Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center

The Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center (VCBC; also known as the Vernon C. Bain Maritime Facility[2] and nicknamed "The Boat"[3]) was an 800-bed jail barge used to hold inmates for the New York City Department of Corrections. The barge was anchored off the Bronx's southern shore, across from Rikers Island, near Hunts Point. It was built for $161 million at Avondale Shipyard in Louisiana, along the Mississippi River near New Orleans,[4] and brought to New York in 1992 to reduce overcrowding in the island's land-bound buildings for a lower price.[5] Nicknamed "The Boat" by prison staff and inmates,[6] it was designed to handle inmates from medium- to maximum-security in 16 dormitories and 100 cells.

Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center
The jail barge seen from the East River
LocationHunts Point, Bronx, New York
Coordinates40°48′5″N 73°52′38″W / 40.80139°N 73.87722°W / 40.80139; -73.87722
Security classintake and processing
Opened1992 (1992)
Managed byNew York City Department of Corrections
WardenLinda Griffin[1]
Street address1 Halleck Street
CityNew York City
State/provinceNew York
ZIP Code10474
CountryUnited States

The Vernon C. Bain Center was the third prison barge that the New York Department of Corrections has used. In its history, the prison has served traditional inmates, juvenile inmates and is currently used as a holding and temporary processing center. The added security of the prison being on water has prevented at least four attempted escapes. The barge was named in memorial for warden Vernon C. Bain, who died in an automobile accident. In 2014, the prison barge was named the world's largest prison barge in operation by Guinness World Records.[7] The barge was decommissioned in November 2023.[8]

History edit

Planning edit

Vernon C. Bain barge as seen from kayaks on the East River.

In the late 1980s, the New York City Department of Correction experienced overcrowding issues in its prison complexes.[9] The idea of temporarily alleviating the issues of a growing inmate population and dwindling space by outfitting prison ships was conceived under the administration of then Mayor Edward I. Koch. Their solution was to develop usable prison space with maritime cells and avoid complaints about building jails in densely populated neighborhoods.[4] At the time, the prisons at nearby Rikers Island held 22,000 inmates, and with this number increasing consistently, were nearing capacity.[10]

In 1988, the Bibby Resolution and her sister ship Bibby Venture were bought by the New York City Department of Correction to serve as the first two prison ships.[11] Both ships were previously used as British troop carriers before being re-purposed into prison ships.[12] The Bibby Venture was docked off Manhattan's Greenwich Village,[13] while the Bibby Resolution was located off the Lower East Side of Manhattan.[14] They were decommissioned in 1992.[14] In 1994 both ships were sold,[15][16] leaving the Bain Correctional Center and two converted Staten Island ferries, the Harold A. Wildstein and Walter B. Keane,[17] docked at Rikers Island to be used when overcrowding became an issue.[18][14]

Construction edit

The construction of the Vernon C. Bain Center prison barge began in 1989 at Avondale Shipyard by Avondale Industries and was supposed to be finished in 1990 at the price of $125.7 million. Due to unanticipated construction problems including issues with the ventilation system, the finished barge was delivered 18 months late and $35 million over budget.[19] The barge was originally slated to be docked at the Brooklyn Army Terminal or the mayor's mansion.[20] The site ultimately chosen, at Hunts Point, was selected after protests arose over the other proposed sites.[10] On January 26, 1992, the recently outfitted prison barge was brought through Long Island Sound by the tugboat, Michael Turecamo, after an 1,800 nautical mile trip.[19] The new barge was named for well-liked and respected warden Vernon C. Bain, who had died in an automobile accident.[21][9]

One of the first captains of the barge under the Department of Corrections had previously been employed by the same tugboat company and had earlier captained the tugboat that hauled the barge to its current location. The new crew of the prison barge, who were placed in accordance with Coast Guard regulations, worked on the empty barge to learn the vessel operations, including the electrical and fire fighting systems.[22] The barge officially opened for use and began accepting inmates later in 1992.[4]

