Brooklyn Broadside: Brooklyn Detention Center – City Learns From Experience

February 7, 2012 By Dennis Holt Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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There is no evidence that anyone stood around Boerum Hill this past weekend and shouted, “Hail, hail to the renovated jail.” By the same token, it is unlikely that someone else shouted out, “Hell’s bells to the 700 cells.”

However remote the possibility, either of those scenarios could have happened because the Brooklyn House of Detention is again going to start detaining people who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes and are awaiting trial.

There are 759 beds in the tall building that dates back to the 1950s. The city closed the jail in 2003, believing that all such city prisoners would best be housed on Rikers Island, but that didn’t pan out. Rikers Island was in worse shape than people thought, and jails had to be reopened or, as in the Bronx, newly built.

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The Department of Correction promises that things will be better and different this time around. For one, the place has a new name. It is now called the Brooklyn Detention Complex. The new name is now installed over the Atlantic Avenue entrance.

A new visitor center has been built that should keep visitors inside and out of sight. One of the past complaints of the nearby residents was that government workers overwhelmed the area by parking illegally. The city now promises to have a cop at the site whose only job will be to give out tickets to illegal parkers. (Nothing has yet been said about towing away their cars.)

In addition, five officers will constantly be patrolling the area to keep the peace, prevent guests from trampling lawns and gardens, and prevent them from temporarily stashing drugs in those same lawns and gardens.

The New York Times ran a large story on Saturday reporting the various comments being made in the neighborhood, which, like so much else in brownstone Brooklyn, has changed drastically since the 1950s. No one really cared when the jail was first built, but now a lot of people do.

Reporter Liz Robbins captured that change in the lead paragraph when she wrote, “When the Brooklyn House of Detention reopens next week…it may be the only city jail in America located down the block from a Barney’s Co-op and a Trader Joe’s.”

The story also noted that the area has six new high-rise apartment buildings, 14 new townhouses with more on the way, and a new hotel on Smith Street.

This has led to serious questions about a jail taking up space on such valuable property in the first place. A big storm erupted three years ago when the city announced plans to double the size of the jail on the site.

Lawsuits quickly followed, and while the court didn’t say the city couldn’t double the size of the jail, so many rules were laid down that the city threw in the towel. 

The jail is still there on property that many people believe could be better and more profitably used by the city. One suspects the final chapter on this square block has yet to be written.

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