Six development teams will bid to build four new borough-based jails as part of plan to close Rikers

aerial shot of rikers island to be replaced by borough based jails
Six teams of developers will “compete” to build four new borough-based jails to replace Rikers Island.
U.S. Geological Survey/Wikimedia Commons

Six teams of development and construction companies have been selected to bid to develop the four borough-based jails planned to replace the infamous and inhumane Rikers Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday. 

Hizzoner released his “Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island” in 2017, with an end goal of closing the sprawling jail complex by 2016 and replacing it, and three other city detention centers, with four smaller jails in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx. Existing jails in the boroughs did not have enough space to accommodate the roughly 10,000 people detained at Rikers in 2016.

The Brooklyn Detention Center on Atlantic Avenue will be demolished and replaced as part of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers Island by 2027. Photo by Zoe Freilich

The city analyzed each applicant’s Statement of Qualifications and, based on elements like past performance and financial capabilities, submitted Requests for Proposals to six finalists.

Two firms will “compete” to develop the Brooklyn and Bronx-based jails, while one firm each has been selected for the Manhattan and Queens complexes, “based on evaluations of their SOQ,” according to the mayor’s office.

Most of the companies vying to build the jails have worked on large-scale projects within the city before. Lend Lease developed projects like the infamous 432 Park in Manhattan and CitiField, home of the New York Mets. In 2012, Lend Lease admitted to repeatedly overcharging clients and dodging government regulations on hiring firms operated by women and minorities in what then-U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch called the “largest construction-fraud settlement in New York City history.” 

The company’s European arm was contracted last year to build a new nearly four-million dollar prison in the U.K.

Tutor Perini, the competing firm for the Brooklyn jail, has worked extensively with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on the in-progress East Side Access project, which will connect the Long Island Railroad’s yards in Sunnyside, Queens, to a new station below Grand Central, and were subcontractors on One World Trade Center and parts of the Hudson Yards. The firm also constructed Philadelphia’s Federal Detention Center and South Woods State Prison in New Jersey, and has an extensive portfolio working with the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.

In 2009, Tutor Perini paid out a $9.75 million settlement to the federal government after being accused of fraud. Two years later, the former president of the company’s civil division was found guilty of lying to New York government agencies about hiring women and minority-owned subcontractors, winning several high-profile contracts for the company and $14 million for himself in the process. 

Gilbane Building Company, who were awarded the Manhattan contract alongside partner the Alberici Corporation, accumulated dozens of code violations from the city’s Department of Buildings from 2016 to 2021 during construction of a luxury hotel in Manhattan, Documented reported earlier this year, including 11 found when DOB did a sweep of the building after a construction worker fell to his death in February. All were considered serious safety hazards. During the same time period, Gilbane wracked up 87 OSHA violations across its many projects.

Tom Foley, acting commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, said the response from the construction industry was “exceptional” given the breadth of the project.

“The response gives us further confidence that we will be able to deliver on the promise of a more humane justice system for New York City, on-time and on-budget,” Foley said, in a release. “We were particularly impressed with the teams’ commitment to the values and goals of the Borough Based Jails program.”

The city’s Department of Corrections will take over the project in 2027.

Rikers Island, which had a population of just over 5,000 last June, is currently expected to close permanently in 2027, according to the mayor’s office, two years after the end of mayor-elect Eric Adams’ first term in office, and a year delayed from its original close date.

“New York City deserves a smaller, safer, and fairer jail system,” de Blasio said, in a release. “That starts with building modern facilities – and getting off Rikers Island once and for all. I’m proud to see borough-based jails continue to move forward, and I look forward to celebrating more progress as expert teams design and build these new facilities.”

de blasio borough based jails
In his last days in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the next step in his plan to close Rikers Island by 2027 — naming six teams of developers to bid on contracts to build four new borough-based jails. Ed Reed/NYC Mayor’s Office

Along with the eight jails slated to close on Rikers, three other city jails — including The Vernon C. Bain Center, also known as The Barge, and the Manhattan Detention Complex — will be shuttered as part of the borough-based jails plan. The four new jails will have a total population of just over 3,000 across all four facilities, significantly less than the city’s current capacity. The Queens Detention Complex is not currently an operating jail, and does not house detainees.

In 2019, de Blasio announced that two jails would be closing the following year: The Eric M. Taylor Center on Rikers Island and the Brooklyn complex. EMTC closed in March 2020 but was “almost immediately” reopened to handle COVID-positive detainees, according to the city’s Department of Corrections, and the Brooklyn jail, which de Blasio said would close by the end of January 2020, remains open, and the city recently awarded a significant contract for the demolition of the building.

Contracts were registered this week for the demolition of the existing jails, according to the city, and demolition and site preparation work will be ongoing as the city continues to work on the RFPs. That work will include the construction of “swing spaces” in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, which will “facilitate NYC Department of Corrections’ transfers of detainees for court appearances during construction.” Construction has already begun on a “community space” and parking garage at the Queens complex in Kew Gardens.