View Full Version : Excess of Jail Space

September 26th, 2003, 05:36 PM
New York City prisons

Needed: crooks

Sep 18th 2003 | NEW YORK

From The Economist print edition

Too much jail space is the city's newest problem

A THIN strip of granite facing is being wrapped around the first floor of the bleak 800-cell Brooklyn House of Detention, a visible sign that a $45m renovation is creeping forward. The question is whether anyone can be found to go into it.

The jail, built in 1957 near the old Brooklyn courthouses in the stark “brutalist” style popular among architects but not people, served as an early example of inept urban renewal. A neighbourhood that included a church, small houses and businesses had been damaged by subway construction; it was replaced by a concrete jail surrounded by forlorn concrete lots. Economic renewal, such as it was, came from the conversion of several shops into places for bail bondsmen to ply their trade.

Attempts to modernise the prison began a decade ago. Revised building codes prompted slow renovations and then modest improvements, such as a new waiting room for prisoners' families. There is even some effort to spruce up the awful look of the place. All that is missing from this display case of correctional excellence is a few criminals to put in it.

The number of prisoners may have been rising quickly in America as a whole over the past decade, but in New York City, it has been falling. The city's sharp decline in crime, which began under Mayor Rudy Giuliani but has continued under Michael Bloomberg, pushed down the average daily number of people behind bars from 23,000 in 1991 and 19,200 in 1997 to under 14,000 today. These people all fit handily on the city's main “prison island” in the East River. Altogether, five New York prisons are short of jailbirds, but as David Yassky, a local councilman, points out: “If there ever was a white elephant, the Detention Centre is it.”

New York is not alone in this respect. Crime has gone down in other cities, and there has also been a splurge of jail building in the countryside, sucking in the available criminal talent. Some 30 old prisons have been transformed into museums. The most famous, Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, boasts a Brooklyn boy, Al Capone, as its star alumnus.

Brooklyn may have some hope in this respect. Capone made his name in Chicago, but his untoward instincts were hardly unique in his birthplace—the House of Detention has had its own rub with infamy. Its old boys include Jack Abbott, an author-murderer, Bernard Goetz, the subway vigilante and mayoral candidate, and even the Rev Al Sharpton, who has been accused of most of these things and is now running for the presidency. A longer, more definitive, list could no doubt become a marketing campaign.

Alas, many locals would rather bury their concrete bunker, rather than celebrate it. The House of Detention sits on a key road-crossing, and consequently Brooklyn's politicians and merchants would like nothing better than to blow the place up and replace it with a mall. After all, a large prison in Northern Virginia was recently converted into housing.

New York City officials, however, are adamant about keeping the House of Detention as a house of detention. They believe that getting another site for a jail, if ever one were needed, would require years of fighting local residents, regardless of where they tried to plonk it. They have also learned to be sceptical about trends in crime. “Just as the jail population has dropped, it could go up again,” says Martin Horn, commissioner of the Department of Corrections. For instance, the number is currently below where it was at the beginning of the year, but it has surged by 700 in the past three weeks alone.

Regardless of need, the city also has a well-established reluctance to give up property voluntarily. Two miles away from the House of Detention is another old jail, known as “The Brig” because of its connection to the old Navy Yard. Its last prisoner cleared out in 1994, but the Department of Corrections surrendered the facility to the city only last year and since then the city has sat on the property.

This style of defensive urban asset-management comes with what economists call an opportunity cost. Another consequence of the decline in crime has been a resurgence of many previously run-down neighbourhoods, including central Brooklyn, on the edge of which sits the House of Detention. Archaic zoning restrictions have been loosened up. Breaking with precedent, Mr Giuliani waged a bitter battle to force the city to sell a municipally owned parking garage to the west of the House of Detention. The site was purchased for $16m by a developer who took the rare step of actually developing a new property in downtown Brooklyn. To the north of the House of Detention a similar process unfolded around the former headquarters of the city's education bureaucracy, which went for $45m.

