prison ship, NYC, Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center

New York City’s Last Prison Ship, The Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center, Closes After 30 Years

A ship that houses prisoners in the South Bronx of New York City has closed.

According to The Associated Press, the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center, a five-story jail barge that has been housing prisoners there for several decades, was slated to close on Oct. 31. The floating jail was supposed to serve as a temporary fix to address overcrowding on Rikers Island over 30 years ago in 1992.

The prison, an 800-bed lockup, was the last operating prison ship in the United States.

Coincidentally, the remaining prisoners, approximately 500, are to be transferred to Rikers Island, another prison that is supposed to be closing down in the future. Officials have stated that the closing is part of a broader plan to replace the city’s current correctional system with a network of smaller jails. The prison has a reputation for not being safe for staff and inmates.

Darren Mack, co-director of the advocacy group Freedom Agenda, said that the ship is described as a “modern-day slave ship” used by the Department of Corrections to place mostly Black and Latino men, with minimal oversight. He does acknowledge that the shutting down of the ship is long overdue, “shifting people to the same hellish conditions on Rikers is not the answer.”

In recent years, there have been reports of unsafe conditions and improper care, but two cases stand out. In September 2022, a 44-year-old man, Gregory Acevedo, reportedly jumped from the top of the ship to his death. Twenty-four-year-old Stephan Khadu died after he caught a form of treatable meningitis while he was in police custody a year earlier.

In an email, Latima Johnson, a spokesperson for the department, wrote, “The reason for this move is to centralize operations on the island to more efficiently manage people in custody and deploy staff and resources.”

Once the vessel is emptied, it will stay in the custody of the Department of Correction, but officials have not stated what the city plans to do with the boat in the future.

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