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Spofford Juvenile Detention Center Closes

Now that the Spofford Juvenile Detention Center is finally closed, the Hunts Point community is wondering what should go in its place.

Spofford opened in 1957 as a prison for New York City’s juvenile offenders. It closed its doors for good on Wednesday, March 30. Since then it has been empty, and Hunts Point is now left with a building that takes up a half a block, but serves no purpose.

The Hunts Point community had been trying to have Spofford closed for decades. The detention center, which was on Spofford Avenue between Tiffany Street and Casanova Street, held about 100 youth offenders and was notorious for violence and terrible conditions.

“This has been an issue for the Hunts Point community for decades,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point, a Hunts Point-based community development organization.

She said the overwhelming desire coming from Hunts Point has been to turn the space into a positive resource for the neighborhood, mainly something that can help youth from the area, the polar opposite of a youth detention center.

“There’s a strong desire to see that space developed into something helpful for young people,” she said. “But in terms of turning that footprint into a different use, we still have a long way to go.”

National children’s advocacy group Children’s Defense Fund worked on getting Spofford closed, first in 1998 to see it reopened a year later, and now again in 2011.Representatives from the Administration for Child Services have said that the detention center is now permanently closed.

“We’ve been trying to do a campaign simultaneously so that we could have the city say what would happen when they closed it,” said Avery Irons, director of Youth Justice Programs for the Children’s Defense Fund.

The city has not put forward a concrete plan for the building. Irons has been taking the temperature of Hunts Point to develop a consensus on how to proceed with the space.

“We’ve have community speak outs, town halls, a project where we just stopped people by the #6 Hunts Point train stop,” Irons said. “We have started the process already. What we’re really wanting is for local elected officials to take on this discussion so its not just one or two groups saying what Hunts Point needs.”

Irons’ results showed that younger residents want a community center, or a high school, given the lack of both in the area. Older residents have tended to express interest in a vocational job training center.

Borough President Ruben Diaz and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo have planned meetings with community groups for the near future to address the issue of what to do with the Spofford building.

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