Nearly two dozen Queens Village residents and local leaders came together Wednesday to rally against the Administration for Children’s Services’ (ACS) plan to put a facility for juvenile offenders in a former school.
Through the Close to Home initiative, which was signed into law in 2012, ACS is seeking to convert the building at 207-01 Jamaica Ave. into a “limited secure placement facility” for about 18 youngsters from New York City who committed crimes before turning 16. The building once housed the Merrick Academy, a public charter school.
Normally, these offenders would be held in institutions upstate, but the law seeks to bring the children closer to family members and lawyers in the city, while giving them education and counselling services.
However, the protesters argued that the community has not received enough information about the plan and they fear with just limited security the delinquent offenders could escape and cause harm to the surrounding community, which has a school and single-family detached homes.
“By approving a correctional center in a residential neighborhood, it will increase the devaluation of our homes, crime and the stigmatization that has historically reduced the quality of life in southeast Queens,” said community activist Mohamed Hack. “While I support the mission of the ‘Close to Home’ initiative, I understand that there are more fitting locations for ACS to use to meet their goals.”
An ACS spokesman said a public hearing was held in Queens two years ago about the facility. Also, agency officials met with Community Board 13 on May 11.
To protect the community, security at the facility would include a secured driveway for vehicles transporting youngsters, locked doors and windows, and a control room with security cameras and television monitoring by employees 24 hours, seven days a week.
Nevertheless, protesters are still hoping to get ACS to reconsider putting the facility in the building, and once again using it as a school.
“When our schools are overcrowded and underfunded, instead of placing a juvenile detention center in a building that was intended to be a school, let us support projects that protect the safety and quality of life in our communities while at the same time foster economic growth and community development,” said Celia Dosamantes, who is mulling a run for Councilman Mark Weprin’s seat when he leaves office.
Another rally is set for Saturday at noon in front of the building.