Crime / News

Residents ponder replacement for Spofford

Bridges Juvenile Justice Center, otherwise known as Spofford.

As the closing of Bridges Juvenile Justice Center—better known as Spofford–nears, long-time activists who have fought to get the jail shut down are looking to get Hunts Point residents involved in deciding what to do next with the sprawling space.

Representatives of the Correctional Association, a non-profit that advocates for expanded alternative sentencing programs and a reduction in prisons and jails, are trying to head off any attempts by the city to use Bridges as a jail again by holding regular local Town Hall meetings. They held the first United to Stop Spofford meeting July 30, drawing about 30 local residents and anti-jail advocates to speak out at Middle School 424’s auditorium on Bryant Ave, down the street from the notorious jail that has occupied its site since 1957.

In December 2009, a task force on Transforming Juvenile Justice appointed by Gov. David Paterson produced a report singling out Bridges as a symbol of the system’s failure to protect the public and rehabilitate teenage offenders.

Then, earlier this year, the city’s Department of Juvenile Justice and its Administration for Children’s Services jointly announced the facility would close no later than this fall.

But while the advocates rejoice after having long fought to have Spofford shuttered, they say there are troubling signs it could be resuscitated as another jail.

One worry, they say is that plans are in the works to bring young offenders locked-up upstate to city detention centers so they can be closer to home. A mothballed Bridges could prove enticing, anti-detention advocates worry.

“We don’t want to see this as a bait and switch, where they say, ‘Oh, we have Spofford,’” said DeAvery Irons of non-profit organization the Children’s Defense Fund.

Ivan Acevedo, 56, says he was walking through Hunts Point earlier on the afternoon of the Town Hall meeting when he saw a flyer announcing the event. He decided he had to attend, he said, in order to share his experience of 33 years in detention for various crimes.

“Those jails are a breeding ground for future criminals,” he told the audience of mainly young people, beseeching them to stay in school and to buck destructive peer pressure.

Acevedo said he was released from state prison in June following a 27-year interment upstate, and added that he spent six years at Spofford when he was younger for juvenile delinquency and disorderly conduct.

“Being in Spofford made me bitter,” he said, adding it was common for guards to mistreat inmates.

“The only thing that’s changed about Spofford’s the new barbed wire,” he added.

A representative of the Mott Haven-based non-profit For a Better Bronx presented the results of a survey in which 200 Bronxites were asked what they would prefer to see replace Spofford. Among the top choices were jobs, education and a health center.

Two more town halls to consider Spofford’s fate are planned for later this summer.

A version of this story appeared in the August 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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