Posts tagged with "Prison":

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Rikers replacement jails are announced in NYC mayor and City Council agreement

Only two weeks after New York City announced that Perkins Eastman would be studying potential locations and designs for the borough-based jails that will eventually replace Rikers Island, the Mayor’s office has released a list of the chosen, community-based sites. These four smaller jails will ultimately provide space for 5,000 inmates, and are spread out across three existing Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities and one new location in the Bronx. The four chosen sites are as follows: Manhattan Detention Center, 125 White Street, Manhattan, 10013 Brooklyn Detention Center, 275 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, 11201 Queens Detention Center, 126-01 82nd Avenue, Kew Gardens, 11415 NYPD Tow Pound, 320 Concord Avenue, Bronx, 10454 The decision is as a joint agreement between Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Members from each of the relevant boroughs. As part of the arrangement, all four sites will undergo the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), the public review process, as a single project instead of individually. The city will simultaneously solicit public input and conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) to speed the ULURP process along. “This agreement marks a huge step forward on our path to closing Rikers Island,” said Mayor de Blasio in a press release sent to AN. “In partnership with the City Council, we can now move ahead with creating a borough-based jail system that’s smaller, safer and fairer. I want to thank these representatives, who share our vision of a more rehabilitative and humane criminal justice system that brings staff and detainees closer to their communities.” Of note is the establishment of a permanent jail in the Bronx, which as of writing is serviced by “the Boat,” a jail on the barge in the East River, and the reopening of the Kew Gardens detention center which closed in 2002. The plan to renovate and reorient these jails towards a rehabilitative model will be spearheaded by Perkins Eastman and its 17 subcontractors. Besides masterplanning the sites, Perkins Eastman will also be responsible for maximizing density at each of jail. This movement of inmates off of Rikers will be accompanied by a suite of intake, bail, mental health and re-entry reforms targeted at reducing the overall amount of inmates. Mayor de Blasio’s announcement comes, maybe not coincidentally, immediately after the state level Commission of Correction released a scathing 70-page report on the condition of Rikers Island. The commission, which has delivered its findings to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature, has labeled Rikers as one of five “worst offenders” in the state, and details inmate deaths, escape attempts, fires, and conditions that are “unsecure, unsanitary and dangerous, for staff and inmates alike.” Although the city has committed itself to closing Rikers Island within ten years, the state may take action as a result of this report to close the jail sooner. The full report is available here.
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City taps Perkins Eastman to research alternatives to Rikers

New York City has tapped Perkins Eastman to study the design and location of new city jails to replace Rikers Island, the detention facility that's slated for shutdown over the next decade. The ten-month, almost $7.6 million contract asks the New York firm to study three existing jails in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. The architects will look at sites for new detention facilities, especially in the Bronx, where the borough's main facility is "the Boat," a jail on the barge in the East River. Perkins Eastman selected 17 subcontractors to assist with the project, including Atelier TenWSP (formerly WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff), W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, and RicciGreene Associates, a New York firm that specializes in jails. Community engagement consultants Fitzgerald & Halliday and the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that serves justice-involved individuals, are the only non-engineering, architecture, real estate development, or planning firms on the list. Along with these collaborators and the city, Perkins Eastman will reach out to neighborhood groups, study the environmental impact of the jails, and ideate on designs. This will be the firm's first detention facilities project. "The physical expressions of what jails look like, where they’re located, and what happens inside of them will determine what kind of system we’ll have, and it’s critical that we’re thinking about jails not as places that are far away on islands and hard to get to, but as part of the ebb and flow of a neighborhood," said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, in a prepared statement. The borough-based facilities will be integrated with their neighborhoods, in contrast to Rikers, and they will be designed to accommodate education, vocational, health, and re-entry services to inmates. At the end of the study, which is officially the pre-schematic design services for a forthcoming citywide jail services master plan, the team is expected to produce three conceptual designs, complete with plans, sections, elevations, and renderings, along with cost estimates. Last November, the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the study, and Perkins Eastman was selected from four eligible respondents. Although the Department of Correction (DOC) is the lead agency on this study, the RFP was initiated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), and the DOC. The news comes as the Rikers shutdown, announced last year, begins in earnest. In early January the city announced it will be closing the first of ten jails on the island this summer. Right now, there are about 8,700 people in jails citywide, but the city says it needs less than 5,000 inmates to close Rikers for good. Perkins Eastman Spokesperson Amber Zilemba confirmed that work should begin shortly. [H/T The Wall Street Journal]
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Denmark’s latest maximum security prison designed to feel less like a prison

