New York City’s plan to close the jails on Rikers Island and replace them with four borough-based alternatives has been delayed by the coronavirus, budget woes, and community opposition, but at least part is moving forward. On Friday, October 9, the Department of Correction announced that the Manhattan Detention Complex at 125 White Street—AKA “The Tombs”—would be shuttered sometime in November.
The Otis Bantum Correctional Center on Rikers Island will also be closed next month; together, the facilities currently house 763 inmates. Those occupants will be dispersed to the other six jails on Rikers Island, and one in the Bronx (a move to increase density in already crowded facilities that’s already drawing criticism given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic).
The 15-story Tombs complex currently takes up an entire block in Lower Manhattan. The South Tower, renovated in 1983, and the North Tower, completed in 1990 and joined with a sky bridge, have long been neighborhood landmarks (though not necessarily in a good way). The city’s current plan is to demolish the detention center and replace it with a 29-story jail tower, and once Rikers is emptied, relocate a portion of its inmates there.
However, demolition of the Tombs was already pushed back from March of 2021 to sometime next summer, and community groups recently won an injunction from the State Supreme Court to halt construction at the site. In their suit, Judge John Kelley ruled that the city hadn’t done its due diligence in scoping alternative potential sites for the new jail tower and had rushed its Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Additionally, Judge Kelley sided with plaintiffs Neighbors United Below Canal and other groups in determining that the city had ignored local concerns in its decision to move all four of the new jail towers through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure as one project.
Although at the time of writing, the de Blasio administration has not indicated whether they’ll appeal the state ruling, the move to shutter the Tombs is a likely sign that the city has something planned for the site.