News Skyscraper Jail Debate Impacts 2021 New York City Elections

  1. One of the most divisive and controversial issues separating this year’s candidates in the elections for New York City Mayor and New York City Council has revolved around the City's controversial “borough based jails” project. In 2019, the New York City Council voted to close the 413 acre Riker’s Island facility operated by the Department of Corrections (capacity 14,000) and relocate it into a “network” of four lower capacity ‘skyscraper’ jails (capacity 3,544) situated in the heart of residential communities. Three lawsuits were filed in opposition by local communities impacted by the jails in Chinatown, Kew Gardens and the Bronx, which surround the legality of the City's use of a single Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for the four-jail Borough Based Jail Program.

    While several progressive democratic candidates are in support of the Riker's Island jail relocation, Donghui Zang, democratic candidate from Queens for City Council in 2021, takes an opposite position and believes that community jails have no place in residential neighborhoods. Mr. Zang, raised in a poor village in China and now a successful financial executive, was inspired to run for City Council as a result of his concerns about City Council decisions regarding educational programs and schooling, jail reform and other important topics affecting residents and voters. His stated passion to help "our children have a path to a better life" led to his direct involvement in the Chinatown and Queens community opposition to New York City's borough based jails project. Candidate Zang provided to us a press release of a joint letter which he helped draft that explains his position on this important issue. Positions taken by New York City and Community Board 9 in Queens are included below.

    Relevant Links


    Press Release, October 14th, 2019

    New York City Residents Alliance, Coalition of Asian-Americas for Civil Rights, Hotel Chinese Association of USA, New York State 47th AD District Leader Nancy Tong, among 22 organizations and individuals, call all NYC and NYS residents, officials, organizations to say NO to Mayor De Blasio’s community jail plan.

    We do not want nor need to build new high-rise tower jails in Manhattan’s Lower East Side/ Chinatown, which would be the highest jail of the world! We do not want nor need to build new jails in Kew Gardens of Queens, in Boerum Hill of Brooklyn, or Mott Haven in the Bronx. Rikers Island jail must stay on Rikers Island and fix the entire system there!

    The community jail plan is fundamentally wrong because:

    1. None of the Rikers issues, the violence, the misuse of power, and trial delays have anything to do with the location. As was shown in a recent CityLab article, New York City jails have always been problematic, and Rikers Jails was created to solve them!

    “In the 19th century, violence and filth festered at the detention facilities on what is now Roosevelt Island (known as Blackwell’s Island until 1921 and Welfare Island until 1971).” The city then built Rikers which was supposed to be “an enormous model penitentiary, ample in size to serve for many years to come and which in all its plans and parts should be the most perfect prison in the world.” It turned out to be an example of failed prison reform. “This followed the pattern set by the Blackwell jails, which were intended to improve on the penitentiary at Bellevue, which in turn replaced the city’s original 18th century jail at what is presently known as the Tweed Courthouse.” Source CityLab

    In fact, the surging violence at Rikers can be correlated to the current deBlasio administration which ties the guard’s hands and gives incentives to violent incarcerated inmates (i.e. allowing them play games after they’ve improved their behavior a bit, while the always non-violent inmates never get such treatments).

    2. The community jails would put innocent residents and children in great danger by placing the criminals in residential neighborhoods; some of whom are violent criminals and career criminals. The proposed Kew Gardens jail site is only a few hundred yards from the nearest schools.
    • Years ago, two inmates (charged with homicide felonies) escaped the Kew Gardens detention facility and caused a huge panic in the community.
    • 10/2/2019, an armed suspect escaped custody while making appearance at the Queens County Courthouse, where was steps away from the proposed Queens new jail site.
    • 10/5/2019, 4 homeless men were brutally assaulted to death by a 24-yr suspect with 14 past arrests.
    • 10/10/2019, a 6-yr-old boy sitting on the front steps of his home was seriously attacked and injured by a homeless stranger in Kew Gardens.
    Would not these incidents be enough to tell how severe the NYC safety situation is and how dangerous the near-residential-neighborhood jails can be??? Wake up, all the City Council members, say NO to De Blasio! In all of the world the jails are built in the isolated area to keep the town and city safe, only in our New York City, the mentally disordered Mayor wants to move the jail from the isolated island to the centers of our city!!!

    3. No one wants to live under the shadow of a tower high jail and all the traffic and transportation issues that come with housing so many inmates. These jails would cause the nearby residents to not leave under the shadow and drive residents to flee New York City, and this will sink the surrounding neighborhood’s real estate value. The College Point shelter plan has already almost frozen the local housing market. The impact from a two-Yankee Stadium-sized jail, as is proposed for Kew Gardens jail, would be unimaginably deadly bigger.

