Close to Home contract for South Ozone Park rejected by city

By Sadef Ali Kully

South Ozone Park Civic Association West and Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) announced at a community meeting Tuesday at St. Anthony of Padua Church that the contract for a South Ozone Park juvenile group home on 127th Street was rejected by the city comptroller’s office.

The civic group filed a civil suit against Administration for Children Services after the construction of the second juvenile group home began last year under the state’s Close To Home program overseen by ACS. The first home is located a couple of blocks away and only takes non-violent youth.

“For months, we have been shining a light on ACS’s attempt to inappropriately locate this juvenile prison in the heart of South Ozone Park’s community,” Wills said.

Wills, who has spearheaded the movement against these groups homes, acknowledged and included a special thank you during the announcement at the community meeting to City Comptroller Scott Stringer, all the hardworking residents and volunteers who helped with bringing awareness to the issue.

The state’s Close to Home program was implemented in 2012. In the program, specially chosen juvenile offenders are brought to group homes located within communities they originate from so they may transition easily into law-abiding citizens. But the issue has been the kind of juvenile offenders who are placed in homes close to residential neighborhoods and schools.

On April 17, a woman was allegedly raped at an Internet cafe in Manhattan by three young men who escaped from a Brooklyn group home, according to the Manhattan district attorney.

And on April 30, one of the workers at the South Ozone Park site allegedly punched a resident in the face while he took pictures of the worker despite a work-stop order on the site from the Department of Buildings, according to the Queens DA.

Communication between ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion and the community seemed to have fallen short.

In a response letter to Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, Carrion wrote that she sympathized with the concerns of the community but felt that “isolating our young people from the community is simply not a viable solution and has proven time and again to be ineffective.”

Braton responded to Carrion’s letter by explaining that the community did want to help youth but not at the cost of their own safety.

“Although we appreciate your response, it does not address adequately the concerns of the residents in the area immediately surrounding the planned location. It does not alter our Board’s view or our community’s view that the site selected is an inappropriate one.”

The comptroller’s office said the contract was sent back to the service provider for the juvenile group home because of unspecified inconsistencies.

“For registration we determine if they meet the criteria and if everything is procured properly,” said Eric Sumberg, spokesman for the comptroller. Sumberg said that despite the rejection a contract can be reviewed after meeting the criteria in order to be accepted by the comptroller.

Wills said the fight against what he called these “prisons” must continue. Currently there are two confirmed locations of juvenile group homes in Queens: 133-23 127th St. in South Ozone Park and The Children’s Village 207-01 Jamaica Avenue in Queens Village.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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