Open big house: Jail opens its doors to community

The Brooklyn House of Detention, which is expected to reopen, could be flanked by residential towers (area inside dotted lines, above).
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Here’s one get-together where guests won’t want to overstay their welcome.

The Brooklyn House of Detention is unlocking its cell doors for an open house on Saturday — surprising critics of the controversial lockup, who have fought to keep the Atlantic Avenue jail from reopening later this month.

“When people want to tear your house down, why ask if they want a peek at the furniture?” said Bryan Haker. “I don’t think I would walk away with any sense of relief.”

The open house will offer curious neighbors refreshments, a guided tour, and a chance to chat up the warden.

“We’re holding the open house to re-introduce ourselves to the community and make clear our intention to be a good neighbor,” said Sharman Stein, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.

Visitors will glimpse inside the jail’s revamped inmate quarters, kitchen, day room and medical clinic, and have a chance to meet warden Walter Nin. It won’t be a touristy Alcatraz-style visit, but staff will answer questions on the clink, which has been shuttered since 2003 due to budget cuts.

The city is reopening the 759-bed slammer near Smith Street over the next few weeks to ease the strain on Rikers Island. The jail will house pre-trial detainees from Brooklyn and Staten Island and inmates serving sentences of a year or less, city officials say.

Boerum Hill residents bemoaned the House of D’s comeback earlier this month, saying that they feared their lawns would once again become stash spots for drugs and contraband left behind by jail visitors. They also bristled at the specter of court officers taking their parking spots.

But members of the cooler’s new advisory council proposed the public reception to alleviate their fears.

“This is an opportunity to demystify the jail and say hello and have a cup of tea,” said Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association and a member of the council. “It’s odd, but we all thought it made sense to engage with the community in some way.”

Some neighbors who wish the jail wouldn’t return admit they are curious to take a look inside.

“I’m a little intrigued by the concept of prison, because it’s one’s worst fear,” said Kate Perry. “It’s hard for the average, law-abiding person to imagine what it’s like.”

Open house at the Brooklyn House of Detention [275 Atlantic Ave. between Boerum Place and Smith Street in Boerum Hill, (718) 546-0631], Feb. 4, 10 am to 1 pm. RSVP by e-mailing Delilah.Ortega@doc.nyc.gov.

Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

More from Around New York

>