Close Rikers — and build smaller jails all over the place!
Yes, that’s Mayor DeBlasio’s proposal — and it is supported by Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander, who shared his controversial thoughts on Brooklyn Paper Radio on Tuesday.
“The first step (to closing Rikers Island) is criminal justice reform,” Lander said, literally toting a copy of the Council-commissioned report, “A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform,” which advocates first halving the population of people awaiting trial or serving short sentences from roughly 10,000 people, then closing Rikers and moving its occupants to smaller, modern jails all over town.
Lander said Rikers has inherent problems, but bulldog Brooklyn Paper Radio co-host Gersh Kuntzman, a Daily News columnist by day, asked Lander why Rikers can’t just be fixed.
“Rikers has become a place that can’t be redeemed,” he said. “It’s so inconvenient that prisoners get no visitors, which may sound minor, but that creates an ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ situation that increases violence. People are serving very short sentences, which don’t really make the community safer. There are other ways to punish people.”
Kuntzman’s co-host, Brooklyn Paper Editor Vince DiMiceli hated that answer.
“It’s a leadership issue,” he said. “A good leader could fix the problem.”
But the Park Slope Dem disagreed.
“The facilities themselves are not designed in the way that modern jails are designed,” he said. “I suppose you could build modern, safer facilities on Rikers, but you’ll still have the visitors issue. And visitors are good for inmates to get hope, but also have more eyes at the jail, which creates a culture of accountability.”
Then Kuntzman played the community card.
“How are you going to build new jails in communities across the city?” the once-legendary editor asked. “The city can’t even build a soft-ice cream stand without constant complaints from neighborhoods. No one wants jail visitors in their neighborhoods.”
“There are ways to make facilities better from a community point of view, with ground floor retail, for example, so the community gets something of what it wants,” Lander said. “People do have an irrational reaction (to new facilities). We see it with homeless shelters, which are not actually a detriment to a community. We have a new one in my district and it’s good. We even have community meetings there. But, yes, there will be NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) opposition.”
Lander also came under fire — from Kuntzman — for his continuing support for “participatory budget plan — which allows members of the community to choose where some Council money is spent.
“I elected you to make those choices, Lander,” Kuntzman said. “And if you don’t make good choices, I’ll vote you out.”
Lander said participatory budgeting — which 31 council members now use — is good for democracy.
“People get together and brainstorm,” he said. “Yeah, maybe I could say, ‘I’ll allocate the money,’ but the difference is that people come out and work together to solve problems. We need to remember that democracy is about neighbors coming together across lines of difference and making things better. Democracy is not a spectator sport — and what is happening in Washington shows what happens when we treat it like that.”
Kuntzman then accused Lander of quoting one of Kuntzman’s Daily News columns.
“See what he did there?” Kuntzman said. “He quoted me to me — being critical of me!”
Also joining the boys in studio was Ian Lockwood, whose new monthly comedy show, “Rude,” made its debut on Tuesday night at Williamsburg’s South 4th. Lockwood broke the biggest story: The show has no cover and features a regular segment where audience members are plied with free booze and then invited to play the game “Telephone.” Lander, Kuntzman, DiMiceli and Lockwood tried it out, albeit sober, and the phrase “Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform” ended up as “Come to my house, take off your clothes, and participate in my budget process.”
All told, it was yet another instant classic edition of Brooklyn Paper Radio!
Brooklyn Paper radio is recorded and podcast live every Tuesday — at the convenience of its hosts and guests — from our studio in America’s Downtown and can be found, as always, right here on Brook