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New jail lower, but still 3 times larger

BY GABE HERMAN | Mayor de Blasio’s plan for new borough-based jails to replace Rikers Island recently moved through more steps in the review and approval process.

Administration officials presented a draft environmental impact statement, or D.E.I.S., on March 22, which showed that the four new jails would be slightly smaller than previously expected. Specifically, the height of the jails, one in each borough except for Staten Island, would be 30 to 45 feet shorter.

A rendering of how large the new jail is planned to be. The dotted red line shows the size of the “envelope” that the building could occupy. (Courtesy Mayor’s Office)

Under the latest plan, the Manhattan jail in Lower Manhattan at 124-125 White St., between Centre and Baxter Sts., currently the site of the Manhattan Detention Complex, would be 45 feet shorter than previous plans but still top out at 450 feet, the tallest of the four proposed new facilities.

The current Manhattan complex includes the nine-story North Tower and the 14-story South Tower, with 435,000 square feet over all and 898 beds. The new jail on the site would be nearly three times larger, at 1.2 million square feet, with 36 percent more beds, at 1,400 beds.

The four jails would also reflect a shrinking city prison population in recent years, according to officials at the March 22 press conference on the release of the D.E.I.S. The city currently has 11 jails, including eight on Rikers Island, with the capacity to house 11,000 total people.

A design rendering showing another view of how large the proposed new jail would be under the current plan. The dotted red line shows how large it could be. (Courtesy Mayor’s Office)

Under the new plan, there would be a total of four jails in the city, holding a total of roughly 5,000 people. Three of the four new jails, all except the one in the Bronx, would be developed on the site of current jails.

“We’re intensely focused right now on safely reducing our jail population while reducing crime,” said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, at the press conference.

“This is a major step forward for the city in our progress in closing Rikers and building borough-based jails,” Glazer said of the D.E.I.S.

Three days later, on March 25, the City Planning Commission certified the jails plan, triggering the start of the the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, which will include the plan going to area community boards for an advisory review. If the Planning Commission eventually approves the scheme after that as part of ULURP, it would then go on to the City Council, where the plan would be voted on.

Glazer said that Rikers is not up to modern standards, and that the new jails would feature many improvements. Among these are better facilities for education and medical services, and closeness to residential neighborhoods, making it easier for family members to visit and allowing court cases to proceed more quickly. The new Manhattan jail would connect to the Manhattan Criminal Court, at 100 Centre St.

“We view this as a moral imperative,” Glazer said of closing Rikers Island.

Under the city’s plan and timetable, construction of the new jails would start in 2021 and be completed in 2027.

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