“Our legacy has been tarnished:” Council okays Mott Haven jail

Despite outrage and opposition from Mott Haven residents, the city’s plan to build a community jail complex in the south Bronx is moving forward.

The NYC Council made a historic 35-14 vote Thursday, October 17 approving Mayor de Blasio’s plan to shutter the notorious Rikers Island facility by 2026 and replacing it with a borough-based jail system in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“What we are doing today will reshape this city for generations to come and will impact the lives of every New Yorker,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “We cannot undo all the mistakes of the past, but we must do everything we can to move away from the failed policies of mass incarceration.”

Just days before the initial vote, the City Council announced steep reductions in the height of each proposed detention center—from 450 feet to 245 feet—due to concerns raised by the four communities housing the new jails.

The proposed Mott Haven jail, to be constructed at the site of an NYPD tow pound on Concord Avenue and East 141st Street, will rise 195 feet as opposed to 245 feet—equivalent of 24 floors high to 19 floors high. It is the only borough-based jail that will not be located adjacent to a criminal courthouse.

Councilmembers Diana Ayala, Mark Gjonaj, and Rafael Salamanca Jr. voted in favor of closing Rikers Island.

“With reduced heights and a projected jail population of 3,300 by 2026, the borough-based jail plan will shrink our criminal justice system and put us on the path to decarceration,” Ayala said.

The original borough-based facilities were designed with an expected average daily jail population of 5,000 by 2026, according to the City Council.

Though Salamanca voted in favor of closing Rikers Island in Queens he voted against the new Bronx facility urging Mayor de Blasio to also close the Vernon C. Bain Center, a jail barge floating off Hunts Point.

Meanwhile, Ruben Diaz Sr. joined his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. in opposing the plan.

The borough president denounced the city’s failure to engage with the community on site selection for the project. Diaz is advocating for the Bronx jail to be relocated adjacent to the existing Bronx Hall of Justice.

“With our citywide inmate population at a historical low, the Mayor’s office has already admitted that the size of these jails can be reduced, which further validates that the Bronx jail could be moved to its proper location next to the court system, like the other boroughs,” Diaz said.

A vicious opponent to the jail, community activist Arline Parks, CEO of Diego Beekman Mutual Housing, said the future of the community has vanished.

She, along with the residents of Diego Beekman Housing, have waged a long, successful battle to take back the streets where the mayor is now siting the new jail.

“It will go down in history as the worst thing to happen to Mott Haven,” Parks said. “The future of Mott Haven was sacrificed for interests that have nothing to do with criminal justice reform.

“The City Council people should be representing their people, and not going against them.”

Parks blamed her councilwoman for the Mott Haven jail.

“The first thing you will see is a jail for miles away and that will be the legacy of Diana Ayala, a jail. That’s her legacy,” Parks added.