Jailhouse ruckus: Expansion opposed - Stakeholders jeer; city pushes forward

The Brooklyn Paper

Local stakeholders from downtown Brooklyn met last week to present a convincing argument against the planned expansion of the Brooklyn House of Detention (HOD) on Atlantic Avenue.

But the city’s Department of Corrections (DOC) remains adamant that the planned expansion from 749 jail beds to 1,469 jail beds move ahead as planned.

“We’re at a stage now where we’re participating with the city’s Department of Design and Construction in a competitive process to select an architectural firm to do the design work on the project that will include renovations to the existing jail building and construction of another building on the parcel,” said DOC spokesperson Stephen Morello.

Closed as an overnight facility since 2003, the 10-story HOD at 275 Atlantic Avenue is currently used for daytime holding areas for inmates from Rikers Island awaiting Brooklyn court appearances, according to Morello.

Regardless of the DOC’s plans, about 50 members of the Brooklyn HOD Community Stakeholders Group met at the Belarusian Church on Atlantic Avenue and Bond Street last week to reiterate their call of “More Vision Less Prison.”

The stakeholders’ group is made up of several civic organizations, merchants and residents including the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association (AABA) and the Boerum Hill Association (BHA).

Howard Kolins of the BHA, who moderated the event, reiterated the stakeholders’ mission, which is to ensure ongoing, meaningful community involvement in the planning and decision-making for the HOD.

“We believe in striking a balance between the needs of the city and the needs of surrounding neighborhoods in achieving a creative, contextual solution for the site, with no expansion of the inmate population,” said Kolins.

Kolins explained how the neighborhood has changed since the prison was built in 1957, and has gone from being more desolate to becoming a thriving merchant and residential thoroughfare.

To this end, Abby Hamlin of Hamlin Ventures, who is developing townhouses on State Street and the 217-unit mixed-use and mixed affordability Schermerhorn House around the corner from the DOH, presented her Atlantic Gateway proposal for redeveloping the DOH site.

Under Hamlin’s plan, the HOD part of the property would be removed and the site would be re-conceived. Among the amenities of Hamlin’s plan is a rehabilitation day center for non-violent reformed inmates, affordable and market-rate rentals, loft condos, retail and below-grade parking.

The stakeholders also noted that City Comptroller William Thompson recently endorsed selling the property.

But Morello countered that the DOC is also building a jail in the Bronx and indicated that the jail project is set in stone.

The expansion is needed so Brooklyn inmates awaiting court appearances in Brooklyn can be closer to their families, attorneys and neighborhoods in which they live, he said.

It also cuts down on the cost and logistics of security regarding transporting prisoners from Rikers Island for court appearances, said Morello.

Morello said the overcrowded Rikers Island facility currently has about 12,000 prisoners on a daily basis and there are about 14,000 prisoners citywide on a daily basis.

About a third of these prisoners come from Brooklyn, he said.

Morello said the DOC hopes to have an architect hired this summer and anticipates the new Brooklyn HOD opening sometime in 2012.


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