Denmark’s recently opened maximum-security Storstrøm Prison, the second-largest in the country, is meant to evoke feelings of a small provincial village, according to Scandinavian designers C.F. Møller Architects. Housing 250 inmates, the prison is meant to be rehabilitative while allowing prisoners to avoid the loss of social skills that comes with institutionalization. C.F. Møller has described it the “world’s most humane” prison. Located on Denmark’s Falster island, Storstrøm Prison is organized around central community buildings and laid out more like a campus than a traditional prison. The four prisoner wings and maximum-security hall are sited in such a way as to mimic the urban fabric of the surrounding villages and form streets and squares, softening the transition between open society to a prison. All ten buildings, totaling 115,000-square feet altogether, are kept to a town-like scale as well and are generally the same height. The designers chose to model Storstrøm Prison after a miniature society that would provide inmates with social and practical skills, in keeping with the Scandinavian tradition of encouraging reform among inmates rather than enacting harsh punishment. C.F. Møller chose to work different materials into each of the buildings on the site based on their programming. The five wings have been given a patterned brick façade, the activity building is a mix of concrete panels and glass, and the workshop building is clad in steel panels and concrete. The concrete is also embossed with a circular pattern throughout the campus in an attempt to keep the walls from feeling too institutional. The attention to making the inmates and administrative staff feel comfortable extends to the interiors as well. Because natural lighting was emphasized throughout the project, all of the communal rooms and cells have large windows that are tilted to let viewers to take in the landscape up to the surrounding perimeter wall, without allowing anyone to see inside. A neutral color palette was chosen for the interior, to produce an effect that is calming without being too sterile. A double-height church and several non-denominational worship rooms are also available for both the prisoners and guards to use. Communality is also emphasized, as cells are grouped in units of four to seven grouped around a shared hub, with access to a living room and kitchen where inmates can make their own meals. The cells themselves are curved instead of being harshly angled, so that inmates can see the entire room from the door, while multiple windows fill their rooms with natural light. Still, despite the amenities, the island is first and foremost a prison. A 20-foot wall surrounds the correctional facility, the entire island is covered in cameras, and steel wires are stretched across the top of each building to prevent helicopters from landing on them. Storstrøm Prison is the result of a $160 million commission from the Danish Prison Service, as an attempt to create an environment that would help inmates more readily transition back to society after being released.
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ACSA cancels controversial detention center competition

The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) announced today that it has nixed a controversial student competition to design an immigrant detention center. The brief asked participants to design a "Humanitarian Refugee (Detention) Center." When it was announced, the competition received an avalanche of negative feedback, which the ACSA called "justified​ criticism" in its statement. "[While] the organization is committed to engaging important issues in our society, we ​regret our decision to publish the category," it added. ACSA deleted its own publicity tweet about the competition, and subsequent tweets from @ACSAUpdate on the topic redirect to broken URLs. A new building category for the spring semester will be announced in a few weeks.
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Growing private detention industry threatens immigrants’ rights on the U.S.-Mexico border

The collision of private law enforcement and privately managed immigration enforcement at sites of detention is dramatically altering the landscape of migrant processing and justice—largely to the disadvantage of the detainee.

On Jan 25, President Trump issued an executive order, which, in addition to mandating the well-known “border wall,” directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to “immediately construct […] facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico,” to support increased deportations of undocumented migrants. An internal memo circulated by the administration in April called for nearly double the existing detention capacity to accommodate 80,000 detainees on any given day. Twenty-seven new locations had been scouted; 21,000 beds had already been found. With such rapid growth, decisions privilege expediency and cost over the quality of services and care for detainees.

