Spofford Shutdown a Hard Cell

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The Giuliani administration 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 lock-up 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 jails don’t have capacity for the number of kids we get during the peak periods,” says Sarmna Roffd, 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. Spofford has bad heating, no central air conditioning and a blind-corridor design that critics believe contributes to its sometimes violent atmosphere. 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.

To reduce the number of overflow prisoners, DJJ will try to increase capacity at its non-detention facilities from about 75 to 136.

Still, advocates point to a broken pledge. “They definitely indicated that those two buildings were supposed to replace Spofford. To me, that was a promise,” says Kim McGillicuddy of Youth Force, a South Bronx-based organization.

While the condition of the 40-year-old facility is alarming, advocates are also concerned that the use of Spofford means judges will feel more free to send young offenders to the lock-up. And that could mean fewer kids will win placements in the alternative-to-confinement programs the city has committed 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.

Roffé denies that Spofford’s reprieve is part of a long-term incarceration strategy. “We are looking at other options [to Spoffordi,” she says. “Right now we don’t have a clear plan. We’re just looking into all of our options.” Those options, Roffé says, 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.

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