Brooklyn prison expansion halted by judge

Brooklyn House of Detention. Photo:Natalie Amar.

Court compelled an EIS and other public participation measures related to Brooklyn House of Detention. In 2003, the City closed the Brooklyn House of Detention, located at 275 Atlantic Avenue across from the Criminal Court. At the time, Correction reasoned that the costs of caring for each inmate at the Brooklyn facility were too high because of the facility’s small capacity. Since then, the City kept no inmates there overnight, but the facility was still used to process inmates and transfer them to the nearby court for appearances.

Correction later determined that the costs and security risks for transferring inmates to their respective court appearances could be reduced if Correction reoccupied and expanded the Brooklyn facility. In 2008, Correction solicited bids for the renovation and expansion of the facility. It also applied for, and was granted, State permission to reopen the facility to its maximum capacity of 759 inmates. In November 2008, Correction transferred 31 inmates to the Brooklyn facility on an overnight basis to have them maintain the facility and prepare it to accommodate pre-arraignment detainees. Correction also submitted a contract for architectural design to the Comptroller for registration.

In response, a group of community organizations sued, seeking to stop the transfer of any more inmates or allocation of money, and to halt the approval or award of any contracts relating to the reopening and expansion of the facility. The group claimed that Correction could not proceed until it complied with the Charter’s Fair Share Criteria, State and City environmental review processes, and the land use review process. Correction countered that it had not yet moved ahead with plans to expand, but would comply with applicable requirements once it made a final decision on whether to expand.

Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix refused to issue an injunction to stop Correction from reopening the facility, but did enjoin Correction from allocating funds to or beginning construction on the expansion of the facility. The court found that Correction had made significant plans for a contractor and appeared to be moving toward expansion. The community, whose role was limited to recommendation, had a right to participate in the early stages of the review process. Justice Hinds-Radix ruled that Correction had to conduct environmental reviews under SEQRA and CEQR for its plan to expand the facility. The court also ruled that plans to expand the facility

amounted to a “site selection for a capital project” under ULURP and, therefore, would require land use review. Similarly, the court ruled that with respect to the expansion, Correction would have to conduct a Fair Share Analysis.

Stop BHOD v. New York City, 2009 N.Y. Slip Op. 50461U (Kings Cty.Sup.Ct. March 13, 2009) (Hinds-Radix, J.) (Randy M. Mastro, Jim Walden, for Stop BHOD; Michael A. Cardozo, Florence A. Hunter, Adam Stolorow, for NYC).

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