It is highly likely that the new federal detention capacity will be met in partnership with private prison companies. Currently, 65 percent of detainees in the U.S. migrant detention system stay in private facilities run by companies (commonly for-profit) that contract with the federal government. Both commercial contractors and government vendors contributed to the search for detention spaces outlined in the April memo.

The same criticisms that apply to the private prison industry, and which led the Department of Justice (DOJ) to mandate an end to its use in August of 2016, apply to the burgeoning private detention industry. A 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) noted that a majority of migrant detention facilities were initially built for use as prisons, and that these structures impose more restrictions than necessary for the detainees. The shared typological features between prisons and detention centers flatten the important differences between criminal sentencing and migrant detention. Where the two intermingle, the distinction between legal and extralegal, private and federal, detention and incarceration is dangerously elusive.

One of the largest private detention facilities in the U.S. is the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) in Chaparral, New Mexico. The center is part of a 15-acre site that includes the Otero County Prison Facility, which first partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold detainees awaiting rulings in 2003. Residents of Otero County reportedly “liked the business [of migrant detention at the prison facility]—a half dollar a day per immigrant” and agreed to expand the practice, supporting the construction of a dedicated ICE detention facility, the OCPC, right next door, in 2008. Both the prison and the detention facility are operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), one of the nation’s largest private corrections companies.

In its early years, the OCPC was known in immigration advocacy circles as “The Hub,” due to the number of detainees who were transferred to the secluded site for processing from out-of-state. This transfer practice reportedly limits detainees’ access to community support and legal assistance otherwise available at the location of their arrest, and places them in jurisdictions known to hand down less favorable rulings.

The architecture of the OCPC clouds important distinctions between immigrant detainee and convicted prisoner to preemptively deny justice and erode the humanity of migrants.

When we visited the OCPC in June 2016, MTC employees emphasized that the center’s architecture is designed to maximize processing efficiency and prevent escape, not unlike a prison. In their language, spaces of intake manage “bodies”—not people. Walls that once ended in drop ceilings have been extended to seal completely to the roof, after speculation that a detainee could access the ceiling cavity.

Much of the staff’s experience is in criminal justice; many have spent time as correctional officers or administrators in jails and prisons before stints at the center. The distinction between civil and criminal immigration violations does not register in our discussions; staff mistakenly refers to detainees as “inmates.” The boundary between incarceration and detention on-site is fluid. The prison next door is used as a failsafe overflow center during overcrowding and operational malfunctions. When beds fill at OCPC, or the kitchen power fails, detainees are sent for up to 72 hours to the federal prison.

Other flattening abstractions permeate the space. Detainees wear color-coded uniforms, which provide a glimpse into their histories with the detention complex. Blue suits are for first-time non-violent immigration law offenders, mostly those picked up after walking across the U.S.-Mexico land border. Repeat offenders wear orange; those with violent or extensive criminal histories wear red. The center staff tells us they prefer dealing with the red population. Ironically, they are easier to manage; their criminal history is seen as an asset. Having spent time in jail, the regulated routine in the center is familiar territory, and they are more likely to comply with orders. To the detainees, as to the guards, it is all part of the same system.

Detention facilities like OCPC are specializing, taking on new roles. Our visit to the OCPC was just after a major transformation: Instead of providing long-term housing for detainees awaiting decisions on their cases, the processing center was converted into a last stop for detainees before deportation. Why? In 2015, DHS issued a report criticizing ICE transfer and deportation practices for presumed inefficiencies. ICE Air Operations (IAO), a shadow network of commercial and chartered flights that shuttles detainees domestically, had not been filling its seats. This report is likely the impetus for shifting strategy in Otero, which has become an overblown departure gate for deportation flights out of El Paso, Texas. When we visited, the typical stay at the OCPC is a mere two weeks, the daily operations consumed by the logistics of travel arrangements, rather than providing legal services and care for those detained. A chart in the offices maps out which detainees have been assigned seats on the three scheduled flights for the week, each filled to their 136-seat capacity.

Sites like Otero continue to contort themselves under changing directives, becoming autonomous islands, one-stop-shops for migrant processing and deportation. A DOJ directive began temporarily relocating federal judges to borderland detention facilities in March in an effort to speed deportation, further exacerbating questions of whether due process is respected in such off-grid locales with limited oversight. Existing teleconferencing rooms have since been repurposed to makeshift courts, while new courtroom space has been added to the OCPC. The wholesale restructuring of the space of migrant justice is just beginning. The construction of pop-up “port courts” is now proposed at ports of entry.

As the OCPC settles into its next-generation of use, it is consolidating even more security functions. Plans are underway to build a shooting range on site to support training for the detention center and prison staff. Guards will no longer need to go off-site to nearby Fort Bliss, thanks to a “bullet catcher” berm encircling the range. In December, DHS reported that private detention facilities—despite continued “documented occurrences of deficiencies and abuse”—will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future. As a stopgap, the agency suggested positioning ICE wardens at private centers to provide federal oversight and accountability.

As the sites accelerate their transformations from isolated anomalies to quasi-urban, self-sufficient nuclei of privatized federal detention, we call for immigrant advocates and legal service providers to co-opt the logic of their shadow system of airfields, courts, and fly-in judges, grafting a parallel network supporting migrant advocacy on this nascent infrastructure.

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This design team has ideas for a better, more humane jail system

Rikers Island, New York City's notorious jail complex, is set to close within the next decade. For some activists, the pace of change is too slow, but, if the city is taken at its word, ten years is a solid chunk of time to rethink justice in 21st century New York. A design team, convened by Van Alen in collaboration with NADAAA, has set out to do exactly that. Justice in Design, a new report from the Van Alen Institute, a design advocacy organization, gives broad guidelines on how New York's criminal justice system should look, feel, and function. Notably, it centers the urban condition but aims to enhance life for those behind bars, as well as those outside the justice system, by elevating both the city and the jail's livability with public programming, dense service networks, and lots of light and greenery. The project was deeply collaborative. To produce Justice in Design, Van Alen partnered with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the legal experts, politicians, developers, and prison reform advocates she convened last year to address the Rikers closure. That group, sometimes called the Lippman Commission but known formally as the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, issued its recommendations this past March: Closing Rikers Island, it said, is a "moral imperative," and it advocated for reducing the city's overall jail population and creating a network of neighborhood-based jails. To that end, Van Alen convened architects, environmental psychologists, prison reformers, and nonprofit leaders for the project team. Dan Gallagher and Nader Tehrani, principals at New York– and Boston-based NADAAA, partnered with urbanist Karen Kubey; Susan Opotow and Jayne Mooney, a psychologist and associate professor of sociology, respectively, who work at both John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, CUNY; as well as Susan Gottesfeld of the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that works with justice-involved individuals and their families. (The team is credited in the commission's report with providing "additional support" to the study.) The group hosted workshops in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens with law enforcement, reformers, academics, and formerly incarcerated individuals to get an idea of what jail is like inside, and after. The workshops, Gallagher said, helped the designers better understand both day-to-day life in Rikers and incarceration's impact on housing choice, employment, and mental health long after release. From there, the team developed its design guidelines. Instead of producing a strictly carceral space, the designers envisioned a networked jail system spread throughout the city and meant to serve the wider community, not just prisoners. Called Justice Hubs, the mini-neighborhoods are intended to confront re-entry dilemmas—despite new rules, for example, many industries still discriminate against people with backgrounds—while addressing day-to-day challenges faced by those who work in the criminal justice system. In the Brooklyn forum, residents said they weren't concerned about safety if a jail were to open in their neighborhood. Instead, Gahllager said, people were worried the building would be ugly: a grey concrete Hulk surrounded by razor wire. That prompted the team to think not only about the design of the jail itself, but its relationship to the city and its people. "The building has to become more than a big wall with something else going on inside," said Gallagher, a partner at NADAAA. "It has to be an active tool of civic engagement." NADAAA's conceptual designs try to make life on the inside as normal ("more conventional," per Gallagher) as possible. The report emphasizes access to natural light and ventilation not only in outdoor areas, but in visitor rooms, activity spaces, and (especially) cells. Instead of monolithic cinder blocks and concrete finished, the architects advocated for softer, natural finishes to add visual variety and reduce background noise, a significant stressor in close quarters. The layout is supposed to make it easier to move within the jail, and the facilities would be placed near courts and social services. There would be ample but unobtrusive parking for corrections officers, too. The team didn't want to reproduce the spatial segregation that Rikers—a literal island in the East River, near Laguardia Airport—embodied. As a result, community facilities like public outdoor space, gardens, art studios, and libraries are part of the program and are open to detainee's friends and family, as well as residents who have no personal involvement with the jail. This is the first time NADAAA has done a project like this. Van Alen approached the firm both for their design sense and for their ability to analyze and rethink troubled systems. "It was one of those situations where we said, 'okay let's jump in with both feet,'" Gallagher explained. He gave full credit to the team's non-architects, whose research and work experience brought a local and highly international perspective to the project. They read up on Denmark, for example, which lets inmates wear street clothing and cook with sharp knives (but even their relatively progressive prison system is far from perfect). The design team's role going forward is unclear, Gallagher and Van Alen confirmed, but both parties want to stay involved. The general recommendations, summarized on the last few pages of the report, are just that. The concepts don't specify designs, as Justice Hubs will adjust to local zoning: A 200-bed facility in densely developed Downtown Brooklyn might look very different from a similar-sized jail in St. George, Staten Island. With a mandate to envision a system that at its core features many jails, there wasn't much room for questioning the fundamentals of the carceral state or challenging the culture of surveillance. But the guidelines are a cautious step in the right direction to end a traumatic system where detainees suffer degrading and abusive treatment, visitors lose hours on the bus to see family, and guards are hurt by inmates who themselves may struggle with poor mental health. Although Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the closing of Rikers, he hasn't been totally clear on whether he supports community-based jails. Given how quickly NIMBYs mobilized against the mayor's new homeless shelters, it's unclear how residents may react to neighborhood jails. Still, the design team is optimistic about the recommendations. "As a society we have a responsibility to facilitate best outcomes," said David van der Leer, Van Alen's executive director. And architects, he hopes, will keep a seat at the table.
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Mayor de Blasio unveils plan to close Rikers Island for good

Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a plan to close Rikers Island, the city's troubled jail complex. Over the next few years the city intends to shutter the multi-jail facility, located on a hard-to-access island in northern Queens, and replace it with neighborhood detention centers. Facing ongoing problems of overcrowding, inmate abuse, and backlogs in the courts that strand poor inmates for months (almost 80 percent of people on the island have not had their case seen by a judge), the 8,000-person jail has come to represent dysfunction in the criminal justice system locally and nationally. Three months ago, thanks to ongoing efforts by activists behind the Close Rikers campaign, the mayor agreed to shut the facilities down incrementally. Last week the mayor's office outlined an 18-point plan for a slate of services, including expanded pre-trial diversion and re-entry support, special housing units for acutely mentally ill inmates, and professional development for corrections officers, all while pouring $30 million over the next three years into the physical infrastructure of the island to "accelerate safe reductions in the size of the jail population." The plan, officially called “Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island,” offers a way forward as the new jail system is put in place. Its goal is to reduce the citywide jail population by 25 percent, from 9,400 to 7,000 people, over the next five years. In addition to revamped social services to cut down on recidivism, the Roadmap calls for repairs to facilities over the next five years to meet the demand for re-entry and education programs, improve fire safety, add A/C to more of the jail complex, and upgrade ventilation systems. The plan also calls for more housing with support services for inmates with serious mental illnesses, as well as tech upgrades that go beyond security cameras (though there will be more of those, too). The mayor has selected a Justice Implementation Task Force, a 30-person team that includes Rosalie Genevro, the executive director of The Architectural League of New York and Feniosky Feinosky Peña-Mora, the outgoing head of the Department of Design and Construction, to lead the effort.
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New York City pension funds will no longer invest in private prisons

