to 3,000 inmates.

The group also argues that the city has given no guarantees that Rikers will close if the four borough jails are built.

The group’s slogan is “if they build it, they will fill it,” and they argue that if the city builds jails capable of holding 4,000 inmates, then it will incarcerate 4,000 people.

Van Bramer contends that the mayor’s proposal is a waste of money and that the city would be better closing Rikers, reducing New York’s jail population and investing the money in services to prevent crime without building any new jails.

“The city’s crime rate continues to decrease dramatically, with fewer than 7,000 people held on Rikers; way down from more than 20,000 in the nineties,” Van Bramer wrote. “So why are we spending billions of dollars to build sky-high cages stacked on top of each other?”

However, the mayor’s office said that closing down Rikers without building any new jails was simply not possible. It said that it does not have space for 3,000 inmates in the non-Rikers prisons and that Rikers would have to remain open if no new jails are built.

Alacia Lauer, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said that the current New York City jail facilities outside of Rikers Island are not sufficient to hold the city’s entire jail population.

She said that the the city has three active jails outside of Rikers Island–with one in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn respectively. She said that they are antiquated and lack adequate programming space. She also said that the current Brooklyn jail has no air conditioning and that the decommissioned Queens Detention Center is not fit to hold any prisoners overnight.

The three facilities are capable of holding a combined 2,100 inmates – 900 less than the population No New Jails forecasts and 1,900 less than what the city predicts.

Lauer said in a statement that the city would be permanently closing Rikers Island and would be replacing outdated jails in the boroughs with modern ones.

“The City’s historic decarceration plan to shutter the 11 active city jails, including the eight jails on Rikers Island, and replace them with four safer, more humane facilities in the boroughs is an opportunity to continue the City’s efforts that have fundamentally reshaped our criminal justice system—efforts born out of the lived experiences and hard work of activists across this city,” Lauer said.

The Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform also said in a statement that it was impossible to house 3,000 inmates when only 2,100 beds were available. It argues that doing so would be illegal and dangerous.

The commission also refutes No New Jails’ slogan that “if they build it, they will fill it.” The commission pointed to Rikers Island, where there are currently about 7,000 empty beds.

It noted that the current borough prisons don’t have units for women, trans or gender non-conforming people, and people with serious mental illnesses and that placing them in an overcrowded jail system would be irresponsible and inhumane.

The commission said that Rikers would have to remain open if the borough-based jails are not built as the city cannot legally or morally cram 3,000 people into 2,100 beds.

Gabriel Sayegh, co-founder of Katal which is part of the #CLOSErikers campaign, said that Ocasio-Cortez’s stance was irresponsible.

Sayegh said that Ocasio-Cortez hadn’t really considered the position she had taken on the borough-based jail proposal.

“She’s obviously a brilliant politician, which leads me to believe that she took a position before fully processing the facts and the implications of the demands,” said Sayegh.

Like No New Jails, #CLOSErikers calls for the city to reduce the jail population to 3,000 by 2026. However, Sayegh said that the plan to replace the aging borough jails was almost as important as the plan to close Rikers.

“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would look at the existing conditions inside the [existing] borough jails and argue that people should be detained there, even people charged with very serious offences,” Sayegh said.

Sayegh said that Rikers remaining open and the borough jails remaining in their current condition was the “worst-case” scenario for the #CLOSErikers campaign.

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Click for Comments 
william wolfe

Incarceration is high because we didn’t have the word “decarceration”. Now we have it — we can decarcerate and crime will go away.

william wolfe

Yes,, “People rob because they have no money”, but let us not forget that they have no money because they rob.

Mortdecai Alinsky

Ah yes close the jails. What genius our socialist is. We need housing for justice involved people”” Lol!! Are we going to contract out hotels to house “justice involved people” ?? SPARE ME!!

Can't Afford a Lawyer, Well then

To Sunnyside Resident Oct 9, 2019 who wrote:
“How naive are you? History and current studies prove that wealthier people get less prison time for the same crimes than poorer offenders. If you can afford to buy a good legal defense you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a more favorable legal outcome than the person using legal aid.” You just proved the writer’s point and must ask you ‘How naive are you?’ Add onto the ‘Can’t do the Time; Don’t do the Crime and Can’t pay a lawyer don’t do the Crime’. You skip over the fact that the Taxpayers are paying for the Legal Aid Lawyer. What specific crimes are you comparing poor crimes vs. wealthy crimes to make the conclusion that the ‘wealthy do less time’? When a person commits felony violent crimes (murder, rape, kidnapping) you are going to prison whether you are poor or wealthy with free legal aid or paid lawyer. When you say ‘History and current studies prove’ what history and current studies are you referring to, you want to quote facts and studies then you have to provide them otherwise your facts and studies comment is meaningless and worthless and prove nothing about poor vs. wealthy. And again can’t afford a lawyer, think the Free legal aid lawyers are lousy, don’t commit crimes.