Operation edit

Parking lot and main entrance to the center in Hunts Point, Bronx

From the time the barge was constructed, there has been controversy about its cost.[4] The final price was more than $35 million over budget, which attracted negative attention. The assistant correction commissioner, John H. Shanahan, claimed the price difference was because the Department of Corrections "never designed this kind of passenger vessel before and unfortunately there was a mistake in the original contract."[4] William Booth, the chairman of the Board of Corrections, said at the time that the prison barge would be the last barge the Department of Corrections would build because the process was too expensive and too uncertain. The Board of Corrections is an independent body that monitors city-owned prisons.[4]

Furthermore, by the time the Bain Center opened, the inmate population of New York City's jail system had started to decline.[10] The prison barge was temporarily closed in August 1995 due to less crowded city jails, caused by a decline in arrests and inmate transfers. In late 1996, the prison was slated for reopening due to the rise in arrests from a campaign targeting drugs and drug dealers.[23] The six-month campaign expected more than seven thousand additional arrests than usual, but the ship was not reopened until 1998 when it was used by the Department of Juvenile Justice. The Bain Center is currently used as a processing facility for inmates in the Department of Corrections system. There are three other processing facilities that each handle specific boroughs.[24]

In early 2016, New York City government officials began looking into ways to possibly shutter Rikers Island and transfer prisoners to other locations. One plan is to situate a 2,000-bed jail in the parking lot for the Bain Center.[3][25] Another similar plan includes closing the barge jail.[26] In 2018 the city released plans to phase out Rikers Island over ten years[27] and replace it with borough-based jails.[28] The Bain Center is included in the plan to close Rikers Island,[10] which the New York City Council voted to approve in October 2019.[29][30] Under the bill, both facilities would have to close by 2026.[10] In September 2023, the city's Department of Corrections announced plans to decommission the Vernon C. Bain Center by that October. The DOC would move the barge's 200 staff and 500 prisoners to Rikers Island.[31][32]

Facilities edit

The 625-foot-long (191 m) by 125-foot-wide (38 m) flatbed barge had 16 dormitories and 100 cells for inmates.[5] For recreation, there was a full-size gym with basketball court, weight lifting rooms, and an outdoor recreation facility on the roof. There were three worship chapels, a modern medical facility, and a library open to inmate use.[33] The 47,326-ton facility was on the water, and when it opened, 3 or more maritime crews were maintained under Coast Guard regulations.[34] According to John Klumpp, the barge's first captain, in 2002 "the Coast Guard, after years of monitoring the prison barge, finally accepted the reality that that it was, de facto, a jail and not a boat."[35]

The prison barge was located in Hunts Point in the South Bronx, about 5 miles (8.0 km) from SUNY Maritime College at Throggs Neck.[36] The Hunts Point Cooperative Market is located nearby. At the time of the barge's opening, the area was difficult to access via public transportation.[10]

Operations edit

As of 2019, the barge employed 317 workers and had an annual operating cost of $24 million. The barge's rate of "use-of-force by corrections officers" was the third-lowest among the city's corrections facilities.[10]

Juvenile detention edit

A surge in the need for juvenile detention space caused the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice to lease space at the Bain Correction Center in 1998.[37][38] At the time, there were over five thousand juveniles aged thirteen to eighteen years old in secure detention in New York.[39] The barge had been unused since August 1995 but had been maintained and was ready to house inmates again. The center was used to solve the space problem and to assist in the closure of Spofford Juvenile Center. The temporary space was used for juvenile inmate processing and temporary housing for inmates prior to transfer.[18] The underage inmates were moved out of the Bain Center and back into the Spofford facility in 1999.[39] In January 2000, the Department of Juvenile Justice, after completing renovations to other buildings, moved out of the center.[40][41]

Escapes edit

Aerial photo of Rikers Island, seen from the North. Bain Correctional Center is seen in the bottom left corner as the docked blue and white ship.

