New York

Manhattan Borough President Wants Rikers Women Moved to Lockup With Central Park View

What to Know

  • Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer pitched moving Rikers women to the Lincoln Correctional Facility near Central Park
  • Brewer’s recommendation came as a backdrop to the city’s much-debated proposal to close Rikers and move inmates into four new jails
  • She said her proposal is “very preliminary,” but stressed the need to find a public use for the property as real estate interests circle

This story was originally published on July 11, 2019 by THE CITY.

When some people look at a soon-to-be-closed men’s state prison with Central Park views, they envision pricey condos.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer looks at the Lincoln Correctional Facility — and sees a new home for the female inmates currently held on Rikers Island.

“I think, generally, people would love it not to be a condo,” Brewer said of the eight-story minimum-security men’s lockup on West 110th Street. “That would be their first request.”

Her proposal marked the latest idea sparked by plans to shutter the state-owned facility that occupies prime real estate.

Brewer’s recommendation came as a backdrop to the city’s much-debated proposalto close Rikers and move inmates into four new jails slated for every borough, except for Staten Island. The borough president slipped her idea into her July 5 response to the city’s jail quartet plan.

She said her proposal is “very preliminary,” but stressed the importance of finding a public use for the property as real estate interests circle.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice said Brewer’s plan would be viable only if the state gave ownership to the city.

State officials said no decision has been made on the building’s future. Brewer and others noted the state has previously turned over former lockups in Chelsea and The Bronx to nonprofits that help formerly incarcerated people.

Queens Move Years Away

There are currently 419 female inmates in the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers. The de Blasio administration wants to move that population into a renovated jail in Queens within the next decade. City officials say they decided to consolidate the female population to make it easier for social service groups to reach inmates.

The state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision plans to close Lincoln as well as the Livingston Correctional Facility in upstate New York this year. The state’s prison population has dropped by 35.7% from its peak of 72,773 prisoners 20 years ago.

There are currently 110 men in Lincoln, which has space for up to 408 people, according to a 2016 state work-release report. They will be moved to the Queensboro Correctional Facility in Long Island City and will continue in the work-release program, the department said.

Meanwhile, some advocates for the incarcerated want to save Lincoln, which prisoners can leave for up to 14 hours a day for work or on-the-job instruction as they ease their return to society.

JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, an organization that helps former prisoners, said closing Lincoln would be “a tragedy because it was one of the most successful programs that was ever run.”

Martin Horn, a former city Correction Department commissioner, called the slated Lincoln closure “a terrible thing” that he chalked up to state politics.

“We should be keeping the places close to the city open and closing the places far from the city,” he said. “But that’s not what we are doing.”

No Shortage of Ideas

In Harlem, State Senator Brian Benjamin said he started getting flooded with ideas for the Lincoln site as soon as news of the planned closure broke.

“Some people want to put affordable housing there,” he said. “Some people want to put a jail there. Some people want a museum there. Some want to turn it into a park. I have heard at least — at least — a dozen different ideas.”

Ultimately, however, it’s the state’s call, he said.

The Empire State Development Corporation, which is now responsible for the West 110th Street property, hasn’t made a decision on the building’s future. The Cuomo administration may sell, lease — or make another deal, said Jack Sterne, an agency spokesperson.

“Before any steps are taken toward redevelopment, we will solicit input from local stakeholders and neighborhood leaders,” Sterne said. “We are at a very preliminary step in the process, and we look forward to working with the Harlem community to help shape the future of this project.”

There is no formal process or timeline to which the agency must adhere for soliciting input from the community.

However, according to state law, the Empire State Development Corporation must provide a report on the facility’s future and the impact of its loss six month prior to its closure. The agency said it would allow the public to submit ideas for the property’s next act.

‘He Did the Right Thing’

The state has closed multiple prisons in the city over the past several years, including the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility in Staten Island in 2011. Broadway Stages bought the 260-acre site for $7 million and converted it into a film studio.

The Cuomo administration also closed the Bayview Correctional Facility across from Chelsea Piers after moving female prisoners from the medium-security site to protect them from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The space is now occupied by a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women.

Brewer credited Cuomo with the positive outcome she sees at Bayview — and hopes he’ll repeat the move with Lincoln.

“He did the right thing,” she said. “So we’re asking him to do it again.”

State officials also retired the Fulton Correctional Facility in the Claremont section of The Bronx in 2011. The site is now being run by the Osborne Association as a re-entry center for former prisoners.

Page, of the Fortune Society, wants any money from a possible sale of the West 110th Street property to go toward programs for formerly incarcerated people.

“When you close a prison,” she said, “you should be investing the savings into the community to make communities safer.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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