Mayor de Blasio’s Flawed Jail Plan Leaves Inmates Further from Home [Op-Ed]

Posted on: August 22nd, 2019 at 5:00 am by

The Tombs

As summer winds down, we head ever-closer to the city-wide ULURP hearings on the proposed borough-based prison plan. All said and done, it’s been one big farce the past several months, through various public hearings in four boroughs held by city agencies (save the respective community boards). At each turn, neighborhoods rallied to oppose Mayor de Blasio’s project.

The New York City council will undoubtedly pass the ULURP simply because council members representing four of the proposed jails support the plan in its entirety. As for the Chinatown prison, Margaret Chin has backed the Mayor’s plan from inception, and apparently dreams of smoothing local opposition with a rumored “community benefit” – allegedly the $25 million purchase of an area building for a Chinese museum. We must ask ourselves: is the cost to Chinatown worth a mundane museum?

Elected officials advocating for the borough-based prison plan have seemingly turned a deaf ear to their constituency, repeatedly arguing that facilities will house detainees closer to their families. But there’s a big flaw they will not admit to. Improper use.

The purpose of the Manhattan Detention Complex at 125 White Street was to house detainees awaiting court proceedings in criminal courts next door, and to house those convicted of nonviolent crimes serving sentences of one year or less. Yet, we know this isn’t always the case.

For example…

On June 20, 2018, the city (and country) was shocked by the brutal murder of Lesandro Guzman, an innocent teenager in a case of mistaken identity. Fourteen members of the “Trinitarios” gang were arrested in connection with the crime. One year later, five of the accused assailants were convicted of murder in a Bronx courtroom.

However, as they await sentencing, three of the convicts – Antonio Rodríguez-Hernandez, Jonaiki Martinez-Estrella, and Elvin Garcia – are housed in the Tombs, along with five others accused of the crime, according to public records. Why are these criminals not housed in the Bronx or Rikers Island?

The men committed a crime in the Bronx, were arrested in the Bronx, stood trial, and were convicted in the Bronx, and are mainly Bronx natives. Wouldn’t housing them in the Tombs make it difficult for their friends and family to visit?

Criminal justice and prison reform is necessary. But if elected officials rush into passing the borough-based jails simply for a symbolic moral victory without first addressing all the issues, they’d be causing more problems down the road.

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