South Bronx Jail Plan

The city’s Economic Development Corporation is negotiating with Oak Point Energy to purchase a 28-acre parcel of former industrial land in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx to be used for a new detention center to relieve overcrowding on Rikers Island. In addition to housing 2,040 inmates, the proposed complex would have 600 parking spaces and a kitchen where meals for all of the city’s jails would be prepared. The site is one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land in New York City.

Plans to site the jail on the Oak Point parcel have already drawn strong opposition from a variety of community groups and local leaders. Environmentalists are concerned about possible toxic chemicals on the site, the Corrections Officers Union contend that the money would be better spent fixing Rikers Island and local politicians contend that the jail might stunt the economic resurgence of the South Bronx.

The Department of Corrections argues that the site is the only place in the Bronx large enough to accommodate a prison. Once the land is purchased by EDC, the project, whose cost is estimated at $375 million, will begin the ULURP process. Construction would start in 2009 and be finished in 2013. On April 13, 2007, opponents earned more time to continue their fight after Steven E. Smith, the owner of the proposed jail site, won a temporary restraining order in Federal Bankruptcy Court that delays the plan’s first public hearing.

In late 2007, Sustainable South Bronx, filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request in order to obtain the City’s records on this development and how the decision to build a jail came about. The City held that the documents did not pertain to FOIL, however on January 17, 2008 the state Supreme Court ruled that the city had not provided sufficient information for withholding the documents and had until March 21, 2008 to do so.

The city is now required to list all documents it wishes to withhold and why it would like to do so, then the judge, Justice Payne, has the opportunity to look at the list and the documents and decide whether or not they must be made public. The site’s owner is still involved in a bankruptcy case, which has postponed the start of any public hearings.

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