Residents and community leaders in Queens Village are strongly opposed to a plan to convert a former school into a facility for delinquent children who have committed crimes as part of the state’s “Close to Home” law.
The law, enacted in 2012 by the Cuomo administration, seeks to bring young offenders from facilities upstate closer to their families and lawyers in the city.
The city’s Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) has targeted the building at 207-01 Jamaica Ave., the former home of the Merrick Academy charter school, to be the facility for troubled city youngsters, who have been arrested before they turned 16 years old and are considered “at-risk.” The city agency is hoping to house 18 youth offenders at the site in a “group home” setting, and The Children’s Village will operate the site under a contract with ACS.
However, Queens Village residents said they have not been adequately informed about the plan and don’t want teens with criminal backgrounds in their residential neighborhood, fearing they could escape and harm the community.
“I understand they want to bring them closer because now they are 200 to 300 miles away, but it doesn’t have to be a residential area,” said Mohamood Ishmael, president of the Queens Village Civic Association.
The facility will be a “limited secure” building to feel less like a jail, but will have 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.
An ACS representative 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.
Besides bringing delinquents closer to their support circles, the program will also provide education and counseling services.
“While plans for this proposed facility are still being formulated, ACS’ goal for this, as well as all other limited secure placement facilities, is to provide a safe, stable and close-knit residential environment for young people to receive residential rehabilitation services while in our care, while also ensuring the safety of residents and the surrounding community,” according to prepared remarks by an ACS spokesman.
The Queens Village facility wouldn’t be the only one Queens residents are against. In South Ozone Park, residents are fighting against a facility from opening there, and filed a class action lawsuit against the operator of the planned juvenile jail and the building owner, according to reports.
Residents and leaders said the Queens Village building should be used as a school again since it once housed the Merrick Academy.
“All the schools in this area are overcrowded,” said Celia Dosamantes, a concerned resident and budding politician who has interest in running for Councilman Mark Weprin’s seat when he leaves office this year. “It was a school. Why can’t they use it as a school again?”
Residents will protest at the site Wednesday to stop ACS from further considering it.