Release all the criminals? Wow, the pro-rape and robbery lobby is stronger than I thought.


So, The way things are looking , thanks to our lovely mayor, is soon nobody will be arrested or kept in jail for anything and they will just be placed in homeless shelters all across neighborhoods in Queens as it’s quietly been going on for some time now. It’s only going to get worse and I am actually scared.

learn from history

we had a prison population of 20,000 during the last big recession(late 80’s-early 90’s)….when the next inevitable recession hits(22 trillion in debt…grossly overvalued stocks and real estate) in the next two or three years, where will we put all of these dangerous violent criminals? we used to average well over 2,000 murders a year…that’s not even enough jail space to hold just the murderers…why do people no longer have even basic common sense anymore?

Gardens Watcher

Agreed. Excellent point, except that I don’t think the next recession is that far away.

No to Kew Gardens Jail

Learn from history- You obviously haven’t learned. One convicted murderers are sent to prisons, jails are supposed to be used to house inmates with shorter sentences, under a year.

not exactly

murder cases from arrest to pre-trial to post trial take almost 2 years on average….they stay in Rikers until that process is over and they are shipped upstate…there is no bail for murder cases….that is why we had over 20,000 inmates back in the day…we will be going back to that number in the near future and we need places to keep these dangerous people….this is just an unfortunate reality we must face….wishful thinking and false progressive narratives aren’t going to help us

Old Lily do you have any actual criticism?

There are no hashtags on this website by the way. Ask your grandson about it.

Mark Tully

Is the reason Rikers is an unpleasant place to spend a fortnight or more that it’s haunted or is it that it’s a jail? What will closing the biggest and best-equipped facility do? Cause inhumane conditions. What then? Close them all. Then some creep will get caught grabbing women on the street and there will be a big uproar that the police let him go because there aren’t any jails. Our politicians are so shortsighted it’s a miracle they haven’t all died of hypothermia from being unable to dress themselves appropriately.


Hey here is an idea, FOCUS ON FIXING CRIME and do not turn a blind eye to petty crimes, chalking it up to “poverty” or “racial profiling”.

It's time for accountibility.

You can’t fix crime without fixing everything else wrong with the world. People rob because they have no money. So stop making things cost money, like Star Trek. People vandalize because they are not made to work. Make them do something constructive.


OK then tell black people to stop committing so much crime way out of proportion to their numbers and we wont have to build anymore jails ….see easy solution. AOC

Criminals Deserve Prison

If you can’t do the Time; don’t do the Crime. The complaint that incarceration is high is a false complaint and conclusion. Incarceration is high because there is a High amount of people committing crimes. Now should the incarcerated be of one particular race and majority, well then the only correct conclusion is that this particular race has not learned, realized or evolved enough to make the connection that crime is unacceptable and punishable to the full extent of the Law. The Victims of these criminals are left devastated and unrepresented, these Criminals never think about their Victims!

Get rid of the dole.

Interesting.. most people who do the crime actually are able to do the time… They are none idle because society allows them to not work.


CDP- You’re obviously way off on your facts. Poor people occupy the prisons, that is the reality and history. The statistics and information are easily researched. Mass incarceration not only harms the imprisoned individuals and their families but it inflicts damage on communities as well. Single parent households, fewer dollars invested into community based businesses which reduces employment opportunities are just couple of the damaging affects. Prison is business, huge business, the prison industrial complex is worth billions. Don’t forget the hiring out of prisoners for cheap and slave labor. You do know the 13th amendment never outlawed slavery it just put in the hands of the criminal justice system.


@David…Criminals occupy prisons…There are plenty of poor people who are law abiding and contribute to society.

Sunnyside resident

@Arcin- How naive are you? History and current studies prove that wealthier people get less prison rime for the same crimes than poorer offenders. If you can afford to buy a good legal defense you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a more favorable legal outcome than the person using legal aid. That’s a veritable fact. David’s post does not say all poor people are criminals it says “poor people occupy the prisons” which means the majority of inmates are from the poorer classes which is another verifiable fact.

Mike T

Arvin- You need take a remedial reading class. Nothing was posted about “all” poor people. Just stating that poorer people make up the majority of the incarcerated is just stating a fact that is acknowledged by the bureau of prisons, human rights watch, UDDOJ and all of the rest of agencies and watch dog groups involved with the criminal industrial complex.


You’re right, but responsibility has to be shared with the people that vote these politicians in…or worse – continue to vote them in even after they’ve been in office for a term and made their political agenda crystal clear ( not to mention all the folks who never vote at all , but still complain)

Teddy boy

Completely nuts. Not even worthy of consideration. This is why the Democrats will lose in 2020. They make it so easy for the Republicans. When I hear such idiotic ideas, I start to wonder if I should just switch to republican.

"I'm a libral and I love AOC and Bernie and socialism and open borders"

SUPER subtle there lol


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