Spofford, the plagued juvenile lock-up in the Bronx, is now — finally — empty.
Last April, the city announced it would close the jail, a tough place that had the reputation of turning juvenile delinquents into hardened criminals. According to the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, it has been vacant since March 11.
The closing of the famously grim Spofford, which is also known as Bridges Detention Center, is the latest example of an overall strategy by Office of Children and Family Services Commissioner Gladys Carrion (profiled in the Voice last August). Carrion, who oversees everything from juvenile detention to foster homes to adoption in New York State, has been systematically shrinking the juvenile-jail system and diverting the bad kids into community programs that the agency claims to have had better results.
While these moves have made Carrion is a hero in her home of New York City, upstate politicians and unions have fought bitterly against her to keep the jails open. Her supporters say that she has done more to reform New York’s broken juvenile justice system than anyone else in a generation, while her detractors accuse her of being too lenient on violent kids.
At one point, a notorious juvenile detention center that had been emptied of juveniles still had a coterie of 125 staff members working there. The staff would stay on for another year after Carrion announced the facility’s closure.
Many juvenile-justice activists have been skeptical of the city’s plan. As Helen Zelon of City Limits noted this past January:
Some critics worry that if Bloomberg succeeds in getting Albany to back his juvenile justice plan, and the city brings the juvenile offenders currently housed upstate back to facilities in the five boroughs, that troubled facilities like Bridges (the former Spofford) will get a new and undeserved lease on life. More than half of the youth detained there are released within 10 days, but up to a year’s detention is permitted before a child appears in court.
“If the city does get control of the placement and incarceration of young people, Spofford is where they’ll put them,” said Robert Gangi, head of the New York Correctional Association, voicing a concern that the city will simply swap in its own juvenile-justice facility in the former state building.
The city has denied that. And for now, at least, Spofford really is closed.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 24, 2011