DA Gonzalez doesn’t think Brooklyn will need new jail if Rikers closes

January 30, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In order for Rikers Island to close, the Brooklyn House of Detention, located on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, will have to be expanded. Efforts to expand the facility 10 years ago were unsuccessful. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

If New York City follows through on its plan to close Rikers Island within the next 10 years, it will have to build alternative jail sites throughout the boroughs to house inmates. However, Kings County District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is confident that Brooklyn will be able to use the existing prison, located on Atlantic Avenue, to house additional inmates.

“I’m lucky,” Gonzalez said during an interview with supermarket magnate and radio host John Catsimatidis. “The political issues of where a jail would go or how we can house people in the boroughs don’t really apply to Brooklyn.”

The current plan to close Rikers Island would require the city to cut down the total population of inmates at the facility and then house them in each of the boroughs.

The existing facility that Gonzalez and members of the Committee to Close Rikers Island have in mind for Brooklyn is the House of Detention, located on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Boerum Place. However, that facility currently houses 815 inmates and would have to be expanded.

This is not the first time the first time the city has attempted to increase the size of the House of Detention. When it reopened in 2008 after being closed for several years, a renovation plan that was proposed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others would have increased its size to approximately 1,500 beds. Residents, community groups and politicians fought the expansion plan, though, and it was ultimately killed with the help of then- NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson.

At the time, Community Board 2 and other groups opposed the expansion because of concerns about visitors loitering on the streets, complaints about visitors allegedly leaving guns and contraband on nearby residents’ property, and double- and triple-parked cars.

However, in the last 10 years since the House of Detention has reopened, CB2’s District Manager Robert Perris said the jail has been a “good neighbor,” so the board wouldn’t reject an expansion plan outright. However, it has still not decided if it is for or against the proposal.

“Before it reopened, [the House of Detention] made physical changes, they built a new visitor center, so the complaint of people loitering in the street went away,” Perris said. “It’s the community board’s position that they are not a bad neighbor in a downtown setting where the courts are located.”

The biggest issue that remains is street parking. Although Perris said that double- and triple-parking hasn’t been an issue, there still is a problem with illegal parking-placard abuse by prison guards. This could be exacerbated by expanding the capacity of the jail.

Ultimately, the community board may oppose the plan out of fear of losing parking spots, which could hurt businesses on Atlantic Avenue.

Expanding on Brooklyn’s current facility would require a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). This complicated process requires approval from the community board, the borough president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio.