On Monday, February 6, inmates from Rikers Island began moving into the complex, where the average stay will be 56 days before standing trial in Brooklyn and Staten Island.
On Saturday, February 4, the complex opened its doors to the community in an effort to quell concerns and dispel some ideas about the jail.
According to the city Department of Correction (DOC), about 625 visitors showed up to the complex, which is located at 275 Atlantic Avenue of Smith Street in Boerum Hill.
“There was a lot of interest,” said Sharman Stein, deputy commissioner for Public Information at DOC. “I think it helped to demystify it. It helped people to see it for what it is. Many were fascinated by the third-floor cell area, the visitor center, the medical clinic.”
Stein said that 500 uniformed officers and 44 civilian employees will be working at the center around three shifts, and that there will always be an officer patrolling the perimeter of the center 24/7.
The jail will hold detainees who have been arraigned and awaiting criminal trial in Brooklyn or Staten Island. Prisoners will be escorted from the complex to and from Brooklyn Criminal Court through an underground tunnel and the facility will house 759 inmates. Stein said the space will gradually be filled to capacity within the next two months.
According to DOC, the complex is expected to replace older jail buildings at Rikers Island that may be phased out – those that are beyond repair. The complex also allows for the city to make necessary repairs on other crumbling buildings at Rikers, making way for a new jail to be built at the site over the next several years. DOC revealed its plan to reopen the 759-bed complex in August 2010.
While some residents expressed concerns about safety, others worried about parking when relatives and friends visit the inmates, and Stein noted that DOC will not be requesting additional parking spots or permits. Walter Nin, the jail’s warden, said that the 500-plus employees are being advised to take public transportation
Stein also noted that the waiting area is now larger than it was in 2003, able to accommodate 189 individuals. She also said that there is now a computerized “visit express system” that expedites the wait time to see an inmate.
The growth of high-rise apartment buildings and upscale stores like Barney’s Co-op and Trader Joe’s, as well as the Nu Hotel, which opened in the area in 2008, caused some to say that the complex is out of place, but DOC assured local residents that inmates will not interact with neighbors, in large part thanks to the tunnel.
The facility originally opened in 1957 before closing in 2003. While plans to double the bed capacity by expanding the facility’s floors were proposed, the plans were cancelled in early 2010 after a 2009 lawsuit, led by then-comptroller William Thompson Jr., blocked the city from doubling the building’s size.
Instead repairs and renovations were conducted at the current space.
As part of the stipulation allowing the complex to reopen, a community advisory committee was formed out of local associations to address problems, should they arise.
The DOC also has an email, email@example.com, where residents can relay concerns and complaints.
“As we hoped to demonstrate with the open house, we are determined and committed to be good neighbors to residents and businesses and will be responsive to their needs,” Stein said.
“And we are committed to the care, custody and control of the inmates,” she added, stressing that none of the inmates are felons.
But Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents Boerum Hill in addition to other parts of Brooklyn, is still proceeding with caution.
“I appreciate that DOC is trying to save city taxpayers money by re-opening the BHOD,” he said. “That said, DOC also has a responsibility to the neighbors of the re-opened BHOD and I expect them to fulfill their commitment to our community to be good neighbors. We are going to be watching very carefully.”