HARLEM, NY — A shuttered jail on the northern edge of Central Park should be converted into a new women’s jail once an existing facility is relocated from Rikers Island, a panel of experts testified this week.
Lincoln Correctional Facility operated from 1976 to 2019 on 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox avenues, out of an eight-story building formerly home to a school and a U.S. Army facility during World War II. Before its closure, Lincoln was a minimum-security men’s facility run by the state.
The nine experts submitted testimony to the City Council’s criminal justice committee Tuesday during a tense hearing devoted to the Rikers Island complex, where six people have died this year — on top of 15 in 2021. The entire troubled complex is slated to close by 2026.
Rikers includes the Rose M. Singer Center, known as Rosie’s, a roughly 300-person jail where women, transgender, gender non-conforming and nonbinary people are detained — and where 31-year-old Mary Yehudah died in May.
But a large majority of the Rosie’s current prisoners could be released safely, according to the experts, including Columbia University professor Vincent Shiraldi, former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, among others.
The remaining prisoners could be housed at the now-empty Lincoln jail, the experts say — contradicting the city’s current borough-based jail plan, which would force some women and gender-non-conforming people to share space and staff with men at a new jail in Kew Gardens, Queens.
The Lincoln facility could be operated mostly by nonprofits, which could create “a gender-responsive, trauma-informed and therapeutic site,” the experts testified.
The proposal is not brand-new — then-Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer floated the same idea in 2019, saying residents would prefer the jail to another new condominium building.
Harlem is already among the ZIP codes with the highest number of admissions to Rosie’s, meaning families visiting from the area would have a shorter commute to see their loved ones, the experts argued.
The neighborhood is also home to service providers and faith-based groups like Exodus Transitional Community, Greenhope Services for Women and the Osborne Association, they said.
“More than simply providing a site that is separate from men, Lincoln should operate differently than Rosie’s,” the experts said in their joint testimony.
“Lincoln should be transformed into a Women’s Center for Justice that is operated by nonprofits using a model that puts women and [transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and intersex] people on paths to healthy, safe and stable lives.”
Other experts on the nine-person panel included Gladys Carrión, a senior fellow at the Columbia University Justice Lab; Zachary Carter, board chair at the Legal Aid Society; Elizabeth Glazer, a former director of the mayor’s office of criminal justice; Julio Medina, CEO of Exodus Transitional Community; and Stanley Richards, deputy CEO at the Fortune Society.
Read the full testimony here.