EXCLUSIVE: City locks up 6 jail sites/Former jail barge and Waters Place in the running

Diaz, Serrano protest jail proposal
Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell

The number of sites for the Bronx’s new jail, neccessitated by the phase out of Rikers Island, has expanded.

According to sources, the city intends to make a decision by the fall of this year.

Since February, two potential locations for the jail have been publicly identified – the NYPD tow pound on East 141st Street and Concord Avenue in Mott Haven and a vacant lot adjacent to the Bronx Criminal Court and Hall of Justice Complex on East 161st Street.

While those two spots are ‘frontrunners’, four other sites are also being considered: two vacant properties in close proximity to the Bronx Criminal Court, the parking lot of the Vernon C. Bain jail barge in Hunts Point and the Bronx Psychiatric Center on Waters Place.

Sources explained that selecting a site must satisfy three criteria: the land must be city controlled and in close proximity to both the Bronx Courthouse as well as mass transit.

The Vernon C. Bain barge parking lot is the least desirable of the six because it has limited mass transit options, sources say.

Approval of the ‘perferred’ location adjacent to the Hall of Justice is contingent on obtaining two abutting lots which are owned by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, one of two factors that could doom this site.

Councilman Salamanca leads a protest to shut down the Vernon C. Bain Detention Center.
Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell

Besides overcoming the turbulent relationship between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, there is another roadblock.

A land transfer from the state to the city requires the approval of the district’s councilmember, which is Vanessa Gibson, who has already said she would not approve the transfer.

Gibson organized a protest on Thursday, May 10 outside of the courthouse announcing her resounding opposition to the proposed jail coming to her district.

“In a perfect world … it does make sense to put the jail next to the court, the challenge is we don’t have a perfect world,” said Gibson. “If it were not for the schools, libraries and the residents that live around here, to me it would be more of a positive conversation to have, but students of the Bronx School of Law, Government, and Justice would go to class in the shadow of a jail and that is not a positive conversation,” she added.

That kind of gridlock shifts the conversation more towards the other favorite, the Mott Haven tow pound, which has received a ‘green light’ to proceed from Councilwoman Diana Ayala.

Although Ayala has expressed acceptance to the jail, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Councilman Rafael Salamanca, Jr,. and many other political figures and activists are opposed to the NYPD tow pound site.

Prior to the jail conundrum, the community non-profit Diego Beekman Mutual Housing had planned to acquire the tow yard to continue residential development.

City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson joins Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner and students to protest the proposed courthouse jail
Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell

Diego-Beekman has acted as a saving grace for Mott Haven by providing affordable housing and bringing economic resurgence to the area since the days of the ‘Burning Bronx.’

Alrine Parks, vice chair and CEO of Diego Beekman Mutual Housing joined Diaz in protest of the site on Tuesday, May 1.

Representatives from Diego-Beekman presented their full revitalization plan to Community Board 1 on Thursday, May 31.

The plan entails neighborhood-wide improvements that include supermarkets and other retail opportunities rather than just a single housing development on the city parcel.

During the meeting, Salamanca addressed the issue of the jail, advocating that Mott Haven is not the right spot.

“The Lippman report indicates that best locations for jails are connected to civic centers which is why the courthouse is the right location, nobody wants a jail in their district but it is the right thing to do,” Salamanca told residents.

To back up his sentiment, the councilman mentioned that he agreed to put a supervised injection facility in his district because it was the proper location, saying that same type of logic should be applied when placing the jail next to the courthouse.

The NYPD Tow Pound in Mott Haven that would be converted to a jail.
Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell