The BK Borough Based Jail is Moving Forward, But Where?

Ambiguity of what a post-Rikers NYC will look like complicates new plan

By Oona Milliken |

As many New Yorkers know, Rikers is set to close its doors by Aug. 2027 after former Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to shutter the jail after years of criticism of violence and poor living conditions. In its place, the plan is to construct four smaller borough-based jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens in order to create modern facilities and more humane conditions for incarcerated individuals.

At a meeting in front of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 on Wednesday Oct. 18, the Department of Design and Construction and HOK, the architectural firm designing the building, presented their initial plan for the Brooklyn location before their submission to the Public Design Commission for review.

The jail is set to replace the existing Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn. However, with a growing jail population, a looming deadline to shut down the facility and Mayor Eric Adams asking for a “Plan B” to close Rikers, the future of prisoners in New York City is ambiguous.

Though Rikers is set to close in three years and ten months, it is unclear what will happen to those incarcerated at Rikers until the new borough jails are constructed. There were initially expected to be between 3,300 inmates at the four jails, according to the DDC’s website, lower than the 5,559 inmates at the Rikers facility as of 2022, as per the mayor’s annual report. Currently, all jails are expected to be expanded to a total of 4,160 beds across all four facilities according to Council Member Lincoln Restler, a number that still does not account for the discrepancy between beds and inmates.

On Wednesday, the DDC and architectural team outlined a plan that includes green landscaping, design choices that will match the architecture of the surrounding brownstones, soundproofing so that residents do not have to hear the inner goings of the jail as well as transportation for those coming in and out of the facility. Though this is their first time in front of the community board, the DDC hosted one introductory event and two design workshops with the local Brooklyn community in order to address the needs of local residents.

The Department of Design and Construction’s timeline of the Brooklyn Borough Jail facility. Photo courtesy of DDC.

The lead designer for the building, Ken Drucker, the Design Principal and the lead designer for HOK, said the firm was set to collaborate with the community in order to create a humanitarian building that is knitted into the fabric of the Brooklyn community.

“This is a normative building that creates equity and a civic building here in Brooklyn. It is important that we understand that we’re dealing with human needs, we’re dealing with community needs and we’re dealing with the fact that civic buildings create spaces that will be in existence for the next 50 to 100 years,” Drucker said in a meeting.

The main issues raised at the meeting pertained to the impact the jail would have on the surrounding area of Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn and Cobble Hill. Many attendees brought up concerns about adequate parking so as to not clog up the surrounding streets, as well as safe transportation of prisoners to and from the jail. The parking will only accommodate 100 spots, down from 300 parking spaces, which is not enough for all the workers of the jail and does not account for police officers and visitors visiting the location. One community board attendee said that the parking would spill onto the street and congest the area surrounding the jail.

“Just from a neighborhood perspective, and I’ll be quiet after this, but you know [police officers, jail visitors and staff] will park on the street. There’s been promises and promises for the city to provide parking for their agency staff and it’s not happening so it’s become a problem in the neighborhood,” the community member said.

Ian Michaels, Executive Director of Communications and Policy for the DDC, said the DDC is committed to moving forward with the borough-based jail plan and taking steps to improve the living conditions of those incarcerated at Rikers.

“Have you ever been to Rikers? One of the things they do, when you start building jails, is they make sure you go to Rikers to see what you’re trying to improve upon, so I’ve been there a couple of times,” Michaels said. “I know what we don’t want to build because I’ve seen it myself.”

The project in Brooklyn is anticipated to be completed in 2029. In July of this year, the city expanded the number of beds in the Brooklyn jail by about 150, reducing the number of therapeutic beds intended for those with mental health issues. Michaels and Restler both said the jail in Brooklyn, expected to cost around $3 billion, is further along than the other borough-based jails.

Mock-up of what the facade of the jail will look like. Photo courtesy of DDC.

“I think the Brooklyn community has been receptive to the facility, that’s not necessarily the case at every location that we’ve been trying to build,” Michaels said. “We’re actually farther along with this facility than we are with any of the other three.”