The pension system provided by New York City will no longer invest in private prisons, Controller Scott Stringer has announced. Before yesterday, the city's pension fund previously held $48 million in stocks and bonds of three private prison companies: GEO Group, CoreCivic, and Group 4 Securicor. However, the controller's office revealed on Thursday that these stocks and bonds had been sold off after a unanimous vote from the fund's trustees. The three companies have a 20 percent-or-higher revenue yield from private prisons. New York City will reportedly keep track on the portfolios on a yearly basis to see if new private prisons are added. “Morally, the industry wants [to] turn back the clock on years of progress on criminal justice, and we can't sit idly by and watch that happen,” Stringer said in the New York Daily News. “Divesting is simply the right thing to do—financially and morally." The decision to sell off the investments in GEO Group, CoreCivic, and G4S was made after a federal audit of private prisons conducted in 2016 found that some were not meeting the standards set by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). One of the findings was:
There were periods after [a] riot during which health services staffing levels failed to meet minimum contractual thresholds. Moreover, between December 2012 and September 2015, the approximately 2,300-inmate Adams County facility was staffed with only a single physician for 434 days (43 percent of the time) and a single dentist for 689 days (69 percent of the time). This resulted in inmate-to-provider ratios that were about double those specified in BOP program statements.
In addition to this, the Daily News reported that eight immigrant detainees have died in the last fiscal year while in private immigration detention centers—these house 65 percent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, so said Stringer’s office. In a statement given to the Daily News, GEO Group said: "We strongly reject the baseless claims that led to this misguided decision. We're proud of our longstanding record providing high quality services, while treating the men and women in our care with the respect and dignity they deserve." Meanwhile, John Adler, chief pension investment advisor to the mayor, commented: "Private prison companies prioritize profits over humane treatment of immigrants and inmates, and their stocks' wild price swings over the past year show the risks inherent in their business model. The Mayor supports divestment from private prisons after thorough analysis from our outside investment consultants, the City Law Department, and the Bureau of Asset Management showed that it was a prudent step for our pension funds to take."  
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Deep in the Florida Everglades, this former state prison hosts private military training operations

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We're publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Deep in the Florida Everglades, surrounded by wildlife and natural preserves, an abandoned correctional facility has become the unlikely background for high-stakes military training operations, far from the public eye. The Hendry Correctional Institute, a former high-security state prison complex turned private training facility, is the unlikely protagonist in a new generation of military-style training scenarios.

Since 2012, the site has been run by Altair Training Solutions, a private enterprise that rents out the facility and provides training to clients across a spectrum of military, private, and security interests. Site organizers capitalize on the facility’s protective architecture, and its layers of security infrastructure left over from its prison days, to inject realism in simulated missions for special operations forces, law enforcement agencies, and weekend hobbyists.

The site signals a shift in what we might think of as “adaptive reuse” in a niche market of the newly securitized economy. Instead of repurposing an abandoned warehouse or a dilapidated factory into lofts or retail space, the scheme here was to reinvigorate a vast area on the urban scale—including 1,150 surrounding acres, a nearby county correctional facility, two hotels, houses, dining halls, a research and development facility, long and short shooting ranges, shoot houses, and a 3,800-foot-long private airstrip. Instead of targeting traditional market forces, the land-grab speculation hinges on the presumed insatiable and continued interest of militarized forces in the kind of free-rein, live-fire, no-holds-barred urban expeditions that only an underused, remote, and built-up site allows.

Such sites have long been objects of desire for the U.S. armed forces, which see them as ready-made approximations of emerging theaters of operations—stand-ins for the streets, markets, and central business districts of hostile cities a world away. The RAND Corporation identified abandoned towns as future training gold mines in the mid-2000s. The U.S. military has, in recent years, used existing—and sometimes inhabited—domestic cities to add realism to their training regimens. But this site was identified and purchased by private citizens (albeit former-military), and was initially supported by public tax incentives (a package the State of Florida called Project Assassin, which was later rescinded). The newly reimagined facility opens its doors to the untrained hobbyist and gun enthusiast. Public programming requires no military training or law-enforcement credentials—passing a criminal background check and paying the entry fee gains entry to select courses. In one recent example, students from every walk of life spent a Saturday learning to shoot targets near the former prison law library from hovering helicopters. This is a mom-and-pop shop for street-front shoot-’em-ups. This is amateur hour. And it may only be the beginning, a model for the private security urbanism to come.