The first time a prisoner tried to escape from the Bain was in 1993, when a 38-year-old prisoner was able to escape while he was supposed to be cleaning ice from the parking lot in front of the boat. The guard who was responsible for the inmate was suspended without pay due to the incident.[42]

Prior to 2002, an inmate tried to escape from the prison's recreation area by climbing the 30-foot fence equipped with razor wire. The guards' uniform boots prevented them from climbing the fence in pursuit, so they threw basketballs at the inmate to stop his escape, but he was able to successfully climb over it. He dove into the East River, where he was promptly picked up and returned by a police watercraft that was dispatched to the scene.[43]

Another escape occurred in February 2004 when the girlfriend of an inmate gave him a handcuff key.[44] The inmate was handcuffed by one wrist to another inmate, but he was able to, without any prison employee noticing, remove the cuffs and free himself.[45] The inmate was able to cling to the undercarriage of a prisoner transport bus to ride away from the facility. He let go of the bus in the South Bronx and walked away, but was apprehended nearly a month later. Six officers and a captain were given administrative leave due to the incident.[44] The corrections commissioner said the escape was caused by a combination of the inmate's quick thinking and the officers' sloppy work.[45]

In early 2013, an inmate charged with petty larceny successfully slipped out of his handcuffs as he arrived at the Bain Center.[46][47][48] In 2021 a prisoner used a rope to escape from his cell via a window. He was caught the following day.[49][50]

