In the early 1990s, Rikers Island was about to bust open.
Built to hold about 15,000 detainees, Rikers reached its peak of more than 21,000 people in 1992. As a part of the immediate and temporary solution to accommodate overflow, New York City opened the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center in 1992, a monstrous barge docked at Hunts Point with capacity of 800 detainees.
However, that solution wasn’t temporary. This year marks the 26th year the jail barge has been in use.
The jail barge was conceptualized under then-Mayor Ed Koch’s administration and opened during Mayor David Dinkins’ tenure. At the time, the Dinkins administration told the Hunts Point community that it would be temporary, but conversations to close the barge have since stalled.
The Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center has been long forgotten in the conversation to close Rikers. But now with the borough-based jail plan to open or expand four jails in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, it’s time we re-evaluate the current state of jails in the Bronx and finally close down the jail barge.
The Hunts Point community has done its fair share over the past two decades by housing the jail barge in its neighborhood. Closing the jail would finally give the space back to the community, with the potential for parks or bringing in new businesses, spurring job creation and economic development. Waterfront access is a hot commodity in New York City, and the people of Hunts Point deserve to be able to use and enjoy the area.
As it stands, the city is planning a new jail in the South Bronx at an NYPD tow pound. The jail barge, the new proposed jail and the existing Horizon Juvenile Center would put three jails within three miles of each other in the South Bronx, disproportionately affecting not only my constituents in District 17, but the South Bronx at large. Building a new jail at the proposed location in the Bronx would cripple the revitalization happening in that neighborhood and potentially reverse major advancements in the community, such as the mayor’s $30 million investment in St. Mary’s Park and the addition and preservation of 4,400 affordable housing units – with another 2,000 in the pipeline. The jail expansions in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn are all located next to the borough courthouses, a sensible location for all the reasons cited in the plan – proximity to the courts, ease for families to visit and safer transportation for detainees. We only ask that the Bronx receives the same fair treatment.
Shutting down the barge should have happened yesterday. While Rikers is still many years away from shutting down, the city owes it to the Hunts Point community to close the barge imminently. It’s long overdue.
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