City Says Ensuring Public Safety Is A Top Priority

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Residents in one Staten Island community are shouting “not in my backyard” over a proposal for a juvenile detention facility just feet away from a residential neighborhood filled with children.

As CBS 2’s Tamara Leitner reported, the proposed Staten Island facility — a limited secure placement residence — would go in at 1133 Forest Hill Road in Willowbrook.

Nicholas Ercolano has raised his children and now his six grandchildren in the quiet Willowbrook section of Staten Island but said he’s worried about the detention center set to open directly behind his house.

“I’m not happy with it. Would you be happy with that behind your house?” Willowbrook resident Nicholas Ercolano told Leitner. “I just know that they can’t be incarcerated in a regular jail, so they call is a detention center and they stick it in my backyard.”

The program for teens found guilty of delinquent acts would be run out of a building which, for many years, sheltered pregnant teens for the state. But the building borders Ercolano’s house and dozens of others.

The city has named this initiative “Close to Home,” but residents in Willowbrook say the facility really is too close to home.

“It’s so close that it’s my backyard,” Doreen Hafele told Leitner.

The “Close To Home” concept is meant to foster rehabilitation with teen criminals by placing them in a facility easily accessible for family members.

“I believe in these programs…not like this,” Hafele said.

The NYC Administration for Children’s Services said the facility will house 20 boys under age 16.

As for security, there will be a perimeter fence, motion lights and 24-hour security.

“Yes it’s going to be a regular prison: tall fences, bright lights and double gates for security,” said Hafele.

Residents said they only learned of the proposal a few weeks ago.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing for this neighborhood,” Frank Scellato told Leitner.

“They try to put it under the carpet and get it in quietly. I just hope it doesn’t materialize,” Ercolano said.

The city says they plan to open the facility in March but also told CBS 2 that it’s not a done deal. Community Board 2 can still put the issue to a vote.

The city’s Administration for Children’s Services issued the following statement on Wednesday:

“The Administration for Children’s Services is committed to ensuring public safety as a top priority, including the safety of the community, staff, and the young residents, and we are taking several measures to strengthen security at the residence. We have worked and will continue to work with members of the community, elected officials, and the Community Board to address concerns about this residence, which was formerly operated by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.”

Community members said they’re planning a rally Sunday afternoon to protest the facility.

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