Police Called In After Detention Center Meeting Descends into Chaos
WILLOWBROOK — A public meeting about a planned Staten Island juvenile detention center descended into anarchy as opponents yelled and police officers were called in to maintain calm.
The question-and-answer session hosted by Community Board 2 was packed with more than 200 people eager to hear from developers of the proposed mid-security center at 1133 Forest Hill Road.
But when the crowd found out the community board would not be voting on the proposal at the meeting, it became chaotic. Opponents began screaming at board members and nearly a dozen police officers were brought in.
"It's a done deal already," said Monier Ayad, 52, who lives next to the site and was one of the people who yelled at the meeting. "We came here just to talk around."
After a presentation by the people behind the detention center, CB2 Chairman Dana Magee abruptly shut down the meeting.
"We were asked by our elected officials if we would host a meeting," Magee said afterwards. "We were going to give question and answers back and forth. That's what we were doing. Obviously it didn't work out."
The planned center would host 20 mid-level male juvenile offenders.
It is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "Close to Home" Initiative, which places lower-level juvenile lawbreakers closer to their families.
The center would be run by the city's Administration for Children's Services and Children's Village. A representative said during the meeting it would build a 16- to 17-foot fence and there would be minimal movement for prisoners outside the grounds.
However, Ayad said the fence and assurance of safety wasn't enough. He said three girls escaped from the site when it hosted 24 young female criminals until April, and he said he is worried it would be worse with male prisoners.
Darren Velez, who lives behind the site, wondered why the program wasn't housed at the vacant Arthur Kill Correctional Facility instead of in his backyard.
"I'm not for a youth prison in my backyard," Velez said. "We just don't want it here."
Many complained about potential traffic problems and the effect on property values.
Before the meeting broke down, state Sen. Diane Savino, Councilman James Oddo's chief of staff Steven Matteo and representatives of Rep. Michael Grimm and state Sen. Andrew Lanza expressed opposition to the plan.
City Council Candidate John Mancuso, who was at the meeting, sided with the riotous crowd and said they should have had their opinions heard in a public forum.
"None of these people's concerns were voiced," he said. "I don't blame the people for yelling. They were treated unfairly."
The plan was brought up first at this month's meeting for Community Board 2's Youth Services subcommittee. Residents have had a hard time finding any information about the project, Mancuso said.