To better understand the draw of the site, one must understand remoteness as a fundamental asset of the new private security urbanism. The state has historically invested in remote areas for detention purposes, using distance from populated centers as a buffer. Built in 1977 to be intentionally surrounded by uninhabited wilderness, the facility had been deteriorating for decades. The required public funding for renovations and remote access had become a burden to the State of Florida. The once-desired remoteness proved to only expedite the prison’s eventual demise, but later offered an opportunity for other uses—allowing for the type of training other non-remote sites cannot.

The details of the training contracts are confidential, but one can imagine the series of exfiltration and other tactical operations that this type of location affords. As other military installations are spending money to faithfully recreate every physical nuance of projected intervention sites from scratch, Altair comes ready-made with a bona fide architecture of imprisonment. The former prison and its buildings, no longer capable of sustaining prior instantiations of security, are now seen as “up for grabs”—a kind of marketable good, repurposed to the whims of the new securocratic order.

It takes a mind with a particular type of calculus to understand the high value of civic remnants in the oncoming era. While the standard of real estate development speculation looks for new density and economic growth opportunities, these alternative post-urban investment schemes search for forgotten ghost spaces, where remoteness and absence of human inhabitation are the prized components. Given the rampant privatization of the prison-industrial complex, abandoned state prisons could soon be a boon to the speculative rehabber of disused security infrastructure. The architecture of incarceration is offered as a stage set, perpetuating its imagined use.

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Mayor de Blasio backs ten-year-plan to remove prisons from Rikers Island

Rikers Island could cease to hold inmates in ten years time if a plan, backed by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, goes ahead. The penal colony is the largest in the world, housing a daily population of around 10,000 inmates. The mayor and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are supporting a plan that will be put forward by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, part of a report that, according to multiple news outlets, is to be released this weekend. Run by the New York City Department of Correction, the Rikers Island complex has annual runnings costs of $860 million. 9,000 officers and 1,500 civilians administer and manage approximately 100,000 admissions a year. 85-to-92 percent of the inmates are awaiting trial, but cannot afford bail. According to Politico, Lippman has spent months exploring the possibility of shuttering Rikers. Lippman was the head of a commission investigating the issue. The New York Times has said that this is the commission's report's top priority, shifting inmates into smaller, more local jails—a move which would cost $10.6 billion. "The commission believes that the use of Rikers Island must be phased out over the next 10 years and its facilities demolished," the report supposedly recommends. However, this money, the report continues, would be recouped in savings of $1.4 billion per year brought around by massive reductions in staff—down 3,700. “Closing Rikers Island also provides a unique opportunity to redevelop the island,” the report also observes. Jim Venturi, planning advocate and head of urban planning design firm ReThink Studio, Jim Venturi penned an Op-Ed in The Architect's Newspaper in 2015 calling for the expansion of La Guardia into Rikers Island. "They are within 200 feet of each other, but otherwise a world apart. The abuses at Rikers show New York at its worst, but an expanded LaGuardia could be the world’s leading airport," he said, adding: "The closing of Rikers would allow LaGuardia to expand its flight capacity and add long-haul flights to global destinations to meet a growing regional demand." "We’re ecstatic to hear that this long-overdue closure will be initiated. We should take full advantage of this once-in-a-century opportunity to transform a human rights disaster into a new, world-class gateway for our city," said Venturi AN after the news that Rikers could be closing. "Instead of being the shame of New York, Rikers Island would become something we could be proud of." Speaking to the New York Times, Mayor de Blasio’s press secretary Eric Phillips said the mayor has “always been publicly and privately supportive of the goal behind the closure movement.” He went to say that “it’s no secret that City Hall has been working diligently behind the scenes for some time to test whether closing the facility at some point in the future is feasible. We expect to share results of the mayor’s focus on these significant challenges very soon.” If the plan is enacted, Rikers Island will require a new name to match its new image, a notion put forward by the report that did not supply any alternatives. UPDATE, 3/31: Mayor de Blasio has released the following statement elaborating on Rikers Island:
New York City has always been better than Rikers Island. I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to this reality. Our success in reducing crime and reforming our criminal justice system has paved a path off Rikers Island and toward community-based facilities capable of meeting our criminal justice goals. There is no doubt that the road to Rikers Island’s closure will be long and arduous. It will require that local officials and stakeholders stand up and support facilities that meet our moral obligation to thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we will never turn our backs on. It will require that our state government, and each component of our criminal justice system, contribute to the reform efforts critical to reducing our jail population and improving re-entry services and educational programming. The length of this process will also require continued investment in the facilities and conditions on Rikers Island that remain key to rehabilitation efforts for thousands of New Yorkers in the years ahead. This moment would not be possible without the work of Speaker Mark-Viverito, who has helped fuel the progress toward a more just criminal justice system.
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Frank Gehry to teach “The Future of Prison” course at SCI-Arc

