Bronx advocates are pushing the city to close Rikers Island and Hunts Point’s Vernon C. Bain jail barge by its 2027 goal, if not quicker.
Three community groups known as Bronx Connect, Bronx Defenders and the Close Rikers Campaign held a community forum about the jail system in Betances Center at 547 E. 146th Street on Monday, May 13.
A panel of criminal justice reform advocates spoke to the nearly full community center. Each speaker had spent time on either Rikers Island or on the Bain jail barge, sharing personal experiences that supported the planned shutdown.
One panelist, Marvin Mayfield had protested the jail barge with Councilman Rafael Salamanca, Jr. in 2018.
After spending time in the dilapidated facility for a non-violent offense, Mayfield knows firsthand why NYC needs to ‘sink the boat.’
“I think the crime should fit the punishment. Being forced on the barge is a cruel and unusual one,” said Mayfield. “Once you arrive it takes about a day and a half before you can get to a bed, if you can call it that, it’s really just a metal slat,” he added.
Mayfield explained how the barge was intended to be a temporary solution for prison overcrowding during the 1980s, caused by the war on drugs.
“It’s open still in 2019, that’s not temporary,” he continued.
Other inhumane conditions that Mayfield cited as part of a larger abusive culture were: claustrophobic spaces, a lack of fresh air and having windows that were ‘just for show’ and couldn’t be open, in addition to strip searches where unwanted touching was ‘unavoidable.’
The closure of the Bain facility is contingent on the phase out of Rikers Island according to Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice deputy director Dana Kaplan.
“Honestly, if you get everyone off that boat it’ll sink itself,” Mayfield said, joking about its poor condition.
He and the other panelists discussed similar criminal justice issues, such as the importance of cash bail reform and ways to reduce the inmate population.
Also discussed that evening was whether or not the 320 Concord Avenue site was the appropriate location for the new prison facility.
The executive director of Bronx Connect, Reverend Wendy Calderon supports the concept of the Mott Haven jail and the borough-based jail facilities, she said.
“We need Rikers to close down, we have a commitment from the current administration and there’s no guarantee we will still have that with the next mayor,” Calderon said.
She also called for the approach to incarceration to be focused more towards mental health treatment and reform rather than locking up inmates, saying that Rikers Island is “the largest mental health institution in the city.”
That meeting came before a land use hearing by Community Board 1 on Thursday, May 16.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the battle over the Mott Haven jail, Diego Beekman Mutual Housing CEO Arline Parks questioned the positions of those Bronx electeds who support the 320 Concord Avenue jail proposal at a public forum, held at Lincoln Hospital on Wednesday, May 15.
Parks along with Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and several others, have publicly stated that while they support the closure of Rikers Island, they are not in favor of the Mott Haven site for its replacement jail.