Under Pressure, NY State Agrees to Scale Back Planned Gowanus Parole Center
Protesters in November demonstrating near the site of the future Gowanus parole center
Katie Toth, Village Voice
A Brooklyn community group that formed in opposition to a massive proposed parole center in Gowanus has achieved a major victory as the state has agreed to scale back plans for the facility, which had been intended to serve 6,000 ex-criminals per month.
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced on January 14 that it had settled a lawsuit filed in November 2014 by Gowanus United — a collective of nearby residents and business owners who opposed the facility — that accused the state of sidestepping city zoning laws to build the center and failing to consult the community before submitting plans. Residents argued that the center, located at 15 Second Avenue near the Gowanus Canal, would flood the neighborhood — which includes schools, churches, and many small businesses — with thousands of potentially dangerous past offenders, as well as impede truck traffic in the manufacturing-heavy neighborhood.
As part of the negotiated settlement, the state agreed to reduce the number of parolees reporting to the facility from 6,000 to 2,000, at least for the first two years of operation. During that time, the Department of Corrections will create a program of decentralized reporting locations throughout Brooklyn to serve the remaining 4,000 parolees.
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Kathryn Krase, a plaintiff on the lawsuit, says she's "thrilled" with the settlement.
"People told us to be realistic, we weren't going to have any impact," says Krase, who helped form Gowanus United. In addition to filing the lawsuit, the group launched a massive flyer campaign, dropping literature denouncing the site all over Gowanus. "We can't be more pleased."
Krase adds that as part of the settlement, local businesses have agreed to work with the department's prisoner re-entry program and offer jobs for parolees. Finding a job can be one of the hardest parts about re-entry for ex-cons. According to a press release from the corrections department, the new system will "make it easier for parolees to meet the conditions of their parole."
In addition, the department agreed to meet regularly with representatives from Gowanus United, as well as Community Board 6, the small-business group Gowanus Alliance, and the 78th Police Precinct.
The state in November approached Gowanus United asking for time to respond to the lawsuit, agreeing not to open the center until it had done so. The center was scheduled to begin operation in January. It's not clear whether those plans have been altered, but the center still has yet to open.
The smaller, decentralized parolee reporting sites are a new concept for New York City. Most of the city's parolees are expected to head to centralized offices in each borough. The new tack is more similar to New York City's probation system. It's a win for justice reform advocates, like members of Vocal New York, who have pushed for this kind of neighborhood-based reporting system in the past.
Alyssa Aguilera, political director of Vocal NY, says her group is pleased with the outcome. "The details will be key, but it's safe to say more than one megaplex location in Gowanus is something we're happy to see," she says.
Aguilera has mixed feelings about how the state and Gowanus residents reached the terms of the settlement. She took exception to claims made by Gowanus United that parole centers are magnets for crime. "A lot of the [protest] signs you would see were kind of insinuating a parole center equals more crime, and a danger for communities," she says. "That's not really the model for change we want."
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