The Giuliani administration had vowed to shut down the notoriously antiquated Spofford juvenile jail this spring when two new state-of-the-art detention facilities open for business. But City Limits has learned that the ramshackle Bronx lockup will retain 60 beds to accommodate overflow of juvenile offenders from city courts.
“Our goal has always been to close Spofford completely, but the two new detention centers don't have capacity for the number of kids we get during the peak periods,” says Sarina Roffe, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Juvenile Justice. “We'll use it in a limited capacity, on an as-needed basis….We've got to put the kids someplace.”
Spofford currently has space for 289 juvenile offenders, although it routinely houses more than 300 at any given time. The two new centers, which will open early next year in the South Bronx and Brownsville, Brooklyn, each have only 124 beds–leaving the system short by more than 50 beds during its busiest periods.
Roffe says her department is looking into alternative placement strategies that would result in bypassing Spofford, which has poor heating, no central air conditioning and a blind-corridor design that critics believe contributes to its sometimes violent atmosphere.
To reduce the number of overflow prisoners sent to Spofford, DJJ will try to increase capacity at its nondetention facilities from about 75 to 136.
Still, advocates say the city is breaking a promise. “They definitely indicated that those two buildings were supposed to replace Spofford. To me that was a promise,” says Kim McGillicuddy, director of Youth Force, a South Bronx-based organization.
In its 1996 annual report, DJJ devoted a whole section to “Replacing Spofford,” and included a statement that “Spofford's poor design inhibits both programming and adequate supervision.” In addition, the department decried the jail's remote location in Hunts Point.
While the condition of the 40-year-old facility is alarming, advocates are also concerned that continued use of Spofford means judges will have more incentive to send young offenders to the lockup–and fewer kids could win placements in the alternative-to-confinement programs that the city has promised to phase in. “The concern is that if they have the beds, they'll figure out a way to use them,” says Darlene Jorif of the Correctional Association of New York, a criminal justice reform group.
Roffe denies the continued use of Spofford is a long-term incarceration strategy. “We are looking at other options [to Spofford],” she says. “Right now we don't have a clear plan. We're just looking into all of our options.” Those options, Roffe explains, include the potential use of modular additions to the new facilities and increasing the number of juveniles referred to alternative incarnation programs from 100 to 250 over the next year.