Boerum Hill

Jail officials deny accusations of ‘secret’ transfers to Rikers from Brooklyn

September 13, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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Activists accused the city’s Department of Correction Friday of secretly moving detainees from the Brooklyn Detention Complex to the jail complex on Rikers Island “in order to fast track building new jails.” But in a letter sent by top DOC officials to the staff at the Boerum Hill facility, obtained by the Brooklyn Eagle, the department denied the allegations.

The claim came just weeks after union officials told reporters at THE CITY that the Brooklyn jail would close by the end of the year to facilitate the building’s demolition. In the letter, DOC officials denied that any time frame for closing the jail had been decided.

The city plans to tear down the 11-story Brooklyn Detention Complex and build a new jail at least twice as large. The demolition is part of a borough-based jail plan that would install a new facility in every borough but Staten Island as part of the city’s stated goal to shutter Rikers Island.

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“We have not made any policy changes to the established DOC custody management process of decision-making regarding the housing [of] individuals at [Brooklyn Detention Complex],” Cynthia Brann, the commissioner of the DOC, wrote in a letter to staff at the jail. “There have been no changes in policy regarding the transfer of individuals from [Brooklyn Detention Complex] to other DOC facilities.”

Brann also denied the reporting that the jail would be imminently closed. “We want to make it absolutely clear there are no confirmed plans at this time to close the [Brooklyn Detention Complex] today, on October 1, or any date thereafter,” she wrote in the letter.

Activists with the group No New Jails — a prison abolitionist group that opposes the mayor’s plan — condemned what they called the mayor’s “secretive, dangerous, and undemocratic plan” to begin moving incarcerated people to the Rose. M Singer facility on Rikers Island, a women’s jail.

No New Jails activists said that DOC is already moving men incarcerated at the Brooklyn Detention Complex to Rikers Island.

“This has been going on for weeks. We’ve been informed that the entire 10th floor of people had been moved to Rikers two or three weeks ago,” said Brittany Williams, an organizer with No New Jails. The group plans on holding a rally Friday at 6:00 p.m. outside Brooklyn Detention Complex to condemn the alleged transport of incarcerated men. Williams said the information about the transfer came from the family members of incarcerated individuals.

In the DOC letter, Brann acknowledges that some men with heat sensitivity have been moved out of the Brooklyn Detention Complex to jails that have air-conditioning. This summer, a Brooklyn councilmember condemned the conditions inside the “boiling-hot” Brooklyn Detention Complex after touring the facility.

Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents the area where the jail is located, said his office visited the Brooklyn Detention Complex Friday morning after hearing the allegations against DOC. While Levin said the Mayor’s Office denied there is a plan to close the Brooklyn jail in the next few months, he also said his “staff talked with corrections officers, family members of individuals being detained, social workers and attorneys and heard firsthand that individuals have been transferred to Rikers from [Brooklyn Detention Complex] at higher levels than in past years,” Levin said in a statement.

The councilmember also called into question the truthfulness of DOC. “The dissonance between the information DOC has provided to me and what is being reported on the ground calls into question DOC’s transparency and their accountability to the mayor, the council, and all New Yorkers. It makes one wonder whether they should have full control over the operations of detention facilities in New York City.”

Though DOC denied in the letter any changes in their housing policy, the city does plan on moving people from the Brooklyn Detention Complex to Rikers Island if the jail plan is approved. The incarcerated population would be held at Rikers Island while a new jail is built at the current DOC site at 275 Atlantic Ave. The facility would be completed by 2026, according to the plan.

Though the land-use proposal to build the four new borough-based jails was put forward with the goal of shutting down the violence-plagued complex at Rikers Island, the current land-use application does not include legally binding language that would close Rikers.

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