Rep. Serrano, Bronx Borough President Diaz, and Elected Officials Lead Letter Urging City Leadership to Halt Plans to Construct New Prison Facility in the South Bronx Amid Budget Crunch Caused by Coronavirus Pandemic
Washington, DC – Congressman José E. Serrano and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., along with 9 Bronx based State Senators and Assembly members, wrote to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson asking them to reconsider funding and constructions plans of a new jail facility in the Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood and reallocate the funding for programs aimed at helping vulnerable Bronxites and New Yorkers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. A total of $8.7 billion in funding is planned in order to build new jails across the city, including one in the heart of the South Bronx’s Mott Haven residential community. A full text of the letter is below. The letter was signed by eleven Bronx elected officials: Congressman Serrano, Borough President Diaz, State Senators Luis Sepulveda, José M. Serrano and Gustavo Rivera, as well as State Assembly members Michael Blake, Victor Pichardo, Karines Reyes, Nathalia Fernandez, Carmen Arroyo and Marcos Crespo.
“The coming budget discussions have the potential to further exacerbate existing inequalities in our City and in our communities if budget cuts go ahead as planned. The City budget is due soon and your offices will soon get to work in a way that reflects our new Covid-19 reality. It is the City’s responsibility to make sure that all New Yorkers, including the communities that are most impacted by the virus and who are the least able to recover, get the support they need. Continuing to fund a capital plan that includes a jail in the South Bronx and not fund essential services for this community is reckless and irresponsible. We are asking that your plan to site the jail in Mott Haven be reconsidered and that funding be reinvested in much-needed services elsewhere in our most impacted communities,” the elected officials wrote in the letter.
“The Bronx is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. No other part of the country has been hit as hard as our community has. It is time to put a halt to this project so that the financial resources that have been allocated to its completion can be put towards more important priorities right now – the health and education of our families and workers. I urge Mayor de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to reconsider this project as it evaluates the budget in the coming weeks,” said Congressman Serrano.
“In this time of great crisis where we have taken an economic hit, especially here in The Bronx, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that we allocate our funding where it can help,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “We need to invest in people, not projects like this, so that we can help close the gap on the social and economic disparities that exacerbated the death toll of Coronavirus victims in our borough.”
"The Bronx is one of the hardest hit communities by COVID19 in the country, highlighting and exacerbating long-standing structural inequalities. We are grateful for the City's leadership in responding to this crisis, and strongly believe that all our resources must continue to be directed towards economic and emergency relief efforts. We must prioritize essential programs for those most in need -- including employment, food security, education, and healthcare access -- and funding for the new Mott Haven jail plan should not be included in that. Lives are on the line, and we must focus on the direct, crucial services to support our vulnerable communities through this crisis," said Senator Sepulveda.
“During unprecedented times of financial hardship,” said Assemblywoman Fernandez, “it would be irresponsible to utilize $8.7 billion to the construction of a jail, and not prioritize that money to where it is needed most. Right now, there are people who cannot put food on the table and lack the necessary essential services they need to get through this pandemic. The Bronx is one of the hardest hit boroughs, we are seeing monumental loss of human life and we do not have enough services to provide to families in need. I join my colleagues in asking that the plan for the Mott Haven jail be reconsidered and the funds reinvested in other needed services.”
"The response from COVID-19 is forcing us to be much more focused on priorities to help Bronxites. While it is the right decision that the borough based jail construction has been removed from the city's 2021 fiscal year budget in this moment, a new Jail in The Bronx should not be considered for the years to come either. It is not just about building a safer facility. There must be a change in the culture and mindset to ensure true Justice, from Alternatives To Incarceration to transparency in regulations to officer and guard accountability to Training protocols. We need to build Schools not Jails. We are already seeing how harsh the affects of the Coronavirus Pandemic are for Bronxites, especially for those who are low income and for Incarcerated persons and Correction Officers. It is critical that every dollar spent in our communities is to rebuild and recover, not continue the Prison Industrial Complex. We commend the leadership of Congressman Serrano in driving this conversation of renewed focus on local budget priorities. Let's invest in a child have a chromebook in their bookbag rather than arrest them for a dimebag. Let's ensure that we our communities to believe in Jobs and Justice, not Incarceration and Injustice," said Assemblyman Blake.
"The construction of new jails is an unconscionably poor use of funds, especially with impending cuts to educational and developmental programs. The low-income, minority families that benefit from these programs are the same that are unfairly plagued by the criminal justice system. Reallocating the funds from these proposed constructions is a solid investment toward improving the lives of those who need it most," said Assemblywoman Reyes.