Restler, who has been heavily involved in the fight to close Rikers, said he was frustrated by Adams’s failure to take the borough-based jails project seriously. Restler said Adams’ administration has increased arrest, summons and number of incarcerated people, both amongst minors and adults, which would not work under the new system. Adams has recently expressed skepticism about the plan and said it was flawed from the beginning.

“These are policy decisions we can control. We can invest in preventative measures, we can invest in alternatives to incarceration, we can invest in supervised release,” Restler said. “We can invest in justice-involved supportive housing, or we can fill up our jails. Mayor Adams is choosing to do the latter.”

In the CB2 meeting, Kiumars Q. Amiri, the Executive Director of Capital Projects at the Mayor’s Office, in contrast with Restler’s comments, said the city was attempting to reduce the overall prison populace in order to address this discrepancy.

“The goal is to reduce the overall population with more smart policies that would sort of disrupt recidivism patterns, provide more stable programs for folks not to be caught in the system, alternatives to incarceration, electronic monitoring to constitute supervised released programs. There’s a whole host of programs that go hand in hand with this, this building, this borough-based jail program is one bubble of the bigger system,” Amiri said.

Restler said it was imperative to move forward with the borough-based plan despite any challenges. The council member acknowledged that the Brooklyn jail had some hurdles in order to be constructed, including figuring out a lack of parking and the removal of therapeutic beds, but said that Rikers was an unacceptable space for New York’s incarcerated population.

“[Rikers] is a despicable hell hole. It is an embarrassment for every resident of New York that we’ve sent people there to rot on a daily basis. We have, over the last 30 years, during the Giuliani, Bloomberg and De Blasio administrations safely reduced the number of people who are incarcerated in New York City while achieving record-low crime rates. We can continue to drive down crime, improve public safety and reduce incarceration if we have the political will to do it,” Restler said.

After the plan is submitted to the initial Public Design Commission for conceptual review, the plan will undergo further evaluation as well as a preliminary PDC review before it is resubmitted for final review to the PDC in the spring of 2023. The last step before launching construction of the jail will be a community presentation, also in the spring of 2024.

Despite Massive Flooding, Arts Gowanus’ 29th “Open Studios” Art Fair Prevailed

500 artists showcased their work in Brooklyn this weekend

By Oona Milliken |

Arts Gowanus hosted their sprawling “Open Studios” art fair across Gowanus featuring more than 500 artists in 90 plus locations from 12-6 on Saturday, Oct. 21 and Sunday Oct. 22nd. Open Studios allows visitors to come into artist’s studios, view their work, see what their spaces look like and purchase pieces directly from the artist without going through a gallery or a museum. With artists showcasing work of all mediums, this year’s crop had a life-size clay doll, abstract paper art, glass oysters and artists from the Fulton Art Fair, which primarily consists of Black American artists. Gowanus is also hosting a fundraiser for artists whose studios were affected by the flooding on Sept. 29 at their headquarters at 540 President Street in Gowanus. Emily Chiavelli, the Programs Director for Arts Gowanus and a Brooklyn artist herself, said pulling off the festival, which grows every year, was always a feat. This year, Chiavelli said Arts Gowanus also wanted to support the artists whose work had been impacted by the rising floodwater.

“Gowanus always gets hit really badly by flooding, there’s the combined sewer and the canal and all this sort of stuff that bubbles up. 540 President Street where I mentioned our headquarters was hit very very badly and all the studios are below grade. There was just water pouring through the doors, like some artists had like 16 inches of water, 14 to 16 inches,” Chiavelli said. “A lot of people lost a lot of stuff. A lot of irreplaceable stuff, which is the most devastating part, completed work.”

Hannah Robinett, an artist whose studio sits in the basement of 540 President Street, is a conceptual artist whose screen printing, drawing and murals works were particularly damaged by the water. She said she had to get rid of around $2,000 worth of supplies that were ruined. In response, Robinett created a piece of art under her series “Order and Chaos” that was made from artworks that had been waterlogged.

“I had about 12 inches of water in my studio, so any supplies I had on the ground were ruined. It wasn’t just water, it smelled really bad, a bit like sewer water,” Robinett said. “I tried to use it for a lot of my work. I have a series called “Order and Chaos” where I create new works from old works that then come to fruition. I lost about 10 pieces in that flood, and I recreated a piece from it.”

