As COVID-19 is ravaging the Bronx, taking lives and shuttering stores, many people may have forgotten that the city is planning to put a jail in Mott Haven.
This jail, along with three other borough-based jails, in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, will replace Rikers Island, which is closing in 2026.
However, Congressman Jose Serrano and Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. realize that Mott Haven has been devastated by COVID-19 and will need help rebuilding economically. Therefore, they sent a letter on May 20 to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Corey Johnson asking them to reconsider funding for the construction of this new jail facility and instead redirect them to support important programs for vulnerable Bronxites.
“We believe that as the budget process moves forward, the city should commit to re-allocating those funds for the many of the important programs that provide critical educational and economic opportunities in our most vulnerable communities, including the previously cancelled Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and the planned expansion of 3-K programming in our schools,” they said in the letter.
“The proposed Bronx jail site in Mott Haven is perhaps the clearest example of why the current jail plans make little sense in this moment, and why there is a clear need to reinvest those funds more responsibly,” the letter went on to say. “Mott Haven – a lower-income community of mostly African-American and Latino New Yorkers – faced significant social, health and environmental issues before COVID-19 struck. Now, it is suffering even more than before.”
With huge opposition from community members and elected officials, the Council pushed through an $8.7 billion plan to construct the four jails last year. While the funding for this is not in the upcoming budget, capital budget still calls for billions in funding in future years, money Serrano and Diaz believe is needed elsewhere due to the coronavirus.
“The coming budget discussions have the potential to further exacerbate existing inequalities in our city and in our communities if planned budget cuts go ahead as planned the city budget is due soon and your offices will soon get to work in a way that reflects our new COVID-19 reality,” they stated in the letter. “It is the city’s responsibility to make sure that all New Yorkers, including the communities that are most impacted by the virus and who are the least able to recover, get the support they need.”