OPINION: An unanswered question in planning for new Brooklyn jail
Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced preliminary plans for opening “community-based” jails that would take the place of the facilities on Rikers Island, if and when Rikers is closed. The plans include upgrading the current Department of Correction jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, and building a completely new jail in the Bronx. No facility will be built in Staten Island.
Key to the mayor’s proposal is combining all of this construction and renovation in one Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application. The mayor said the application could be submitted for certification as early as the end of this year and the design process could begin as early as 2019.
The Brooklyn Detention Complex on Atlantic Avenue currently has a capacity of approximately 800 prisoners. The new jail will need to house 700 more prisoners on average, including, for the first time, female inmates. Currently all female inmates are held at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island. The complex will also need space for safety, security, health and mental health care.
But the major concern will most likely be parking. For years, that has been the singular most pressing concern voiced by local community leaders. Even at the jail’s current capacity in the crowded downtown Brooklyn area, there is nowhere near enough space for correction officers and other DOC staff to park. What will happen when the number of inmates is nearly doubled and important services are brought in?
There are safety concerns in asking officers coming in for a midnight tour to park 10 or more blocks away.
Local merchants have complained that DOC employees are taking up space that potential customers could use.
The mayor’s proposal has the strong support of local Councilmember Stephen Levin, whose district includes the jail. While some in his district have mixed reactions, Levin said, “We have an opportunity to create more just, better integrated, and safer facilities close to courts, community services, and transportation. I look forward to robust engagement with the administration and the community to reimagine 21st-century facilities in Downtown Brooklyn.”
We agree with Levin, but even the loftiest goals can get tripped up by practical realities like parking. This need not be a deal-breaker, but it is a consideration that must be addressed.
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