Government / News

Residents, elected officials protest city’s jail plans

Kristina Siriotis

City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca addressing protesters at a Rally on Saturday in front of the potential site for a new jail on Halleck Street.

Leaked plans show city is considering 2,000-bed facility near Fish Market

Community leaders and residents rallied on Saturday in opposition to a new jail facility proposed for the waterfront in Hunts Point. Two dozen people gathered in front of the proposed site on Halleck Street, including members of Community Board 2, The Point, Mothers on the Move and Forward South Bronx Coalition. They held signs saying, “Jobs not Jails!” and “Don’t Dump on Hunts Point!”

City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca and State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein organized the protest after learning through a March 31 DNAinfo article that Hunts Point was on Mayor de Blasio’s list for potential locations for a new 2000-bed prison.

“The lack of transparency in this process is just unconscionable,” Klein said. The jail would reverse the work that has been done to change the reputation of the area, he said, calling the proposed jail a “bonehead of a plan.”

Salamanca said he is still waiting for a return call from the mayor’s office to discuss the issue. The day before the rally, Salamanca told the Express that he was infuriated with city officials who had previously denied reports they were considering building a jail in Hunts Point. “They lied to us,” he said.

The possibility of building two new jails in Hunts Point and another location in the city was detailed in an 18-page document leaked to DNAinfo. The goal, the mayor’s office said, is to reduce the population at Rikers Island or close the facility all together. Over the years, controversy has swirled around Rikers with claims of abuse and neglect of prisoners.

Those at the rally felt that building “mini Rikers” throughout the city will not solve the issues.

“The problems in Rikers Island is not the jail, it’s the culture that exists in that jail,” said Dr. Ian Amritt, the Community Board 2 chairperson. Amritt does not want Hunts Point to become synonymous with a prison nor be the dumping ground for noxious municipal uses. “We will not be the ashes that were left from the burning decades ago,” Amritt said to the protesters.

Amanda Septimo, chief of staff to Congressman Jose Serrano, said building new jails is the wrong way to look at criminal justice in New York. “The city needs to use its resources, invest in our schools, show our young people we care about them—not that we’re investing in their future incarceration,” Septimo said.

Hunts Point already houses a portion of the city’s inmate population with the 100-cell prison barge floating on the waterfront at the end of Halleck Street. In 2010, the Bloomberg administration said the barge would be moved in the near future; that has yet to happen. Hunts Point was also home to the Bridges Juvenile Justice Center, known as Spofford, for 53 years before it was shuttered in 2011.

Ten years ago, Hunts Point residents and leaders fought against the siting of a new 2000-bed jail facility in the neighborhood, a fight they thought was over until recently.

Salamanca said that there are many better options for Hunts Point’s waterfront than a new jail, like more parks, greenways, or businesses that will bring jobs to locals. Building a new jail would require a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure – a process that requires input from the Community Board and the City Council — to change the zoning of the parking lot that would potentially be replaced by the jail. It is not likely to meet with widespread approval, Salamanca said.

“I’m kind of enraged by it, just to hear that it was done secretly,” said Monique Henry, a Hunts Point resident.

“It may be practical for them, but not for this community,” said Cedric McClester, chairman of Forward South Bronx Coalition and the education committee of Community Board 2. “Before you know it, they’ll have all of Rikers Island over here.”

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