References edit

  1. ^ "Correction (DOC)". New York City Citywide Administrative Services. NYC Government. Retrieved January 8, 2014.
  2. ^ "National Jail and Adult Detention Directory". American Correctional Association: 306. 2000. ISBN 9781569911150.
  3. ^ a b Chan, Shirley (April 15, 2016). "Local politicians say secret plan for a 'mini Rikers' in the works". WPIX 11. Tribune Broadcasting. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Raab, Selwyn (January 27, 1992). "Bronx Jail Barge to Open, Though the Cost Is Steep". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 30, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Wacquant 2009, p. 124.
  6. ^ Sullivan, Laura (January 22, 2010). "Inmates Who Can't Make Bail Face Stark Options". NPR. Retrieved March 30, 2013.
  7. ^ Glenday, Craig (2013). Guinness Book of World Records 2014. Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 133. ISBN 9781908843159.
  8. ^ Severi, Misty (November 5, 2023). "New York shuts down country's last floating prison - Washington Examiner". Washington Examiner. Retrieved February 26, 2024.
  9. ^ a b Klumpp 2011, p. 293.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Haag, Matthew (October 10, 2019). "A Floating Jail Was Supposed to Be Temporary. That Was 27 Years Ago". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  11. ^ Bohlen, Celestine (March 3, 1989). "Jail Influx Brings Plan For 2 Barges". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  12. ^ Siebert, Rudolf (2010). Manifesto of the Critical Theory of Society and Religion (3 Vols.): The Wholly Other, Liberation, Happiness and the Rescue of the Hopeless. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers. p. 919. ISBN 978-90-04-18436-7.
  13. ^ Crocker, Catherine (June 22, 1989). "Jail barge gets 5-year berth". The Journal News. p. 21. Retrieved October 8, 2018 – via
  14. ^ a b c Raab, Selwyn (February 15, 1992). "2 Jail Barges To Be Closed And Removed". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  15. ^ Wacquant 2009, p. 125.
  16. ^ Fein, Esther B. (July 29, 1994). "A $1.8 Million Bid Wins 2 Empty Prison Barges". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  17. ^ Navvaro, Mireya (July 12, 1994). "2 Jail Barges May Be Sold At Shortfall Of Millions". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  18. ^ a b Lombardi, Frank (March 12, 1998). "Jail Kids On Barge, Commish Suggests". NY Daily News. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  19. ^ a b "Vernon C. Bain". Steamboat Bill: Journal of the Steamship Historical Society of America. 49 (201–204): 132. 1992.
  20. ^ Bohlen, Celestine (October 13, 1988). "2 More Prison Barges Considered". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  21. ^ Jiler, James (2006). Doing Time in the Garden: Life Lessons Through Prison Horticulture. New Village Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-9766054-2-3.
  22. ^ Klumpp 2011, p. 297.
  23. ^ Kocieniewski, David (March 3, 1996). "Preparing for a Campaign Against Drugs, Officials Seek more Jail Space of Dealors". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  24. ^ "DOC – Facilities Overview". City of New York Department of Corrections. New York City. Archived from the original on April 20, 2014. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  25. ^ Durkin, Erin; Blau, Reuven (April 14, 2016). "NYC officials quietly reviewed alternate sites for inmates in possible Rikers Island shutdown". New York Daily News. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  26. ^ Fanelli, James; Mays, Jeff (March 31, 2016). "City Hall Quietly Eyes neighborhoods for New Jails to Replace Rikers Island". DNA Info New York. Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  27. ^ Honan, Katie (June 22, 2017). "Mayor Releases 'Long and Difficult' Plan to Shutter Rikers in 10 Years". DNAinfo New York. Archived from the original on June 22, 2017. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  28. ^ Haag, Matthew (September 4, 2019). "4 Jails in 5 Boroughs: The $8.7 Billion Puzzle Over How to Close Rikers". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  29. ^ "New York city council votes to close infamous Rikers Island jails". Reuters. October 18, 2019. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  30. ^ "NYC Lawmakers Approve Plan to Close Rikers Island by 2026". NBC New York. October 17, 2019. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  31. ^ Greene, Leonard (September 5, 2023). "NYC jail barge Vernon C. Bain Center to close; detainees, staff moving from Bronx to Rikers Island, other lockups". New York Daily News. Retrieved September 6, 2023.
  32. ^ Edwards, Jessy (September 5, 2023). "NYC's 'floating jail' will close next month after 31 years". Gothamist. Retrieved September 6, 2023.
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  36. ^ Carlson, Jen (September 20, 2012). "Did You Know About This Floating Prison On The East River?". The Gothamist. Archived from the original on March 31, 2016. Retrieved March 30, 2013.
  37. ^ Edwards, Jacqueline M. (2008). Introduction to Juvenile Justice System. Lulu. p. 130.
  38. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. (2010). The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 1584. ISBN 978-0-300-11465-2.
  39. ^ a b Kozol, Jonathan (2012). Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope. Random House LLC. p. 359. ISBN 978-0-7704-3567-7.
  40. ^ Faruquee, Mishi (2002). "Rethinking Juvenile Detention in New York City". Correctional Association Juvenile Justice Project.
  41. ^ Kelly, Malikah J. (2004). "10 Reasons New York City should close the Spofford Youth Center". Corrections Association Juvenile Justice Project.
  42. ^ Johnson Publishing Company (March 15, 1993). "Weekly Almanac: Slip Up". Jet. 83 (20): 19.
  43. ^ Klumpp 2011, p. 300.
  44. ^ a b Wilson, Michael (July 13, 2012). "A Suspect With a Knack for Escape". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  45. ^ a b Von Zielbauer, Paul (March 19, 2004). "Correction Lapses Admitted In Prisoner's Escape Via Bus". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  46. ^ Harshbarger, Rebecca (January 25, 2013). "Bronx prisoner escapes police custody one day after Brooklyn man flees precinct". New York Post. Retrieved March 30, 2013.
  47. ^ Tracy, Thomas (January 25, 2013). "Murder suspect who escaped police custody arrested in Bronx". New York Daily News. Retrieved March 30, 2013.
  48. ^ "Bronx prisoner, Jermaine Logan, escapes police custody". News 12 The Bronx. January 25, 2013. Archived from the original on January 4, 2014. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  49. ^ Moore, Tina; Celona, Larry; Balsamini, Dean; Kennedy, Dana (July 10, 2021). "Inmate captured after daring escape from NYC's floating prison barge". New York Post.
  50. ^ Moshtaghian, Artemis; Akbarzai, Sahar (July 10, 2021). "Inmate captured after escaping from Bronx barge jail, officials say". CNN.

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