NYCHS Presentation Page 8 of 15

Jails for the 80s
NYC DOC Report



In order to determine the capital needs and direction of the City detention system, it is essential to examine the existing relationship between the State of New York and the City concerning the provision of correctional services.

When State prisons become overcrowded the first tactic commonly employed to gain relief by states - not only in New York but across the nation - is to slow down the process of accepting State sentenced inmates from local detention centers.

While the City-State relationship is most often assessed solely in terms of the current number of State inmates backed up within City jails, several factors must be examined within the context of existing law and ongoing governmental relations:

  • Capacity of the City system

  • State financial obligations

  • Program Service opportunities for inmates.


The City's system does not have sufficient or suitable capacity to accommodate the wide fluctuations in flow and the special security needs of State inmates. In August 1980 between 650 and 700 State inmates populated the City's jails. That group included both sentenced persons ("State readies") and parole violators.


Currently most State inmates stay in the City system free of charge. No legal mechanism is available to the City to oblige the State to pay for this service. The City receives no payment for the State readies and $15 per day for a limited number of parole violators. The average length of stay of these prisoners is 85 days. The Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Correction project a $15.2 million expenditure for Fiscal Year 1981 to accommodate the State inmate back-up.


City staff and space are insufficient to provide mandated activities for the full range of State inmates. Inmate idleness produces volatile confinement conditions.

Since 1975, continual discussions between the City and State on the utilization of Rikers Island, ranging from the purchase or lease of specific jails to the purchase or lease of the entire Island, have yielded little results in terms of more effective use of total City-State corrections space.

The negative impact on the City's system includes:

  • $15.2 million expenditure in 1980 for "State readies" and parole violators

  • Inability to meet and maintain reasonable population levels within HDM due to the presence of State inmates in a facility that can serve only 1,200

  • Security problems from the State population since it represents a pre-classification, high-security-risk group requiring special security attention

  • Strain on the City's workforce since housing areas for State inmates are1requently staffed on an overtime basis.

The history of the City-State relationship shows a certain degree of flexibility on the part of both parties to accommodate temporary population shifts.

During the past ten years City inmates have been housed under contract through special enabling legislation at Ossining and as far away as Eastern in Napanoch.

Those relationships highlight the potential for the redistribution of space between the two systems as an alternative to construction for expansion.


Rikers Island Transfer
The 1979 Rikers Island Transfer Proposal was based on the City's objective to build new detention centers adjacent to the courts and the State's objective to expand its capacity, especially in the New York metropolitan area. While preserving modern, well-located housing for the City, it would have enabled the State to avoid a massive new construction effort and probably would have provided some replacement space for older State facilities.

In the months since the City announced its decision not to pursue the full transfer plan, two proposals have emerged which would involve the shared utilization of the Island. These are as follows.

HDM Option
Under this option the City would convey to the State the Rikers Island House of Detention for Men and its support buildings in exchange for an existing State property in lower Manhattan reconstructed as a detention center.

With the acquisition of the HDM facility, the State would assume full responsibility for all State ready inmates and parole violators. The State would also agree to temporarily house at actual cost within the metropolitan area, 250-550 low-risk City sentenced males. Upon completion of the Manhattan House of Detention in early to mid 1982, the City would reassume its responsibility for all City inmates.

Rikers Island Land Parcel Option
Under this option the State has also expressed interest in acquiring land and/or buildings on the east side of Hazen Street. With the acquisition of a parcel behind ARDC and/or the Women's House, the State would build a 500-1,000 bed maximum security general confinement facility.

Either of these proposals has some merit both for the City and for the State. However, extended discussion without resolution benefits neither side, and it is recommended that the administration move quickly to conclude negotiations with the State on these alternative whatever the outcome. In the Action Plan which completes this report, it is assumed that the City will be compelled to solve its capacity needs alone. Should one of these two option subsequently become a reality, the Action Plan can be accomplished more quickly and with fewer City capital dollars.


There is a critical need to amend and reform the State's correction law in a manner which provides reasonable fiscal relief to the City, now bearing the inordinate cost of housing State inmates. . . .

In reviewing the State backlog problem and in assessing . alternatives to construction within the context of the City-State relationship, New York should give full consideration to legislation under which a state-local corrections partnership is established. The objective of such a partnership is to divert persons who currently serve sentences in the State system to alternative sentences in non-secure, less costly City based programs. Under such an agreement the City would:

  • develop low non-security residential programs for low risk State offenders;
  • devise within DOC or Probation an administrative organization to manage community programs, including work release, restitution, etc.; and
  • provide, through contract, small-scale community based residential programs for up to 500 State inmates thus freeing up State space for higher risk individuals.
In return, the State would:
  • provide subsidy funds;
  • provide technical assistance in planning and program development;
  • assume responsibility for its higher risk State sentenced inmates at the time of sentencing
  • maintain standards for local operations, and
  • provide monitoring and program evaluation.

. . . . The expansion of State facilities in the past several years has afforded little relief in the constant presence of State readies backed up into the City system. The constant presence of these State inmates has resulted in a severe strain on the City's detention system which must be addressed when establishing priorities for capital planning during the 1980s.

[Note: The above text is from
the entire Chapter II, pages II - 1 through II - 8.]
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