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City announces plans for new jail in Mott Haven

The site of an NYPD tow pound where the city says it wants to build a new jail.

Local elected officials are split on the proposal

If the city wants to bring a new jail to Mott Haven, it should close the floating jail moored off Hunts Point, says the City Council member who represents Hunts Point, Longwood and Melrose.

As part of its plan to replace the decrepit jail facility on Rikers Island with a borough-based system, the city says it will build a new jail on the site of an NYPD tow pound in Mott Haven. Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced today that, in addition to a new jail at 320 Concord Avenue, the city will renovate existing detention facilities in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

The city first announced plans to shutter Rikers last March, following a report by an independent commission led by Former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

In a press release, City Councilwoman Diana Ayala, who represents Mott Haven, said the proposed site “represents an opportunity to help improve detainee rehabilitation and ultimate reintegration into society, while also creating a safer work environment for officers.” Ayala added that she would work to create “a robust community engagement process on the ground to make sure the neighborhoods I represent and residents throughout the Bronx have an opportunity to provide input into this important proposal.”

Not so fast, said two other elected officials with a major say in the matter.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who has been an outspoken critic of the mayor’s policies in the past, said in a press release that he was “surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx. Presenting the selection of this site as a fait accompli undermines the entire process, and has the potential to derail necessary criminal justice reform.”

Diaz continued that “any new site for a jail in this borough must be thoroughly vetted, and the people of The Bronx must have a meaningful say in the selection of any future site.”

City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., whose district includes Melrose and Hunts Point, said that although Rikers should be mothballed, so too should another existing jail—-the Vernon C. Bain Center, also known as “The Boat,” which has been moored off Hunts Point for 25 years—before another Bronx jail should be considered.

A history fighting jails

By Joe Hirsch

Hunts Point has had a track record in recent years of successfully fighting to keep jails out of the neighborhood.

In 2010, relentless community pressure forced the city to abandon plans to use eminent domain to grab a 28-acre waterfront parcel on Oak Point Avenue from a developer so it could build a jail.

Advocates from a now-defunct, Longwood Avenue-based anti-jail organization teamed with the developer to regularly hold rallies on the waterfront site and through the streets of Hunts Point and Longwood to denounce the project.

Then in 2011, the Department of Correction finally caved to decades of outcry from local residents and jail reform advocates who demanded the city close Bridges Juvenile Justice Center on Spofford Avenue and invest more vigorously in alternative to incarceration programs for young people.

Salamanca, who was recently named Chair of the Council’s influential Committee on Land Use, called The Boat “a relic from the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.” In addition, he called attention to Horizon Juvenile Center near The Hub in Mott Haven, calling it “a growing juvenile detention center in the middle of one of our busiest commercial hubs.”

“While I understand that four of the five boroughs are finally being asked to take on their fair share, I think that the Bronx has to be given particular attention due to the historical, emotional and psychological encumbrances before us,” said Salamanca.

All four of the new sites must go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which includes hearings and recommendations by community boards, the borough presidents, the City Council and the City Planning Commission. In the Bronx, that means that Salamanca and Diaz will have a significant say in final plans for a local jail.

South Bronx Unite, a grass roots coalition that has opposed major industrial developments such as the new FreshDirect facility on the Port Morris waterfront, says it will organize residents to fight the jail plan.

“We’re totally against the jail being put on that site,” said South Bronx Unite spokesman Mychal Johnson, adding that, while other boroughs have received robust job creation initiatives, “we’re still the site of jails, waste transfer stations, and industrial facilities.”

The Concord Avenue site is located at the southern edge of a part of Mott Haven where the values on stately, century-old, single-family houses have risen exponentially in recent years, as speculators and bargain hunters have descended on the area.

The facilities the city has announced it will renovate in the other boroughs include:

·         Manhattan Detention Center, 125 White Street, Manhattan,
·         Brooklyn Detention Center, 275 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn,
·         Queens Detention Center, 126-01 82nd Avenue, Kew Gardens

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