This rehabilitation could be spurred by the sale of the unloved House of Detention. The sale could also bring in $35m-50m, no small matter in a difficult time. Missing the opportunity, say the House of Detention's many critics, would also be a crime.

TLOZ Link5
September 26th, 2003, 05:54 PM
However, in recent weeks there has been an excess of murders compared to last year. CompStat's latest statistics say that, to date, there have been about 6.5% more murders this year. Rapes have likewise seen a rise, albeit quite miniscule.

September 27th, 2003, 10:12 AM
But can't the other jails take the new ones, or Riker's? Riker's, I'm sure has space, if there was a surge. This is in too prime a spot at such an important development time for the area. I think it should be closed down.

September 27th, 2003, 12:47 PM
I agree that the Brooklyn jail is ugly. But development and restorations are easier said than done, there are lots of politics in New York City and if anyplace its here. For instance the renovations at the base is ongoing and at an extremly slow pace, it is practically at the same place as it was 2 years ago.

January 16th, 2004, 12:33 AM
January 16, 2004

Rikers Houses Low-Level Inmates at High Expense


New York City's Correction Department spent an average of nearly $59,000 per inmate in the 2003 fiscal year. But when all city expenses are factored in - insurance and pension benefits for correction staff, for instance, as well as more than $150 million for jail medical care - the yearly per-inmate cost is closer to $100,000, according to the city's Independent Budget Office.

Either way, the expense of jailing people in the city is especially great, Bloomberg administration officials acknowledge - far more, for instance, than it is in other big cities.

In an effort to limit costs, the city has become much better over the last decade at weeding out people who are accused of crimes but who do not necessarily need to be incarcerated, at a cost of $250 or more a day.

"Some people don't need to be in jail; they can perform community service to pay for their crime," said John Feinblatt, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator. "We've been focusing on those people who belong in jail."

Even so, some criminal justice experts and advocates for alternatives to incarceration say New York City is still wasting money and opportunities to most effectively and humanely handle the roughly 13,500 inmates now at Rikers Island - huge numbers of whom are mentally ill, addicted to drugs or H.I.V.-positive.

"It really doesn't makes sense to spend almost $100,000 a year to keep drug users, petty criminals, people with mental illness jailed," said Nicholas Freudenberg, the director of the Program in Urban Public Health at Hunter College, who spent 15 years doing research in Rikers Island jails. "It's not a good use of public money."

Most Rikers Island inmates have been in jail at least once before, according to Correction Department statistics, and many return to jail several times a year, creating a revolving-door effect in which low-level crimes lead to relatively small punishments, like probation or short jail sentences, that do little to alter criminal behavior.

To help eliminate that cycle, Professor Freudenberg and other experts say, the city should take its turnstile jumpers, open-container violators and other relatively innocuous lawbreakers - many of whom may be homeless, jobless and addicted to drugs - out of jail, where they receive little help. They argue that they should be placed in community-based programs and shelters that help them gain practical skills.

"For $90,000 or $100,000," Professor Freudenberg added, "we could put people in housing, in treatment, in college, a whole range of things that would lead to better outcomes."

Jeremy Travis, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington and former director of the National Institute of Justice under President Bill Clinton, said the goal of groups like his, which advocate offering more alternatives to incarceration, is the same as the city's.

"At the most fundamental level," Mr. Travis said in an interview on Monday, "what we're talking about is how to reduce crime."

New York's jails are significantly more expensive than any other municipal jail system, but even some jail critics say the extra money has helped shape it into a much safer system, with some of the best medical care available to any jail inmate in the nation.

The Los Angeles County jail system, the largest in the nation, spends less than $24,000 per inmate a year, less than half of what the New York Correction Department alone spends. In Chicago, where hundreds of inmates must sleep on floors because of overcrowding, the average cost per inmate is $21,900.

