World’s tallest ‘mega jail’ will rise 300ft into the sky and have 1,040 beds

World’s tallest ‘mega jail’ will rise 300ft into the sky and have 1,040 beds

The former Manhattan Detention Complex will be torn down to build the jail tower (Picture: Alamy)

Chinatown in New York City is known for a lot of things – noodle shops, narrow streets and the powerful sense of community felt by its residents.

But soon, the downtown Manhattan neighbourhood squeezed between SoHo and TriBeCa will be known for something else: being home to the world’s tallest prison.

Dubbed the ‘Jailscraper’ by locals, the 300-foot-tall, 40-storey mega jail will be a third as high as the Empire State Building and have 1,040 beds.

The towering jail’s shadow would stretch more than five blocks, casting much of the centuries-old area into darkness over winter.

Locals living on White Street have long contended with having the Manhattan Detention Complex, also called The Tombs, in their backyard.

But the block’s demolition to make way for the high-rise jail tower has sparked distress, with dust, cracked walls and noise plaguing them daily.

Residents have spent years campaigning against the construction (Picture: Neighbors United Below Canal)

And this is to lay the groundwork for the jail – the real construction has yet to start, and residents told The New York Times they’re bracing themselves for their lives to only get worse.

‘We are the dumping ground,’ Jan Lee, a co-founder of Neighbors United Below Canal, a nonprofit group representing local leaders and businesses, told the newspaper.

Council officials announced $8.3 billion plans in 2019 to build four new jails in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx to replace Rikers Island, infamously known for its surging violence and detainee deaths.

The Tomb will be torn down by 2025, according to contractors, and eventually be replaced by the towering jail in the heart of one of the borough’s poorest areas.

Campaigners have spent years fighting against the project, successfully suing the city in 2020 to temporarily halt construction.

But an appellate court decision the following year allowed the project to go ahead.

Several community hubs and facilities are near the demolition site (Picture: Welcome To Chinatown)

Then came the bulldozers and diggers. Lin Cheng, 74, who lives in a high-floor flat, goes through a tissue box a day due to the dust spewing out of the demolition site.

‘Sometimes it shakes so much, I feel like the building is going to collapse,’ she said.

Gramercy Group Inc, the demolition contractor, said dust concentration at the site has never risen above the permissible limits.

More than 57,000 people call Chinatown home, according to a 2022 report, of which 34,295 are of Asian descent. Roughly a third of the people living by the demolition site are 65 or older.

Chung Pak, a senior housing centre that includes a daycare and medical facilities, was damaged during the Tomb’s demolition. Deep cracks now run through its ground-floor walls.

Contractors say it’ll take until next year to tear the Tombs down (Picture: Corbis News/Getty Images)

This isn’t the only hit Chinatown’s elderly community has suffered. A 2019 report commissioned by the Chinatown Core Block Association said air pollution, noise and relocation stress will have a ‘drastic impact’ on seniors.

‘How will seniors living in a construction site cope with severe change of environment, changes in visitation of doctors and family?’ the report asked.

City Hall officials are hiring an independent air quality monitor.

Welcome to Chinatown, a nonprofit campaigning against the construction project, says that the demolition of the Tomb and the jail tower’s erection will be ‘devastating’ for the local area.

A petition to ‘stop the mega jail’ has been signed by more than 12,000 people.

‘The proposed jail will use both Centre Street and Baxter Streets for construction, an already densely populated area with senior housing, green space, and small businesses,’ the group says.

‘Chinatown still has not fully recovered from September 11th, the closure of Park Row, ongoing construction of Brooklyn Bridge, and COVID-19.’

‘Invest in people,’ the petition adds, ‘not jails.’ 

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