Boerum Hill

Brooklyn borough president calls for smaller Boerum Hill jail — with yoga for those incarcerated

July 9, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Borough President Eric Adams has approved three Brooklyn affordable-housing projects. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
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Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams wants the city to slash the size and number of inmates to be housed in the proposed expanded Brooklyn Detention Complex, according to the recommendation his office shared exclusively with the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday.

Echoing criminal justice advocates as well as Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, Adams called for the reductions in his recommendation on the city’s plan to close the violence-plagued jail complex at Rikers Island by 2026 and replace it with four borough-based jails. Adams supports the idea of the borough-based jail plan, but had numerous recommendations for the proposed Atlantic Avenue facility.

“What we are proposing advances the city’s goal of closing Rikers while providing real benefits to the surrounding community. Most importantly, it offers a roadmap for ending the cycle of incarceration that plagues our underinvested communities,” Adams told the Eagle in an email. “We have listened closely to all stakeholders throughout this process, and have put forward a recommendation that balances the needs of the community with the imperative of making our criminal justice system more humane for all, something all sides have agreed is critical.”

Related: Jail fail: Boerum Hill board demands smaller scale

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The proposed Boerum Hill jail at 275 Atlantic Ave. — where the current Brooklyn Detention Complex now stands — should have no more than 900 beds, Adams’ recommendation says. This would be a cut of more than 500 beds from the original proposal the city made in its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application. The borough president’s recommendation was similar to that of Brooklyn’s CB2, which rejected the city’s application in June, but proposed many modifications similar to those outlined by Adams.

Both recommendations — from the board and the borough president — are purely advisory.

Lowering capacity

Though Adams disapproved of the city’s ULURP application, he does support the idea of citing the new jail at 275 Atlantic Ave.

“The Brooklyn site should be designed for a maximum capacity of 900 beds,” the borough president said in his recommendation, calling for just 25 more beds than CB2’s recommendation of 875.

Both were sharp reductions from the city’s original proposal of a 1,437 bed facility. The city has since said that based on recent criminal justice reforms, the Brooklyn Detention Complex is now expected to have 1,150 beds as opposed to 1,437.

Related: The city’s new post-Rikers Island jails will be smaller

“You can see there’s not even a tremendous gap between those two numbers,” said Tyler Nims, the executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, about the borough president’s recommendation of 900 beds and the city’s plan for 1,150. The commission was formed in 2016 to study ways Rikers could be closed, and proposed the borough-based jail plan.

One CB2 member, however, said she didn’t understand why Adams suggested more beds — even if it’s only 25 — than the community board recommended in June.

“I don’t see the significance of the actual increase of beds. It doesn’t reflect what the numbers are demonstrating as we speak,” said Sam Johnson, a CB2 member.

Putting health first

Johnson also said that she wished the borough president addressed the litany of other recommendations set forth by the community board. One of the community board’s recommendations was to create a new training facility for correctional officers that would “improve the culture” of the Department of Correction.

Adams and CB2 board members did both agree in their recommendations that people with mental health and substance abuse issues should be held in therapeutic environments as an alternative to incarceration.

Related: Formerly incarcerated share harrowing experiences in support of Brooklyn jail expansion

In another departure from CB2, and one of his more on-brand recommendations, the borough president said that DOC could help reduce recidivism rates by providing more health services in jails — such as nutrition education, plant-based diets and yoga.

Adams, a vegan, recently launched a pilot program for yoga in East New York schools, and he also helped roll out Meatless Mondays in Brooklyn schools.

Decrease size, increase input

While the city’s current application is for a maximum height of 395 feet at the Brooklyn facility, the borough president’s recommendation called for a building of no more than 235 feet. The current building is 170 feet tall and has 815 beds.

Though Adams technically made a recommendation on the city’s ULURP for all four borough-based jails, he limited his proposed modifications to the Brooklyn facility, deferring to his counterparts in Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan to come to their own decisions. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. rejected the city’s plan on Friday, while reiterating his support for closing Rikers Island. And Adams’ Queens counterpart Melinda Katz formally rejected the city’s plan in June. Gale Brewer in Manhattan supports the plan.

Adams held a public hearing June 6, where his office heard from 24 community members who were against the plan and 28 community members who supported the plan, according to his recommendation.

“Brooklynites have made their priorities clear, including their strong support of the goal to close the jails on Rikers Island,” said a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in response to Adams’ recommendation. “As New York City moves forward on transforming our justice system, the city will continue working in partnership with communities to ensure we create the best possible plan.”

A rendering by the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) of the new Brooklyn Detention Complex. Rendering courtesy of MOCJ.
A rendering by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice of the new Brooklyn Detention Complex. Rendering courtesy of MOCJ.

Both the community board and borough president called for reductions in bed count and size in part because of bail reform, speedy trial and discovery reform passed in Albany in April that will likely reduce the number of people incarcerated at any given time in New York City. (MOCJ says the city is now preparing for an estimated incarcerated population of 4,000 as opposed to 5,000).

Adams also made the decision to call for reduced bed count and size based on the jail’s context within the surrounding neighborhood, according to his recommendation.

The borough president requested other changes to the city’s proposal as well.

He recommended that DOC and the MOCJ expand the city’s supervised release programs to include a “broader range of non-violent crimes,” and called for a new community advisory group to be created — including Community Board 2, neighborhood organizations and businesses, and local elected officials — that would meet with city agencies throughout design and construction of the new jail.

Nims said he supported the idea of a community advisory group.

“I actually think the formalized process of community input is really important not only for the community, but also for getting the process right,” he said.

He called the borough president’s recommendation a “really positive step.”

In another clash with the city’s plan, Adams recommended that a “community space” on Atlantic Avenue in the jail not provide space for retailers.

“Borough President Adams concurs with those who have expressed concern about bringing more retail space to Atlantic Avenue,” the recommendation reads.

Instead, Adams supported restricting the space on the Atlantic Avenue side to “cultural uses” at below-market rents. Deciding on who gets the space would be determined in consultation with the community advisory group.

With Adams’ recommendation, the ULURP is now in the hands of the City’s Planning Commission, which will hold a public hearing on all four borough-based jails on Wednesday at City Hall.

If the City Planning Commission votes yes on the ULURP, it will proceed to a full City Council vote. If they vote no, the city’s application comes to an abrupt stop. Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents the neighborhood where the Brooklyn jail is to be expanded, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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