Hannah Robinett in her studio. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Robinett said she appreciated the camaraderie of Arts Gowanus and loved working in a space with so many creative people. Particularly, she said the Open Studios was an important event because it allowed people to see how artists worked on a daily basis.

“This space is so awesome because there are so many different creatives and artists in this space. I’m with artists in the community,” Robinett said. “Arts Gowanus puts on Open Studios every year which is especially great because people can actually come in and see what I’m working on, what other artists are working on, and it often leads to connections down the road and being able to see people face-to-face, not on Instagram.”

At another studio on 540 President Street, Michael Potecha, an artist who primarily makes glass and ceramic sea molluscs such as oysters and mussels, said he was inspired by the beauty of the creatures and wanted to recreate them. Potecha said he was also inspired by non-profits attempting to bring back oysters into the natural ecosystems of New York. Potecha’s studio also had a station with the real thing and was passing out oyster snacks to visitors.

“Growing up in New York, I’ve always eaten oysters. But the real interest came from thinking of them as socio-symbolic symbols,” Potecha said. “The Billion Oyster Project is a non-profit that’s trying to improve the ecosystem of the Hudson River area, using oysters as a natural filter feeder and clean [the Hudson] that way.”

At 197 Bond Street, the Fulston Art Fair was doing Open Studios a bit differently. A lot of the artists in the collective, primarily Black Americans, are based outside of Gowanus and decided to come together to showcase their work in a group show. Althea Sapp Jimenez, who has been a part of Arts Gowanus for about five to six years, said it was important to create communities of artists. Jimenez said the Fulton Art Fair was especially meaningful because it allowed Black artists to support each other in their work.

Michael Potecha in his studio. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Potecha’s sample of glass moluscs. Photo credit: Oona Milliken“[The Fulton Art Fair] is an African-American Gallery group, it’s been around for 67 years, it’s influenced African-American people from all cultures, all backgrounds, we reach out from one side of Brooklyn to another,” Jimenez said.


Jimenez said her own work was inspired by the people she saw on a daily basis, the faces of people who were missing from the arts when she was growing up.

“Growing up, born and raised in Brooklyn, we never seen art of color, like we go to the museum and we see Van Gogh, but we never seen artists of color, really, unless you go out of your way to do that,” Jimenez said. “My inspiration is what I see every day, how it reflects every day.”

Aleathea Sapp Jimenez in front of her art pieces at 197 Bond Street. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Syma Debbane, a ceramics artist whose studio at 184 Lorraine Street overlooked the location where she fired her art pieces, said she was inspired by ancient magical belief systems. One of Debanne’s largest works was a life-size clay replica of herself as a palm reader. When plugged in, Syma’s twin uttered prophecies for visitors to the studio.

“I’m inspired by ancient magical belief systems, mythologies and ancient artifacts,” Debanne said. “Egyptian, African, Mesopotamian…they really believed that if you could see it, if the artwork showed it and people looked at it, then it would come to be. Jewelry was not just body adornment, it was magical.”

Debanne said she wanted to preserve some of that magic in the modern world and hoped that her work reflected a sense of mythology. She said that the Open Studios event was an inspiration for her because it brought people to her work that might not otherwise come into her studio. Debanne also said appreciated Arts Gowanus for all the work that they did to support artists in the area.

Syma DeBanne’s pottery. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

DeBanne with a clay replica of her younger self. Photo credit Oona Milliken

“I think it’s important for us to be able to share our process. The questions people ask often lead me to new work, and sometimes answering questions helps me understand what I’m doing,” Debanne said. “Arts Gowanus, they help us so much connect with each other. They help us have a visibility, I think there’s a lot of myths about artists that can get rewritten, a lot of stories about artists that can be updated, and [Arts Gowanus] helps us do that.

Next year, Open Studios will return for its 30th time. Chiavelli said it was important to keep the fair going as it brought attention to all the artists in the area.

“Open Studios, our whole mission is to keep the neighborhood sort of equitable and accessible to artists and keep creatives here, especially ahead of the Gowanus rezoning,” Chiavelli said. “This is sort of a major way we get visibility for all the great work that’s happening here.”

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