Renewable Rikers: A Plan for Restorative Environmental Justice

30 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2020 Last revised: 22 Feb 2021

See all articles by Rebecca M. Bratspies

Rebecca M. Bratspies

City University of New York - School of Law

Date Written: July 24, 2020


This paper makes the case that the City of New York should use the closure of Rikers Island as a moment for restorative environmental justice. The overwhelming majority of the prisoners in the Rikers corrections facility hail from New York City’s environmental justice communities. These communities have been overburdened and under-served by the City on many fronts. They house more than their fair share of polluting activities, including most of the City’s power plants, wastewater treatment plants, bus depots, and municipal waste transfer stations. These communities suffer from under-investment in vital infrastructure like schools and transportation infrastructure. At the same time, the City's policing policies disproportionately sent members from these communities to Rikers Island. As the City plans for a post-prison Rikers Island, it should focus on using the Island to tangibly benefit those communities.

Renewable Rikers has three main components: sustainable energy, waste water treatment, and green spaces. By converting part of the island into a wind/solar generating and storage facility and part into a state-of-the-art modern waste water treatment facility, the City could reduce reliance on (and possibly shutter) the old, dirty, peak-load generating facilities that are located in environmental justice communities. Such a step would dramatically improve air quality in those communities and create green jobs; potentially rerouting the school-to-prison pipeline into a school-to-green jobs pipeline. Moreover, the prime waterfront space currently occupied by these noxious uses could be converted into accessible, much-needed green spaces in currently under-served communities — an additional restorative step that would also promote environmental justice.

Keywords: Rikers, Decarceration, Environmental Justice, Restorative Justice, Climate Change, Energy Justice, Renewable Energy, Structural Racism, Environmental Racism, Energy

JEL Classification: K00, K23, K32, L94, L95, L98, H70, I14,

Suggested Citation

Bratspies, Rebecca M., Renewable Rikers: A Plan for Restorative Environmental Justice (July 24, 2020). Loyola Law Review, New Orleans, Vol. 66, 2021, Available at SSRN: or

Rebecca M. Bratspies (Contact Author)

City University of New York - School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

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