NEW YORK — The New York City inmate population jumped 9 percent during the first two months of 2006, bringing the jail system close to its capacity. If the inmate population continues to rise officials may be forced to reopen the Brooklyn House of Detention, which has been shuttered since 2003.
In early March the jail population reached 14,000 inmates, an increase over the 12,754 inmates incarcerated at city jails on Jan. 1. The 10 city-run facilities in operation have a design capacity of 15,000.
If the Brooklyn House of Detention reopens, it would mark a defeat for residents in the Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill neighborhoods, who have pushed to renovate the correctional facility into residential housing.
However, there could be room for compromise among neighborhood developers and law enforcement officials. A plan introduced by Correction Commissioner Martin F. Horn includes demolishing the empty jail and building a new facility with 24,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. A correctional facility would be located on the upper levels of the building.
The area of Brooklyn has had several recent developments that have changed the neighborhood, including new restaurants, clothing stores and specialty food markets. A new arena for the New York Jets and luxury apartments are also planned.
A similar idea was executed in Manhattan during the mid-1980s when city officials attempted to appease protestors by adding stores to the bottom floor of a building that housed a new jail. The project also included an 11-story residential building for the elderly built on the same block.
Law enforcement agents cannot pinpoint the cause for the increased inmate population, but officials in New York and other East Coast cities say an unusually warm winter may play a factor in a spike in crime and arrests.
In other news, city officials have reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit that was filed in 2002 by inmates who had violent encounters with correctional officers. Lawyers say excessive force from officers left one inmate blind and other inmates with bone fractures.
Under the settlement, the city will pay a total of $2.2 million to plaintiffs. Hundreds of video cameras will be installed and programs to improve training and accountability for correctional officers will be initiated. Under the agreement, the city does not admit liability for the incidents.
Legal Aid Society, a New York-based law firm dedicated to helping poor people, filed the lawsuit in 2002.
The agreement will expire in 2009 and until then lawyers for the plaintiffs will have access to review reports of use-of-force incidents.