This post is part of our years-long running Eavesdrop series (think page 6 for the architectural field). It’s your best source for gossip, insider stories, and more. Have an eavesdrop of your own? Send it to: eavesdrop[at]archpaper.com.

The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) announced last winter that architect Frank Gehry would be teaching one of the school’s elective vertical studios for the spring 2017 semester. According to an image promoting the studio on the university’s Instagram, the studio is titled “The Future of Prison” and “calls on emerging architects to break free of current conventions and re-imagine what we now refer to as ‘prison’ for a new era.”

Could Gehry and his students re-imagine the carceral system the way his firm did with tourist-driven arts destinations? Perhaps the class could propose new designs for the Metropolitan Detention Center in Downtown Los Angeles, the 757-bed jail located just one mile from the SCI-Arc campus. The jail is due to be replaced sometime between 2027 and 2030 under the auspices of the city’s new Civic Center Master Plan. If rebuilt elsewhere, planners would be wise to look to Gehry’s SCI-Arc studio for ideas and inspiration.

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Controversial youth jail gains preliminary approval in Seattle

The City of Seattle approved preliminary permits this week for a controversial, King County-funded youth jail and detention center to be located in the city’s Central District. The proposed complex, euphemistically-dubbed as a “Children and Family Justice Center” has faced vocal public outcry over not only its proposed cost—$210-million—but also its program. The complex proposes to replace an existing youth jail, dubbed the Youth Services Center, currently located on the same site. The proposed penal structure would include, along with 112 new beds for incarcerated youth, a collection of community and supportive service spaces. According to a project website, the complex will be configured with a  flexible design so that its space can be converted to non-detention space in the future, if desired. The approvals pertain to a preliminary land-use application; designs for the complex have yet to be revealed. However, a cohort of social equality-focused activists has sought to derail the project before it gets off the ground. The #NoNewYouthJail Coalition has sprung up to oppose the development and is currently circulating an online petition to raise awareness on the issue and voice outcry over the proposed plans. The complex was approved in 2012 via a voter referendum that sought to levy new taxes for the construction of the project. Organizers against the complex state (via the petition website) that the proposition “promised to build a facility that ‘services the justice needs of children and families’—with no mention that its primary aim was to incarcerate children under the age of eighteen. So, voters passed a levy to provide funds for youth justice... but unfortunately, those funds will support the opposite: continuing the injustice of incarceration of our most vulnerable young people.” Activists, many of which are aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement, argue that the project represents the perpetuation of fundamentally unjust—and racist—design and law enforcement practices. They argue that while black youth in the Seattle make up approximately five-percent of the overall population, they represent roughly half of the incarcerated youth population. The activists also contend that building a new jail facility would further enshrine these racist practices across the region. The Stringer reports that the center held an average of 55 youths between January and September of 2016, with as few as 27 during the month of December. Recently, musical artist Macklemore came out against the jail, as well, issuing a series a tweets in opposition to the project and stating to The Emerald, “Instead of spending over $200 million on a new jail facility, imagine if we invested in solutions that truly promote rehabilitation, like restorative justice practices, mental health services, education and job training for youth.”  The proposed complex has touched off fierce debate across the city and follows the local Black Lives Matter movement’s successful fight against Seattle’s bid to construct a $149.2 million North Precinct police station designed by Portland, Oregon-based SRG Partnership. That structure would have been the country’s most expensive police facility and was resisted by an equally-vocal group of protesters who took issue with the complex’s size and architectural features. That project, dubbed “The Bunker” by community activists, was stopped earlier this year by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who halted the station’s progress.