    4. New York City is already heavily burdened financially and cannot afford to spend $9 to $11 billion for 5,500 inmates and, possibly, an astronomical $33 billion overall, as estimated by the Daily News, while our public schools do not even have air conditioning and basic school supplies. There are also thousands of other urgent issues for our city, for example, adequate lead testing and lead in our public schools which need to be addressed but cannot because of funding shortage.

    5. New York City is a tourism city. We cannot imagine when tourists plan their trips, they would want to see skyscraper jails as part of the NYC’s skyline and amidst landmarks and tourist sites like the new World Trade Center, the Empire State Building and Grand Central Station.

    6. The excuse used by some who support this plan, to facilitate the transportation of prisoners (from court to prison) does not stand. Experts have analyzed that it would take 290 years of saved transportation cost to offset the current building budget. Furthermore, Rikers Island is centrally located at the center of the five boroughs. The proposed Kew Gardens jail site is the largest and the farthest away from most NYC locations, and it has been reported that it will host all the sick and female inmates, even though the mayor’s administration has been trying to hide it.

    7. Concrete made vertical prison towers in the center of cities are much more fragile for natural catastrophes like fire or earthquake compared to the currently more sparsely populated building on the island, and thus posing greater dangers to the prisoners. While on the other hand, an escaped prisoner would be much more difficult to capture in the population dense neighborhoods than on the island.

    Furthermore, the average square footage for each inmate in those proposed high-rise tower jails is very limited, like a cage; compare to the island jail houses, while the inmates would have much bigger spaces and more access to the nature.

    8. Reports have shown that the water layer beneath the proposed Chinatown jail earth might be not adequately deep enough to sustain the 50 stories jail. Numerous experts have warned against the (if approved) years of demolition/construction process, which would create heavy noises, dusts, radiation, hazardous material for very long time.

    To even think of building the world's tallest jail next to a senior center, near a park for young and old, is to think it's OK to take years off their lives. In the near term, the elderly, facing ten years of construction, debris, pollution, will die prematurely in what should be peaceful years of their lives.

    Our Mayor De Blasio, however, have chosen to be continuing to ignore all the opposition voices. Community board 8 and community board 9 both unanimously voted NO to the Kew Gardens jail plan, as well as the other affected community boards in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Manhattan; however the ridiculous NYC Law says the local community board cannot decide their local affairs, and their decisions were not binding!!! ??? Even worse, many previous jail related hearings, for Kew Gardens site at least, had banned the reporters! Our Mayor was intentionally not only ignoring the people’s voice himself but also blocking the people’s voices to be heard by others!

    We do not trust an administration incapable of running one large jail in Rikers to effectively manage four borough jails. We feel it is ridiculous and unjustified for the mayor to plan building luxury jails for the criminals, which is actually encouraging crimes. We hope democracy is not dead in New York City. We cannot tolerate Mayor De Blasio continuing to ignore the voice and interests of 8 million of innocent NYC citizens and 1 million of children, ruining our city, and putting our safety in great danger using we taxpayer’s money, to only realize his dirty political gain to pretend himself as a progressive pioneer. We call every resident to voice out to oppose the plan, to keep our school and street safe and clean, and to maintain our great city peaceful and beautiful.

    Dear City Council members, please vote NO for the sake of 8 million residents and 1 million children, please cast your votes from your conscience!
    • NO NEW JAIL in Boerum Hill!
    • NO NEW JAIL in Chinatown!
    • NO NEW JAIL in Kew Gardens!
    • NO NEW JAIL in Mott Haven!
    Undersigned Organizations and Individuals:

    New York City Residents Alliance (NYCRA), Coalition of Asian-Americas for Civil Rights (CAACR), Hotel Chinese Association of USA (HCA)

    紐約市居民聯盟,NANCY TONG, 美國酒店華裔協會,亞裔維權大聯盟,紐約洗衣店商會, 美國湛江華僑聯合總會,馬來西亞旅美聯誼會,廣東同胞聯合總會,美國福建同鄉會,紐約 台山聯誼會,美國林氏集團,新視野顧問公司,Edward Cuccia 律師事務所,恩平商會,岑 氏宗親會, 中美酒店商會全商聯, 美國餐飲協會, 美國廣州僑胞聯合會,美國紐約廣府人總會, 繁榮華埠總會,華聯體育會, 林氏集团
    • New York

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    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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