FOR A JAIL FREE NYC: Resist NYC Jail Expansion

February 14, 2018: This morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an agreement with the City Council to advance a multi-billion dollar, fast-tracked jail construction and expansion plan in tandem with the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. This public commitment intends to solidify the new borough-based jail agenda, to consist of the Queens Detention Facility in Kew Gardens, the Brooklyn Detention Complex in Downtown Brooklyn, the Manhattan Detention Complex in Foley Square, and a to-be constructed facility at an existing NYPD tow pound in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. In order to expedite construction, the City intends to steamroll the environmental and community impact review processes and pave the way for the possibility of site certification before the end of 2018.

The Wall Street Journal first reported yesterday evening on the piece of the City’s plan that includes a new jail in Mott Haven, an announcement that is not unfamiliar to Critical Resistance New York City (CRNYC). Twelve years ago, a coalition of concerned Bronx-based organizations came together to defeat then-mayor Bloomberg’s plan to close dilapidated temporary facilities at Rikers and replace them with a new jail at Oak Point in the South Bronx. New jail construction was not then, and will never be, a solution to the violence of Rikers but will only result in continued financial neglect of community-driven solutions that could instead lead New York to abandon the use of imprisonment.

“The problem is not the facilities; this is a vicious cycle and there’s no way to reform a system that isn’t meant to work,” said Reuben, a comrade of CRNYC currently imprisoned in New York State. “Rikers is only a holding place for victims of an unjust system. Closing down a jail is not really addressing our real problem.”

With a somewhat quieter announcement, the Mayor also introduced a $4.5 million plan to increase the punishing power of the Department of Correction (DOC), growing the presence of the NYPD in jails and funding an increase in Tasers available to Correction Officers. The “managerial failures, significant structural problems, regulatory compliance failures, identified deficiencies that remain unaddressed, and unabated harm to both staff and inmates alike“ identified by a report released today by the State Commission of Correction regarding Rikers can neither be remedied by squandering resources on the DOC nor by opening new borough jails. Rather, these problems as well as the systemic violence endemic to imprisonment are merely prone to transfer from Rikers.

“The sad truth is that the government, in the name of security, exploits and manipulates, and creates false needs to justify spending money to build more jails and prisons,” says Prince, an imprisoned organizer in New York State. “If you take a deeper view you will realize that this government chases after problems to resolve, in order to then create a need for more prisons, cops, etc. to put out the exact same fire in which they promoted and started. It’s clear that the government with all its intelligence and great resources seems to merely recognize the needs for more, deadlier weapons to be used by the police and the need to build more prisons.”

In today’s announcement — as well as in last night’s state of the city address where he praised “precision policing” and pledged to “extend and deepen neighborhood policing” — de Blasio promoted amplified policing and prosecution which will inevitably lead to jailing, directly contradicting assurances that he is committed to reducing the daily number of people imprisoned in city jails. These policies and practices of so-called “precision policing” include gang raids that have targeted entire communities for surveillance and conspiracy charges based on loose social media connections, and the over 19,000 fare evasion arrests made in 2017, as well as other means of racial profiling and criminalizing poverty.

Other elected officials who spoke this morning to support the jail expansion plan preemptively framed public opposition to jail expansion as “selfish, NIMBY-ish, and short sighted.” Critical Resistance NYC member Kate Hudson says that “What is short-sighted is the notion of building more jails rather than investing in the long term health and wellbeing of our communities. Opposing the imprisonment of our neighbors in any jail in any borough is far from selfish, it is an act of resistance and community solidarity.”