“Sink the barge!” was exclaimed by protestors led by City Councilman Rafael Salamanca, Jr., outside of the Vernon C. Bain Detention Center in Hunts Point on Thursday, May 3.
Opened in 1992 to accommodate the inmate overflow at Rikers Island, the jail barge was intended to serve as a temporary processing and holding center but remains open today, 26 years later.
Salamanca wants to ensure that the barge will be closed as part of the mayor’s planned phase out of Rikers Island.
“It’s time for the city to make good on an overdue promise to the Hunts Point community and shut down the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center,” said Salamanca.
Former inmate and Co-op City resident Marvin Mayfield described the East River’s floating jail as ‘a literal slave ship’.
Mayfield was locked up for a non-violent offense and couldn’t post bail, leading him to spend just under a year on board the barge.
“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.
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.’
“During shakedowns or searches, corrections officers force us to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder in our underwear, with both feet inside a 12-by-12 inch floor tile. There’s no redeeming a place that operates with such ruthless efficiency in dehumanizing us,” Mayfield added.
Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo also spoke in opposition to the barge, calling the jail a waste of waterfront property.
“It is deplorable that the city continues to renege on its promise to close the Hunts Point jail barge, and is now planning to build another jail in Mott Haven,” said Klein.
Salamanca explained that the conversations about the barge and Mott Haven jail proposal connect in some ways.
“When talking about opening the jail in Mott Haven, that leads to the discussion of what is to become of the Vernon C. Bain Center, it could be a separate conversation but it can be intertwined as well,” said Salamanca.
Salamanca expressed support of Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.’s protest of the Mott Haven jail earlier in the week on Tuesday, May 1.
He also suggested the possibility of an alternate site to the proposed Mott Haven jail, somewhere closer to the Bronx County Courthouse.
“If the mayor were to get his wish and open up that jail in Mott Haven there would be three jails in a three mile radius, all in the south Bronx,” said Salamanca. “That’s wrong and I’m calling the mayor out for that.”