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New Jail Plan Encounters Fierce Community Resistance In The Bronx: Gothamist

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Arlene Parks (left) runs affordable housing in the neighborhood where the jail is being proposed. She waved a sign of the mayor and complained that community concerns were not being heard. (Cindy Rodriguez / Gothamist)

Opposition to a plan to build a new jail in the Bronx was loud and fierce during a raucous hearing on Wednesday night.

Opening four smaller, borough-based jails is part of the de Blasio administration’s plan to shrink the overall jail population and close Rikers Island by 2027. For years, Rikers has been plagued by violence and it sits isolated from courthouses and the family members of those incarcerated there.

The meeting was held at the Bronx Supreme Courthouse on the Grand Concourse, but the site of the new proposed jail is at 320 Concord Avenue in Mott Haven, currently an NYPD tow pound two miles away. The de Blasio administration argues that borough-based jails in Queens, Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and in the Bronx, are supposed to make it easier for families to visit and inmates to receive services. Each new jail would have 1,510 beds, and the city is offering to fund new buildings in and around the new jails that could be used for housing or other purposes.

But the deal sweeteners were not enough to placate the protesters. Throughout the hearing, a thunderous chorus of “no new jails” filled the courthouse building. And protesters like Arlene Parks held a large sign over her head. It read, “Cell Out”, with a photo of the Mayor emblazoned above it.

Parks is the Vice Chair and CEO of Diego Beekman Mutual Housing Association, and said she was worried that inmates released from the proposed jail would increase crime.

“We have 38 buildings scattered all over Mott Haven with a drug network that has yet to be broke and the cops can’t even handle what we already have,” she said.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr. was against siting the jail in Mott Haven, a neighborhood that he says has already survived its share of violence and drugs.

“Treat us like other boroughs. In other boroughs, where are the jails going? Closer to the courthouses,” Diaz said. “There’s space here.”

Diaz said that it was impossible to flatly oppose the jail and at the same time support the closing of Rikers Island. But that’s exactly the position that a vocal group of activists, many of them Bronx artists and students, took. They shouted down Diaz, who tried unsuccessfully to hold a press conference outside the courthouse, and called him outdated and not progressive enough.

20-year-old Asly Anzurez was part of the group who believes in ending incarceration altogether. She and several friends said spending city money on a new jail instead of on improving schools and parks was wrong and senseless. She used her junior high, a failing school that closed, as an example of neglect.

“That building looks like a prison. You think I would like to be, ‘oh this is my school’, right? Be proud of it,” Anzurez said. “No, I’m ashamed of the school that I went to.”

Myra Hernandez said she lives two blocks from the proposed site.

“For anybody to propose that this is going to be a beneficial thing for a community that has, once again, been oppressed and marginalized has no clue about what’s been happening historically in the South Bronx,” she said. But Hernandez also supports closing Rikers Island, and when asked where those inmates would go, she said she didn’t feel comfortable answering that.

“But opening a new jail is not going to be the answer to any of it,” Hernandez said.

The city said that there would be more forums, both public and private, and officials would continue to hear residents’ concerns.





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