Proposed Brooklyn Jail Renovation Fuels Division Between Community & Lawmakers

“No new jails, no new jails!”

The chant from several community members rang out and echoed off the auditorium walls of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Fort Greene last night as community board members and concerned Brooklynites voiced their issues about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to shut down Rikers Island and replace it with borough-based jails

The proposed borough-based jail system is being designed in order to shut down Rikers Island by 2028, which in turn will build four new jails in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens.

The Brooklyn plan calls for the renovation of the existing Brooklyn Detention Complex, 275 Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. The idea is to provide adequate and humane conditions for people detained in city jails, move inmates closer to their communities, improve health, educational and social outcomes.

A rendering put out by opponents of the renovation. Photo by S. Rodriguez.

Although according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, because of issues with the politics in Staten Island their efforts of buying land and building a new jail has failed, which as a result Brooklyn will house Staten Island inmates. Because of this, the height of the Brooklyn Detention Complex will double, towering it over any building within a 500-foot radius.

One of the issues with the city’s jail system is bail reform, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Carroll Garden, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn) spoke out about how thousands of people are shuttled to Rikers Island unnecessarily because of an inefficient system.

Jo Anne Simon
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon
City Councilman Stephen Levin

“A new report that came out today from the Center of Court Innovation revealed that of the nearly 8,000 incarcerated people in New York City jails, 2,138 or 43% of the 5,000 pre-trail detainees would not be in jail if the recently enacted reforms had been effective,” said Anne Simon.  

The new Brooklyn jail will have 1,437 beds and around 290 parking spaces below ground for Department of Corrections staff. The building will also have 30,000 feet of retail and “common facilities” in the lobby of the jail.

“We should not build excess capacity. If we want to have a system that has fewer people incarcerated then we should not be building a system that is bigger than that because as Assembly Member Simon said, ‘if we build it DOC will fill it,’” said Council Member Stephen Levin (D-Northern Brooklyn, Boerum Hill).

“We are in this together, we all want the same thing, which is a city that reflects our values, our morals that we don’t have a system that is criminalizing black and brown young man and women from the time of their youth,” he added. 

Curtis Bell, who attended the town hall, was one of those youths. He was incarcerated at the age of 17 and served 18 years behind bars.

“We need it, we need jails. For people that say no new jails, you haven’t lived on Rikers Island. Our people are still suffering, we need to end the suffering. The only way to end this epidemic, the only way to end this problem is to educate the community,” said Bell.

“Let the community into Rikers Island and see the conditions. We need better training for abusive officers on Rikers Island. We need that because you can build a new jail but can’t change a mentality.”

The proposed jail renovation is currently in a seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), where concerned residents can weigh in at public hearings hosted by Community Board 2 within the next 60 days, followed by a public hearing from the borough president and finally the city Planning Committee and the City Council.

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