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Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

PHOTOS: Inside Brooklyn’s Infamous House of Detention Jail

As plans to close chaotic Rikers Island slowly turn, the Atlantic Avenue lockup is already empty and awaiting demolition. THE CITY toured the old jail and found eerie signs of the building’s 65-year history of holding countless detainees.

SHARE PHOTOS: Inside Brooklyn’s Infamous House of Detention Jail
SHARE PHOTOS: Inside Brooklyn’s Infamous House of Detention Jail

When the Brooklyn Detention Complex opened in 1956, then-Mayor Robert Wagner hailed the facility as a modern marvel with multiple day rooms, a gym and a library. 

“This building we see today is more than a house of detention,” he told those gathered at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Boerum Place. “It is more than a series of cells.” 

Some 65 years later, the 11-story jail is slated for the wrecking ball within months as one of the first concrete first steps of the city’s roadmap off Rikers Island. 

THE CITY recently got a rare look inside the 759-bed lockup, now surrounded by pricey condos and a boutique hotel. For years, jail officials blocked the public from seeing much beyond the visiting room on the first floor, citing security concerns. 

The building — renovated in 2012 and closed in December 2020 — is filled with an extensive series of individual cells essentially the size of large closets with low ceilings. Each has metal toilets right next to the beds, small sinks and desk ledges. The cells are closed off with old-fashioned metal bars. 

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

For the uninitiated, just a few seconds inside the cramped living quarters can trigger claustrophobia. Clouded windows throughout much of the building make it impossible to see the bustle outside on Atlantic Avenue.  

Natural light peeks through the rooftop gym, although the sunshine is partially obscured by 360-degree fencing — including overhead, which makes it tough to properly arc a basketball shot.

The day rooms Wagner and the approximately 200 dignitaries hailed at the opening ceremony are only big enough for a few small tables and most lack air conditioning. 

Chaos-plagued Rikers Island is slated to be replaced by a series of smaller jails in every borough, except Staten Island, by 2027 as part of a $8.3 billion de Blasio administration plan.

The Brooklyn jailhouse is expected to add 159 beds under the most recent plan — down from an initial proposal to increase capacity by more than 600 beds.

With its demolition pending, here’s what could be a last public glimpse inside the Brooklyn House of Detention:

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A hallway in the housing area. Electric panels used to lock cells were torn out after the jail closed.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The interior of a cell shows some remnants of past occupants.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A sign from the visitors’ area.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A visiting area office had yet to be emptied. 


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The main visiting area.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The jail commissary.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The jail kitchen.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Guards designated an area to frisk inmates on a cell block. 


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Leftover soap from a show stall.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A shaving station at the end of a cell block.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The rooftop recreation area.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A common room.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Inside the interfaith chapel.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A jail cell interior.


Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Marking time on a cell wall.

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