Boerum Hill

Brooklyn jail expansion plan takes next step after second hearing

June 7, 2019 Noah Goldberg
A rendering by the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) of the new Brooklyn Detention Complex. Rendering courtesy of MOCJ.
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Following a rowdy public hearing in April over the expansion of the Brooklyn Detention Complex, a second hearing on Thursday evening proceeded in stark contrast — less packed and quiet, with succinct arguments and a dearth of elected officials.

Hosted by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the hearing is part of a process necessary to establish a new jail in Boerum Hill at 275 Atlantic Ave. that is nearly double the size of an existing facility at that address. The larger complex is a key — and contentious — part of the city’s initiative to shutter Rikers Island by 2026. The city is also planning to build jails in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.

Activists supporting the $8 billion construction of the jails spoke, as did those firmly against it. The hearing lasted nearly two hours — but the borough president left shortly after opening up the floor to public comments. He said he had other events to attend, though members of his team remained for the length of the hearing.

“Brooklyn is the fourth-largest city in America, and I have multiple obligations across the borough every single night,” Adams wrote in a tweet to the Brooklyn Eagle. “I have the most talented land use team in the city, and they along with my staff will ensure I am fully briefed,” he said.

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The borough president’s hearing is the final public hearing in Brooklyn, required by the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. The process — more commonly called ULURP — helps determine the character of buildings, and their purposes, within communities. The next hearing will be held by the City Planning Commission and will concern all of the new jails.

Though the borough president’s role in ULURP is purely advisory, Adams and his peers in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx can be influential in what sometimes becomes a highly politicized process. Community Board 2, which also has an advisory role, voted to withhold recommendation.

10-year-old Ethan Prayor spoke in favor of the closing of Riders and the opening of new borough-based jails. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
10-year-old Ethan Prayor spoke in favor of the closing of Rikers and the opening of new borough-based jails. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

Councilmember Stephen Levin — whose district would hold the jail — was also absent. He is on paternity leave, a staffer told the Eagle. Levin’s decision on the Brooklyn jail may be the most significant, since the council often votes with local councilmembers on ULURP applications. Three members of his team were at the hearing Thursday.

“This plan is fundamentally a decarceration effort to dramatically reduce the number of people affected by the criminal justice system,” said Dana Kaplan, deputy director of the initiative to close Rikers at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “We believe this is the largest shrinking of a city jail system in U.S. history,” she said.

MOCJ, which proposed the ULURP, is taking into account criminal justice reforms — bail reform, speedy trial and discovery reform — enacted in Albany in April that they say will dramatically reduce the number of people going into city jails and allow the city to further shrink the size of the proposed facilities. The current proposal is for a building that could be as tall as 395 feet, more than double the size of the current 11-story jail at the site.

“The borough-based jail system, in concept, is a good one, but theres one missing piece: the ULURP process. Even though there’s been five years of reducing population, there’s been no modification to the ULURP,” said Scott Jacobs, a Boerum Hill resident.

Thursday’s hearing was held on the fourth anniversary of Kalief Browder’s suicide. Browder killed himself after being detained on Rikers for three years. His death catalyzed the movement to close the complex.

10-year-old Ethan Prayor spoke out in favor of building the new jails and closing Rikers at the hearing. “I don’t want to be the next Kalief Browder,” he said.


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