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New jails in N.Y. on track to open 4 years after deadline to close Rikers Island

The new jails are being built using the design-build format that is supposed to speed up construction, according to the city’s Department of Design and Construction

Rikers Island

An aerial view of Rikers Island in New York City. (Todd Maisel/New York Daily News)

Todd Maisel/TNS

By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — The city intends to sign construction contracts worth close to $7 billion with two construction partnerships for the new Queens and Bronx jails that show they may not be completed until 2031 — four years after the 2027 Close Rikers deadline — city records show.

The new Queens jail, overseen by the city Department of Design and Construction, will cost at least $3.9 billion, while the new Bronx facility will cost at least $2.9 billion, notices published in the City Record state.

The duration of the contract for the Queens facility, located next to the Queens courthouse on Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens, is just over seven years, the notice indicates.

The new Bronx jail, at 745 E. 141st St. in Mott Haven, has a duration in the contract of just under seven years.

Both timelines place completion in 2031 — well after the legally mandated deadline to shut down the problem-plagued Rikers Island jail complex.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams called “the announcement of delayed construction completion dates in the proposed contracts for the Bronx and Queens borough-based jails” “concerning.”

“The legal deadline to close Rikers is 2027 and the [mayoral] administration must commit towards the investments and alternative solutions previously outlined to help improve public safety, lower the jail population and close Rikers,” the Queens Democrat said in a statement.

Advocates similarly criticized the timeline.

“This administration has consistently undermined its legal and moral obligation to close Rikers and complete construction of the borough-based jail system by the mandated deadline of 2027,” said Darren Mack, co-director of Freedom Agenda.

“In the meantime, 31 people have died and countless others have experienced abuse, neglect and violence at the Rikers Island penal colony on the mayor’s watch,” he added.

In 2019, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law passed by the City Council that requires the closure of Rikers Island by August 2027. However, the Brooklyn jail, the one furthest along in construction, is not expected to be completed until at least 2029 — a revelation that infuriated advocates for closure of the widely reviled island jail complex.

The cost of the Brooklyn jail will be at least $3.4 billion, records show.

In early March, Jacques Jiha, the Adams administration’s budget director, said the city won’t be able to meet the deadline.

“It has become painfully clear that the plan approved under the last administration leaves open serious questions about the city’s ability to keep New Yorkers safe,” said Elizabeth Garcia, a spokeswoman for Mayor Adams, a Democrat.

“This administration will always follow the law, and we remain committed to completing the borough-based jails … there is simply no other path forward,” she added.

The Transformative Reform Group LLC was selected for the Bronx project. In 2021, it was one of six firms tapped by the de Blasio administration to compete for one of the new jails. The Leon D. DeMatteis Construction Corp. of Elmont, L.I., was chosen to build the Queens jail.

The new jails are being built using the design-build format that is supposed to speed up construction, according to the city’s Department of Design and Construction.

“Design-Build will allow DDC to complete public projects faster and more efficiently,” the agency notes on its website.

But that does not appear to be the case in the jail projects.

Ian Michaels, a spokesman for DDC, declined to comment.

Public hearings on the contracts, which technically remain listed as “proposed,” will be held May 16 by phone or via computer. The contracts are also available for public review on request and only by appointment with DDC.

“Delaying completion of the Queens and Bronx jails is shameful and unlawful. Mayor Adams is failing in his responsibility to advance the plan to close Rikers,” said Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center’s mental health project.

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