Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Details on Lawsuit to Block Brooklyn House of Detention Expansion

November 18th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Well, that lawsuit has been filed against the reopening and expansion of the Brooklyn House of Detention. The headline on the press release is “Lawsuit: City Broke the Law, Avoided Scrutiny to Push Through Massive New Brooklyn Jail.” Officials claim the $440 million expansion has to go through a standard community land use review process and that the city is violating the law by trying to reopen the jail without public review.

November 18, 2008 – The New York City government secretively and illegally re-populated and planned to massively expand its jail in Downtown Brooklyn despite deep concerns that the project is a waste of taxpayer money and would have a destructive effect on the local economy, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by Comptroller William C. Thompson, Council Member David Yassky and public interest attorney Randy Mastro in State Supreme Court.

The City has repeatedly declared its intention to nearly double the size of its closed Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue, yet has not informed or engaged the public about the re-opening of the expansion project, nor has it followed any of the state or city laws which compel it to conduct a detailed analysis to determine environmental and community impacts. Meanwhile, the City has re-opened the jail and budgeted about $440 million for jail construction, and already entered into contract to spend more than $30 million on an architect.

“At a moment of financial crisis, this City is purposely leaving the public out of a decision to build a jail we don’t need at a time that we can’t afford it,” said Comptroller Thompson. “We are confident that the courts will recognize this unacceptable breech of the public trust, and move to prevent this $440 million-boondoggle from moving forward.”

“If the City thinks that this project is such a good idea, then why don’t they bring it before the public?” said Council Member Yassky. “Every step of the way, this project has been hidden from public review, while real questions remain about our ability to afford it, its necessity, and its potentially damaging effect on our ability to rehabilitate prisoners in New York City.”

“The City is clearly violating the law here, and denying the community the public process to which it is entitled, because the City realizes how outraged taxpayers will be by the half-billion dollar price-tag here and how devastating this massive prison project will be to this now-thriving commercial and residential neighborhood,” Mastro said. “In these tough economic times, when commerce is slowing and tax revenues are shrinking, it is unconscionable that the City would so blatantly try to cut off public participation in a decision of this magnitude.”

“Our community needs affordable housing, schools and parks—not a bigger jail. The city plans to close community centers because they say there is no money to keep them open, but they managed to find hundreds of millions of dollars to enhance a jail for criminals,” said Charlene Nimmons, president of the NYCHA Wyckoff Gardens Resident Association. “The City needs to be fixing its own dilapidated apartments first, not building fancy new jails. What kind of message is being sent to our children when the City opts to have a massive jail in our neighborhood rather than community centers and better housing?”

The City broke state law by applying to the State Department of Corrections to re-open the existing House of Detention without notifying the public. If successful, the suit would reverse the re-opening of the facility, which began Sunday, until the City follows the procedures it ignored.

The Brooklyn House of Detention was closed in 2003 because of a declining prison population, sizable capacity available for prisoners at Rikers Island, and in order to save money on the costs of running an extra jail. Soon after, however, the Bloomberg administration announced plans to build a towering new structure atop the exiting jail, nearly doubling its size and adding 700 new beds. Comptroller Thompson, Council Member Yassky, Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, Senator Adams, Senator-elect Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman have all questioned the plan and the City’s procedure in the past, and have called for the City to scuttle the project for economic reasons.

“It is a serious mistake to re-open a jail in this growing and diverse neighborhood when we could use this property to meet vital community and city-wide needs like affordable housing and a new middle school,” said state Senator-elect Daniel Squadron. “To do so without a true community process is simply unacceptable.”

“The Bloomberg administration’s plan to spend almost a half billion dollars of taxpayer money to expand and re-open the Brooklyn House Of Detention is fiscally unsound, threatens the robust revitalization of Downtown Brooklyn, and disregards the wishes of the local community,” said state Senator Eric Adams. “Further, the Mayor is circumventing the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process, and this is unacceptable public policy. Our city faces a harrowing economic situation, and we would profit by selling the Brooklyn site and moving the expansion plan to the existing facilities on Rikers Island. The Mayor seeks re-election to a third term by trumpeting his management skills. This scheme is a poor addition to his resume.”

Numerous other plaintiffs are also on the suit filed yesterday, including the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, the Atlantic Avenue LDC, the Boerum Hill Association, Cobble Hill Association and Stop BHOD.

Tags: Downtown Brooklyn

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Red Hook // Nov 18, 2008 at 3:30 pm


    Bloomberg trying to push through a project without proper input?