Now here is a great idea! All of America’s prisons are hell holes, but Rikers is one of the worst … second only to those run by ICE and its private prison contractors.
Excerpts from the Article:
The New York City Council is preparing to consider a trio of bills that would set the stage to convert the infamously violent jail complex on Rikers Island into a solar farm and wastewater treatment facility.
The bills mark what Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides, whose district lies just south of the jail complex, described as a bid to not only ensure the 400-acre island remains out of the grasp of luxury developers but also to curtail pollution in working-class neighborhoods and to broaden the scope of the historic Green New Deal legislation he helped pass last month.
If completed, the project would transform Rikers Island into a public utility hub that Constantinides said would make it easier to close the two dozen oil- and gas-burning power plants within city limits. The jail is slated to close by 2027, though that timeline could speed up.
One bill orders the city to complete a study of how much it would cost to install renewable energy ― most likely solar, though the legislation doesn’t specify the type of technology ― and batteries on Rikers Island. Another bill mandates a similar study for a wastewater treatment plant. The third and most consequential bill transfers the deed to the entire Rikers landmass from the city’s Department of Corrections to the Department of Environmental Protection, giving the environmental agency power to begin converting structures on the island to sustainable uses once the inmate population falls below 5,000. The jail complex houses roughly 10,000 inmates today, the vast majority of whom are black and Latino New Yorkers from poor neighborhoods.
“We know all the atrocities that have happened on Rikers Island for close to 100 years,” Constantinides, who authored the bills, told HuffPost on Friday. “It’s important that we start planning for this renewable future now and not wait until the jails are closed.”
The new legislation comes two months after the City Council voted 45-2 to approve the Climate Mobilization Act, a historic package of bills that offered what advocates praised as the clearest example yet of a municipal Green New Deal policy. The omnibus legislation set aggressive new energy efficiency standards for big buildings, added new incentives for renewables and ordered the city to study how to shutter its existing fossil-fueled power plants in the five boroughs.
Developers started eyeing the island shortly after efforts to close the jail started gaining serious traction. Among them, according to a 2016 Politico report, were executives at Related Companies, the firm that built the “billionaire’s fantasy city” in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, and Forest City Ratner, the co-developer of Brooklyn megaproject Pacific Park.
“It’s no secret there are very powerful real estate lobbies in New York City, and every square inch is an opportunity to make a buck,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the event. “We’re really feeling that squeeze with housing, and a lot of folks have 10-year plans for our neighborhoods, so it’s time for us to make 10- or 20-year plans for ourselves.”
In 1903, the city began landfilling the island with coal ash, according to a report by the New York-based Milrose Consultants. That landfilling eventually quadrupled Rikers’ original 90 acres. While coal ash is known to contain toxic chemicals, the city has never disclosed the full contents of the landfill. That issue resurfaced in 2012 when six cancer-stricken Rikers Island guards and the widow of another filed lawsuits accusing the city of exposing workers to carcinogenic pollution.
Demolishing those facilities is just one step toward improving the lot of the working-class New Yorkers who overwhelmingly make up Rikers’ inmate population.
Building solar panels and large-scale batteries on just 100 acres of the island could generate and store enough electricity to offset the city’s oil- and gas-fired stations that switch on when the city’s power demand exceeds supply, like when air conditioners are at full blast on hot summer days. That finding is the subject of a paper by Rebecca Bratspies, the founding director of the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Environmental Reform. The paper is currently undergoing peer review, but Bratspies shared parts of the research in a City & State magazine op-ed she co-authored with Constantinides in February.
“This will give us an opportunity to right wrongs,” Constantinides said, “not only by closing Rikers, which is a moral imperative to do, but turn that island into something that benefits the same communities that were over-policed.”