As a resident of the Mott Haven neighborhood in the South Bronx, I have worked to develop more equitable bus system; NYCHA transparency, and historic criminal justice reform that will come through the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex and the Boat. Due to the isolation, human rights violations, and the environmental hazards people are exposed to on Rikers, and the Boat — I urge Bronx Borough President Rubén Diaz Jr., to support the City’s plan for borough-based facilities.
The borough-based jail plan will take New York City from 12 jails to four. And from a capacity of 15,000 beds to approximately 4,000. It is a plan born from necessity.
The City rightly recognized that Rikers cannot be remediated, or rebuilt, and it is time for a reset. The structure itself makes progress impossible, and so does management by the Department of Correction with officers primarily responsible for the brutal culture of violence. We, and those that have been on Rikers and the Boat — our neighbors and community members— know that noone else should be exposed to Rikers’ unique violence, trauma or environmentally hazardous conditions.
I agree with them, and joined the Close Rikers Mott Haven Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) to ensure that closing Rikers and the Boat would give my community the investments we deserve. Investments that would eventually make a jail unecessary.
On the council I was joined by NYCHA tenant association presidents, representatives from community-based organizations and advocates focused on public housing, criminal justice reform and public transportation. Together we determined that restorative community investments focused on health, recreation, economic, education, and housing are necessary in Mott Haven. This vision has guided the development of our own investment proposal to the city with recommendations that look to address systemic inequality and disinvestment. One of the most exciting recommendations is the creation of a Youth Hub that would provide mental, and physical support to residents between the crucial ages of 12 and 24.
We also included significant investments to NYCHA to secure the modernization of our community centers, and the funding of community centered programming for all residents. Opposing this plan undermines the work local residents have done to secure to other community investments along with this plan – to address lack of afterschool programming, leaking lunch rooms and a shortage of special education resources that leads to parents having to travel to East Harlem to get their children what should be available in our neighborhood. I know that my work fighting to improve NYCHA, is not in competition with advocating for better conditions for people who are jailed, none of the needs we demand are in competition.
Those calling to halt the borough-based plan, cannot undermine a vision that will improve conditions for the most vulnerable in our communities. They must remember we are talking about our neighbors, family members and loved ones. They should remember that dehuminizing those that commit crimes ignores the societal failures that lead to that choice. We all have human rights that must be respected, even the most vulnerable among us.
We must seize this opportunity to create sustainable improvements in our community and reverse the impact of 30 years of political failures, disinvestment, mass incarceration, and structural racism. Borough President Diaz must vote to move forward with the borough-based plan and the proposed community investments.
To reject the borough-based jail plan is to use our physical and mental freedom to keep those at Rikers chained to a criminal justice system that fails us all. No other neighborhood in New York City has paid a higher price for selfish development, and leadership than Mott Haven. It is my sincere hope that we will use that pain and rise above the legacy of Moses. We can be better, but for that to be the case we must do what is better for all…
Ramona Ferreyra is a Mott Haven resident, NYCHA and public transportation advocate, consultant, founder of Ojala Threads Inc. and a member of the Close Rikers Mott Haven Neighborhood Advisory Council.