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Millions Spent on Queens DA's Offices but Building Next to Court Sits Empty

By Murray Weiss | March 19, 2014 6:58am
 City spent $40 million on nearby building since closing prison attached to rear of courthouse that could be renovated into office space.
City spent $40 million on nearby building since closing prison attached to rear of courthouse that could be renovated into office space.
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City of New York

KEW GARDENS — The city has spent nearly $40 million over the last 12 years on office space for Queens prosecutors and other law enforcement officials while a city-owned building attached to the borough's courthouse sits empty, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Every day, some 277 prosecutors, investigators and police officers commute along a five-block stretch of dangerous Queens Boulevard to the courthouse, often lugging sensitive case folders or pushing carts filled with confidential court and investigative reports.

Their trek begins at 80-02 Kew Gardens Road, where the city spends nearly $3 million a year renting 80,000 square feet on four floors for the DA’s team, hate crimes and special victims bureaus, a sitting Queens grand jury and the court officers and police officers who guard them.

But the city also maintains the empty Queens House of Detention, a 10-story jail that's been closed since 2002 and is directly attached to the rear of the courthouse.

A few days ago, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown illustrated the point while standing in his main conference room. He tapped on a wall that literally separates his office from the aging jail — a wall that inmates once tried to crash through to escape to freedom, he recalled.

Brown said the city has been renting space down the street as workspace for about half of his prosecutors and police investigators since before he became the borough’s top law enforcement officer 25 years ago.

It's therefore not surprising that he and other court and NYPD officials want someone to take a sledgehammer to the wall and renovate the empty jail, turning it into a thriving office space for them and other social service agencies.

The idea was floated several times during the Bloomberg administration, but the cost-saving concept apparently fell on deaf ears without even an explanation why, sources said.

The 467-bed jail was closed in 2002, during Bloomberg’s first year in office, because of budget cuts and a decrease in the overall average daily inmate population, sources said.

Since then, the city’s prisoner population has only declined, from 13,934 in 2002 to 11,825 last year, which was an achievement Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted when he left office.

Meanwhile, the city's Department of Correction says it continues to use the prison’s pens during the day to hold inmates arriving from other jails who are scheduled to appear in court.

The facility is otherwise closed and maintained by a skeleton crew. Theoretically, it could provide backup capacity in the event that the prison system suddenly requires more bed space — a situation that hasn't arisen in 12 years.

Brown and others believe it is time to reuse the space and he expects to discuss the shuttered prison with the City Council on Friday when he appears regarding the city's budget.

This time, he hopes someone will listen.