Cell, baby, cell! Mayor calls for stores, more beds, in plan to expand B’Hill jail

Cell, baby, cell! Mayor calls for stores, more beds, in plan to expand B’Hill jail
Mayor’s Office

He’s really celling this plan!

Mayor DeBlasio wants to dedicate about half a football field’s worth of space to potential retailers interested in opening up shop inside a massive new jail that would replace Atlantic Avenue’s House of Detention as part of his scheme to close Rikers Island within the next decade.

Hizzoner called for razing the House of D to make way for a new facility that can hold hundreds more inmates, and with space roughly the size of the Williamsburg Whole Foods for retail or community use.

DeBlasio chose Boerum Hill’s 815-bed House of D as one of four city-owned sites in as many boroughs where he intends to build “safer” cells to accommodate some of the roughly 5,000 inmates he wants relocated from the notoriously violent jails on the East River island over the next decade, he said.

“We’re taking a big step forward in the process of closing Rikers Island and creating a modern, community-based jail system that is smaller and fairer,” DeBlasio said. “Now we can move full-steam ahead on the engagement and planning for our new facilities, so we can close Rikers as fast as possible.”

Boerum Hillers feared the hundreds of detainees who’ve been convicted or are awaiting trial at the local jail would wreak havoc in the community when it reopened in 2012 after shuttering nine years before that because of budget cuts.

But complaints have been few and far between over the past six years, according to the neighborhood’s councilman, who said expanding the facility on the border of bustling Downtown would be seamless, and improve the lives of inmates.

“Rikers must close,” said Councilman Stephen Levin (D–Boerum Hill), who threw his support behind DeBlasio’s scheme last year, before the mayor named the House of Detention site as part of the plan. “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.”

Officials want to build a detention space with the square footage of roughly 24 football fields — about eight times the size of the current detention space — to pack a total of 1,150 inmates who will have access to an on-site support center offering educational and recreational programming, as well as therapy, medical, and mental-health services.

But before breaking ground, the city must first sign off on a rezoning of the Atlantic Avenue lot and its three companion sites as part of a collective Uniform Land Use Review Procedure that will unfold in each borough the facilities would be located in, which could kick off as early as the end of this year, according to Community Board 2 District Manager Robert Perris, who returned to his post on the panel in July after a one-month suspension.

If officials vote to proceed with the scheme, detainees currently locked up in the House of D will be relocated to Rikers Island or outer-borough jails to accommodate construction, a rep for DeBlasio said.

In addition to the detention and retail-community space, plans for the new Boerum Hill facility call for 277 accessory-parking spots to accommodate its employees and some 250 expected daily visitors — about a hundred more than visit each day now.

The scheme will also bring more jobs to the area, upping the number of jail employees to 290 from 115, with an additional 90 workers expected to fill the retail-community space, according to the city, which estimates construction would wrap in 2027.

And it’s not the first time officials proposed packing more inmates in the local jail. Earlier this decade, the Department of Correction pushed a similar expansion plan — which also included adding retail space — in an effort to phase out its use of Rikers Island as it prepared to reopen the House of D, but the agency ultimately dropped the controversial scheme, ironically choosing to expand a jail on the island instead.

Correction Department officials will hold a public meeting on the latest project in Boerum Hill on Sept. 20, and are accepting written comments until Oct. 15.

Meeting on the House of Detention expansion at PS 133 (610 Baltic St. near Fourth Avenue in Boerum Hill) Sept. 20 at 6 pm.

Written comments can be submitted to Howard Fiedler at 75-20 Astoria Blvd., Suite 160, East Elmhurst, NY 11370, or e-mailed to boroughpla[email protected].

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Bigger 'House': Mayor DeBlasio unveiled a plan to massively expand Atlantic Avenue's House of Detention that includes building roughly half a football field's worth of space for retail or community use, as well as hundreds of more beds.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan