Activists condemn jail plan

About 50 south Bronxites rallied outside City Hall in Manhattan Wednesday, December 17. When Mayor Bloomberg left the building, members of the Community in Unity social justice coalition shouted “NO MORE JAILS! Photo courtesy of The Bronx Defenders

A south Bronx coalition of social justice groups gathered outside City Hall in Manhattan Wednesday, December 17 to protest plans for a new jail in Hunts Point.

The $500 million facility would house 1,500 inmates and open as early as 2015, according to Department of Correction deputy commissioner Stephen Morello. Mayor Bloomberg has set aside capital funds for its construction.

Members of the coalition, Community in Unity, oppose incarceration; they’re asking Bloomberg to spend the $500 million on parks and after-school programs.

“This is just the beginning of the city’s fiscal crisis,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda of coalition group The Point CDC. “Investing tax payers’ dollars in a broken criminal justice system is counter to the innovative solutions we’re going to need.”

The Hunts Point jail is part of DOC commissioner Martin Horn’s citywide strategy. Horn also wants to re-open the Brooklyn House of Detention, doubling its capacity to 1,500 inmates. DOC would transfer prisoners off Riker’s Island, where the city’s largest jail is located.

Riker’s Island is falling apart, Morello said. It’s out-of-the-way; a three-lane bridge connects the island to Queens. More beds in Brooklyn and the Bronx would save DOC time and money. The city buses 1,500 inmates to and from Riker’s Island for court appearances every day.

Many NYC inmates hail from the Bronx. A Hunts Point jail would afford them better access to family members and attorneys, Morello said. It takes hours to reach Riker’s Island from the Bronx via public transportation.

Elected officials, including Congressman Jose E. Serrano, would rather protect a budding south Bronx renaissance. Serrano’s district is the nation’s poorest and Hunts Point is its economic engine.

“I support the community’s right to influence planning decisions, especially when it comes to ill-advised ideas,” Serrano said.

Five years ago, Horn picked a 28-acre Bronx jail site – Oak Point, a private rail yard turned illegal dump. When landowner Steven E. Smith filed for bankruptcy, Horn moved the project to a city-owned parking lot on Halleck Street, across from the new Fulton Fish Market.

This October, DOC contracted Urbahn Associates, an architectural firm, to conduct an environmental assessment. If the site fares favorably, it will enter NYC’s Uniform Land Use and Review Procedure. The ULURP involves community board hearings.

“We’re just beginning,” Morello said. “We’re trying to estimate the jail’s footprint.”

Because jails are considered public works, the City Council will weigh in on Horn’s Halleck Street site, Councilwoman

DOC intends to demolish temporary structures on Riker’s Island, said Dawit Getachew of The Bronx Defenders, another Community in Unity group. About 10,000 inmates would remain on the island under Horn’s plan.

“We don’t think this jail is competing with other city needs,” Morello said. “And as long as people are charged with crimes, we’re going to need jail space.”

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