“Amid a series of budget cuts throughout the state and city of New York, it is infuriating to think that $8.7 billion of the city’s budget is being allocated for new facilities to incarcerate many of my neighbors,” said Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo. “Reallocating these funds would alleviate a lot of economic restraints specifically in communities that are being impacted the most during this crisis. My neighbors NEED help and support. I am proud to join my colleagues in calling upon Mayor De Blasio and Speaker Johnson to invest in much needed resources in my district and many communities across New York City.”
May 20, 2020
Hon. Bill De Blasio, Mayor Hon. Corey Johnson, Speaker
City of New York The City Council of
Office of The Mayor The City of New York
City Hall City Hall
New York, NY 10007 New York, NY 10007
Dear Mayor De Blasio and Speaker Johnson:
We write to you today to express deep concerns with the ongoing plans to construct a new prison facility in the South Bronx, which appears to be continuing despite the deep and desperate need to provide funding in other areas in order to avoid devastating budget cuts. In light of the expected budget shortfalls in the current fiscal year and in the future, as well as the efforts currently underway to reduce the prison population in New York City, we ask that you take steps to reallocate funding planned for the construction of a new jail facility in the Mott Haven neighborhood in the Bronx towards programs that have a direct impact on vulnerable Bronxites and New Yorkers as a whole. At this moment of deep crisis, our city can and should do more to preserve the important programs that help ensure opportunities for our constituents.
As you know, in last year’s budget discussions, City Hall and the City Council pushed through a controversial multi-billion-dollar plan to build new jails across the city, including one in the heart of the Bronx. The total amount planned for these projects was approximately $8.7 billion. All of this was done despite enormous opposition from local Community Boards, fellow elected officials, and residents who live in and around the communities of the planned locations. While we support the closure of Rikers Island, the siting and approval processes were fundamentally flawed, and failed to engage in comprehensive community engagement, a hallmark of previous battles in communities of color, particularly in the Bronx.
Just a few months later, our city faces massive budget deficits, and deep economic uncertainty, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There have already been announcements of significant budget cuts across-the-board that will disproportionately impact low-income communities. Given these budgetary realities, it is time to reconsider the jail construction plans. While we understand that current year spending for the borough-based jail process has been removed from your fiscal year 2021 budget, your capital budget still calls for billions in funding in future years- money that is desperately needed elsewhere. We believe that as the budget process moves forward, the City should commit to reallocating those funds for the many of the important programs that provide critical educational and economic opportunities in our most vulnerable communities- including the previously cancelled Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and the planned expansion of 3-K programming in our schools.
The proposed Bronx jail site in Mott Haven is perhaps the clearest example of why the current jail plans make little sense in this moment, and why there is a clear need to reinvest those funds more responsibly. Mott Haven – a lower-income community of mostly African-American and Latino New Yorkers – faced significant social, health and environmental issues before Covid-19 struck. Now, it is suffering even more than before.
Not only are Mott Haven residents suffering some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection and death, they are also much more likely to feel severe economic pain in the coming recession. Residents are much less likely to have the savings to get through unemployment or the skills to quickly find new work in a downturn.
It is exactly these types of desperate conditions that can lead to increases in poverty and public safety issues. The funds previously allocated for jail construction in the Bronx (and elsewhere) should instead be in a much smarter, safer, and fairer manner to ameliorate the social conditions that have been caused by neighborhood abandonment, poverty and decades of public disinvestment in our neighborhoods.
It should also be noted that the City has taken steps to reduce the jail population in New York City during this pandemic, reducing the average daily population in our city’s jails by 29 percent since March. We commend you for your work in this, and urge those reforms to remain in place long past the end of this crisis. However, this reduction also raises the question of the ongoing appropriateness of the plans to construct large-scale, new facilities around the city to hold an expected jail population size that has already radically changed. At the very least, this implies that the current plans are no longer appropriate.
The coming budget discussions have the potential to further exacerbate existing inequalities in our City and in our communities if planned budget cuts go ahead. The City budget is due soon and your offices will soon get to work in a way that reflects our new Covid-19 reality. It is the City’s responsibility to make sure that all New Yorkers, including the communities that are most impacted by the virus and who are the least able to recover, get the support they need. Continuing to fund a capital plan that includes a jail in the South Bronx and not fund essential services for this community is reckless and irresponsible. We are asking that your plan to site the jail in Mott Haven be reconsidered and that funding be reinvested in much-needed services elsewhere in our most impacted communities.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.
José E. Serrano
Member of Congress
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Congressman José E. Serrano has represented The Bronx in Congress since 1990.