Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Manhattan Detention Complex

1) This is the entrance where the arrested are escorted inside by policemen (Lucy Li 2009). 2)

The bridge that connects the South Tower to the North Tower of the jail (Source: Flickr

125 White Street

New York, NY 10013

Directions: Take N, R, Q, W, J, M, Z, or 6 train to Canal St and walk south on Centre St.

The Manhattan Detention Complex has had several different names, Manhattan House of Detention, Bernard B. Kerik Complex and “The Tombs” because of its Egyptian styled architecture. When it first opened in 1838, it only held 300 prisoners, but after many renovations and changes it now holds 881 prisoners. Located at the edge of Chinatown, next to a park where many people go to and surrounded by many restaurants, this jail house has become part of the community. Surrounding the Manhattan Detention Complex, there are also various courts and other government buildings. Growing up in this area, I have probably walked pass this jail hundreds of times. Sometimes I would see someone being escorted inside by policemen and usually it is not peaceful. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why around this area there are a lot fewer people on the streets and just one block over the amount of people multiply.

Many times I have questioned why this jail house still exists in a community occupied by so many people. Right across is a park where little children play! In “Prison Town USA”, the prison was built in a place called Susanville, where very few people lived and once the prison was built, the neighborhood became even quieter. For the Manhattan Detention Complex, it is located in a crowded city where the surrounding community is still booming with people. Many people walk right pass it without even taking a second look because this jail house was built even before Chinatown started to develop. In the 1800s, the Collect Pond was drained and the land was used to build the Tombs; the surrounding community was occupied by many African Americans. In the past and the present, the jail house is surrounded by minorities.

People put into jails and prisons as a punishment for a crime they’ve committed, however about half of all prisoners are convicted for nonviolent crimes. They are placed into a space where they are confined within 4 walls and their freedom is taken away. Jail and prisons are government institutions where laws should be enforced strictly, however the Tombs are notorious for numerous scandals that have taken place. Recently, an inmate threw a bar mitzvah for his son in the Manhattan Detention Complex where outside guests were invited. In a place that people are suppose to correct their mistakes, rules are broken.

- Lucy Li and Grace Park


Boston, John. “Excessive Force in the New York City Jails: Litigation and Its Lessons.” Washington University Journal of Law and Policy. Wilson Web. <;hwwilsonid=FCHAW4A0YPGMXQA3DIKSFF4ADUNGIIV0>

Chin, RK. “The Neighborhood that was the Five Points (19th century).” A Journey Through Chinatown. 2009. Web. 8 Dec 2009. <>

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, And Opposition in Globalizing California. California: University of California Press, 2007.

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