For decades, Rikers Island has been a symbol of oppression that haunts New York City and leaves scars on predominantly low income communities of color. As the second largest jail complex in the United States, Rikers holds more than 5,000 prisoners, 87% of which are Black and LatinX. In October of 2019, the New York City Council decided to close the complex by the year 2026, but that left many questions about what the island would be used for afterwards.
Council Member Costa Constantinides from Queens introduced legislation to address this, seeking to repurpose Rikers for renewable energy generation, battery storage, and wastewater treatment. This plan would not only help the city reach its emission reduction goals but also seek to give back to the communities most affected by Rikers by seeking to reverse a long history of environmental injustices.
On February 11th of this year the New York City Council passed two historic pieces of legislation that together make up a piece of this Renewable Rikers Act. Arguably the most instrumental piece, Intro 1592-A, transfers ownership of the land and facilities on Rikers Island from the Department of Corrections (DOC) to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). This paves the way for use of the island for environmental purposes. The other piece that passed, Intro 1593-A, would implement a study on Rikers Island for the feasibility of renewable energy
The passage of these two bills is a massive environmental justice victory for NYC and has been a priority for environmental and EJ advocates since their introduction.
It is worth noting that there was a third piece of legislation, Intro 1591, that was originally part of the package but not brought up for a vote on the 11th. This would explore the feasibility of a wastewater treatment plant on Rikers Island.