Progressive organizers demand city fund social services before building billion-dollar jails

Photo courtesy of VOCAL-NY.

Photo courtesy of VOCAL-NY.

By David Brand

A coalition of community organizers has called on the city to match the billions of dollars it plans to spend on new jails with funding for community services and preventive programs, key provisions for uplifting communities impacted by mass incarceration.

VOCAL-NY sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio Wednesday outlining their demands for significant investments in housing, education, healthcare and services for young people.

“Without this allocation, there is no way that we can support the Mayor’s plan to close Rikers Island by way of a construction project,” VOCAL-NY wrote. “We also call for an immediate divestment from the New York City Police Department, beginning with all city dollars allocated for the purpose of policing the homeless and those struggling with substance use disorder or mental illness.”

The city’s jail plans calls for closing Rikers Island jails by 2026 and building new 1,150-bed detention towers in every borough but Staten Island. The project is estimated to cost $8.7 billion.

Opponents of the project, like members of the group No New Jails, say the city would be better served by investing that jails money into low-income communities of color that account for a disproportionate number of people arrested and detained in New York City and nationwide.

“We need to see a plan that charts a vision for driving our jail population down to zero through community investment,” VOCAL-NY wrote. “This must be the goal of any long-term municipal criminal justice policy effort.”

“Meeting the needs of marginalized people — who have been fighting for resources for centuries — is the surest way to begin the process of moving away from our reliance on the brutal, deadly, criminal justice system, which has shown over and over again that it is not up to the task of keeping our communities strong, safe and whole,” they added.