New York City officials said they have already made significant progress in recent years in directing more people who have been accused of crimes, and who would have been sent directly to jail in the past, toward treatment and other alternatives.

In the early 1990's, 24 percent of people arrested in New York were sentenced to jail or prison, Mr. Feinblatt, the mayor's criminal justice expert, said. In 2001, he added, only 15 percent were.

"The trend is clearly saying not everyone needs to go to jail," Mr. Feinblatt said. "You don't treat all detainees as an undifferentiated mass. But you got to be smart. You got to decide who needs careful supervision but can be released, and who needs to remain in jail because they are threat to public safety."

The recent creation of drug courts, which allow nonviolent drug offenders to complete a judge-supervised treatment program instead of prison time, is evidence of the city's "smart on crime" philosophy, Mr. Feinblatt said. In September, the city announced a coordinated effort among several agencies to provide inmates released from jail access to drug treatment, jobs or job training and, where possible, shelter.

But critics like Professor Freudenberg and Mr. Travis, while crediting the city for innovative measures, say more can be done to reduce a jail population that increasingly comprises people accused of low-level crimes.

As the city's crime rate has dropped in recent years, the proportion of city jail inmates accused of misdemeanor crimes has jumped - to 42 percent last year from 29 percent in 1994, according to Correction Department statistics. The criminal justice system should provide alternatives to incarceration to those inmates in jail only because they lack the cash to post a modest bail, Professor Freudenberg said.

"For want of an individual or family having $500, the city spends $250 a day to keep them in a cell," he said.

For all the good intentions on both sides, only measures that create large reductions in the inmate population will lead to significant savings, said Martin F. Horn, the correction commissioner.

Much of that $92,000 the city pays to keep one inmate in jail for a year is tied up in fixed costs - bus fleets, building maintenance, heating fuel and food service operations - immune to a small drop in the jail's population, he said.

"If there were one fewer inmate, I wouldn't save much," Mr. Horn said. "If it were reduced by a thousand, I'd save millions."


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

January 16th, 2004, 04:10 PM
The problem is tht that 100K per "tenant" figure is a little skewed. haven't they said that the number of criminals incarcerated has gone down significantly? that being the case, has the cost overall gone down? Look at the stats per capita for 03, the number of prisoners went down AND the cost per capita went down.

I am confused why they need to reduce it further....

Also, if more people are released, beyond a certain level, will the reduction in overall cost be that much? maybe one more prison will close, making the paroll smaller, but the city will not give it up that easily, absolving itself of any expense and actually getting some tax revenue from the development.....

July 1st, 2006, 07:23 PM
Wonder if they'll have to change the name of this place (the Correctional_Facility (http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/bbkcomplex.html) in downtown Manhattan formerly known as "The Tombs"), now that Kerik has copped a plea (http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/431629p-363694c.html) ...



July 2nd, 2006, 10:07 PM
lo and behold!!

Kerik's Name Removed From New York Jail

Ex-New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik's Name Pulled From Jail After Guilty Plea

Raw Story / ABC NEWS (http://rawstory.com/showarticle.php?src=http%3A%2F%2Fabcnews.go.com%2F US%2Fprint%3Fid%3D2146493)
The Associated Press
July 2, 2006

NEW YORK - A city jail renamed to honor former police commissioner Bernard Kerik in 2001 has resurrected its previous name after he pleaded guilty to charges of taking gifts from construction firm.

Workers removed the sign from the Bernard B. Kerik Complex in lower Manhattan early Sunday and replaced it with one bearing a familiar name Manhattan Detention Complex, correction spokesman Michael Saucier said.

Kerik pleaded guilty last week to taking $165,000 in renovations on his apartment from Interstate Industrial Corp. a company that was trying to do business with the city and failing to report a $28,000 loan from a real estate developer.

Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani approved changing the Manhattan Detention Complex's name to honor Kerik, who also had been correction commissioner.

In 2004, President Bush nominated Kerik to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security, but the nomination was withdrawn amid ethics questions.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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