South Bronx Unite to de Blasio and City—No New Prisons: Not in the South Bronx, Not Anywhere

We unequivocally reject the city’s plan to site a new jail at 320 Concord Avenue in our South Bronx neighborhood, and we oppose the construction of any new jails in New York City. The decision to construct a new jail in the South Bronx, made without any input from the local community, is a slap in the face of South Bronx residents who have suffered from top-down city planning decrees that put the interests of the powerful above the needs of the people in the nation’s poorest Congressional District. From the planning of the Cross Bronx Expressway to the relocation of Fresh Direct to our community’s waterfront, decisions are made for our community with complete disregard for the people who live here. Our vision for the health and wellbeing of our people is constantly eclipsed by the wants of those outside our community.

The siting of a new jail at 320 Concord Avenue is in direct conflict with locally-driven, grassroots neighborhood efforts to develop our community in a way that respects the long history of organizing by Bronxites who struggled through years of abandonment and neglect. Building on a twenty-two year struggle to stabilize the Diego Beekman housing complex and the surrounding community, local residents have worked to develop the Diego Beekman Neighborhood Plan, with the lot at 320 Concord Avenue established as a neighborhood Hub for housing, commerce, and community space. (see Diego Beekman Open Letter to Mayor de Blasio and NYC Council Speaker Johnson in Opposition to A New South Bronx Jail, which we support).

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The South Bronx already carries a disproportionate burden of New York City’s failure to invest in sustainable ways to address its social and environmental problems. The city’s failure to provide genuinely affordable housing results in a concentration of homeless shelters in the South Bronx. The failure to meaningfully address heroin addiction in our community (before the opioid crisis became mainstream) results in similar concentration of methadone clinics in our neighborhood. The excess consumption of New Yorkers hits us in the form of 5,000 tons of trash processed daily in the South Bronx waste transfer station. And the desire of wealthier New Yorkers for gourmet food delivered to their doorstep will soon bring an additional 1,000 diesel truck trips per day through our neighborhood that has the highest asthma rate in the nation.

In the same way, New York City’s failure to invest more aggressively in alternatives to incarceration and more restorative ways to deal with crime now results in the plan for a new jail in the South Bronx. Our opposition to the new jail is in no way a rejection of the people caught up in the criminal justice system. A disproportionate number of the city’s prisoners are from the South Bronx and they too are members of our community. We desire fairer, swifter, and more humane forms of justice for our brothers and sisters in the justice system, and for that reason we applaud the city’s plan to close Rikers Island.

Our opposition to the construction of a new jail goes beyond “Not In My Back Yard” to a broader concern about how the city’s resources are allocated to deal with people in conflict with the law. We are not just against the siting of a new jail in our neighborhood – we don’t want a new jail built period. Over the last 25 years, the city’s jail population has fallen from a high of 21,674 in 1991 to under 9,000 earlier this year, accomplished through a combination of falling crime rates and criminal justice reforms. The plan to replace Rikers assumes a need for 5,000 jail beds in ten year as reforms continue. We challenge the city to come up with a more aggressive plan to further reduce the number of people in jail, thus making the need to construct a new facility unnecessary. Through a combination of bail reform, decriminalization of minor offenses, and investment in alternatives to incarceration, we believe this is more than possible.

It is not lost on us that in New York City’s plan to replace Riker with smaller facilities, the Bronx is the only borough where a new facility is planned for construction. In Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, the plan is to repurpose existing jail complexes, thus not expanding the footprint of the criminal justice system in these boroughs. But in the Bronx, the borough that has suffered the most disinvestment, we see once again the pattern of spending millions on an ever-expanding criminal justice infrastructure. The new Bronx County Criminal Court that opened in 2007 cost $352 million dollars to construct. The new 40th Police Precinct is expected to cost $51 million to build. The plan to renovate the Horizon Juvenile Detention Center to accommodate adolescents from Rikers is expected to cost $170 million. The construction of a new jail to replace Rikers (when we already have the Vernon C. Bain Detention Center in Hunts Point) will likely cost more than all the aforementioned developments. And yet when our community asks for the renovation of community centers, the creation of green spaces, living wage jobs, truly affordable housing, and other investments in positive supports that would alleviate the conditions that push so many into the criminal justice system, we are told that the resources don’t exist.

We will not accept more spending on infrastructure that coerces and controls when our neighborhood is in desperate need of community-driven development. We will not accept the construction of a new jail, in the South Bronx, or anywhere. We will not accept a vision for our community that relies on caging people instead of investing in the resources they need to thrive.

For these reasons, we categorically reject the building of a new jail in the South Bronx, and call on the city to invest its economic resources in people, not prisons.

South Bronx Unite

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