It'll Be the World's Tallest Jail. Will It Ruin Chinatown?

It's a key part of the plan to close Rikers Island, and it's contentious
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 27, 2023 2:15 PM CDT
It'll Be the World's Tallest Jail. Will It Ruin Chinatown?
   (Getty Images / CHXAARON)

"This is going to be the beacon of Chinatown." That's one local landlord's take on a new jail that's planned for the neighborhood, and it's not meant as a compliment. At an expected 300 feet in height—about as tall as the Statue of Liberty—it's set to become the world's tallest correctional facility, per the Guardian, which dives into the main drivers of the project. The planned jail is a key part of the plan that will see the notorious Rikers Island jail shut down and replaced with a "borough-based" system composed of four new jails constructed in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan.

The intention is to eliminate one of Rikers' many woes: the months-long wait time many detainees experience pre-trial. The new system would see the jails put closer to the courts—including the criminal court in Chinatown—to help eliminate the headache of bussing inmates in for hearings. The planned Chinatown facility will actually replace an existing detention center known as "the Tombs," which is in the process of being demolished. It holds 900 beds, which is about what the new jail will. But the plan is to add "quality-of-life features like recreation centers, health clinics, and visitation areas with children's playrooms," per the Guardian. New York Yimby reports it's set to encompass 1.25 million square feet. The only way to do that is to go way, way up.

But residents are worried, both that it will become the neighborhood's dominant feature and that it will make their bad situation worse. There's been an exodus of residents and visitors since 9/11 caused the neighborhood's garment industry to collapse. Hurricane Sandy and COVID have only accelerated the woes, with New York's Grub Street reporting in March that one out of every five storefronts there are vacant and about half of food service jobs evaporated. Business owners fear the jail could be the final nail in the coffin. (Read the Guardian's full article for more concerns, including fears for the century-old buildings around the jail site.)

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