DA wants to turn empty prison into office space for prosecutors

District Attorney Richard Brown says the city could save money by relocating his staff from rented office space four blocks away from the Kew Gardens courthouse.
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A defunct detention center that has served as a backdrop for shows such as ‘Orange Is the New Black’ and ‘Blue Bloods’ would be perfect place to send the borough’s prosecutors, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown

Brown is asking the city to consider renovating an empty jail next to his offices at the Kew Gardens courthouse in lieu of spending $3 million a year to house nearly half of his staff about four blocks away across Queens Boulevard.

“It makes far more sense in my judgment to renovate the Queens House and convert it into office space for my staff instead of keeping spending $3 million on an office building four blocks from the court house,” Brown testified last week at a City Council Public Safety Committee hearing.

The DA’s office employs more than 600 assistant district attorneys, paralegals, investigators and clerical workers, about half of whom already go to work each day at a building four blocks away from the court complex.

Meanwhile, the 10-story former Queens House of Detention has sat empty next to the courthouse since it closed in 2002.

The building, owned by the city Department of Correction, is used as a film production site.

“The Queens House of Detention is a wonderful place to stage your production,” reads the website for the mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting. In the past year the center has hosted nearly a dozen productions, including an untitled Chris Rock film and the popular Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.”

At the hearing last week, during which the city’s five district attorneys and the special narcotics prosecutor made budget requests for the new fiscal year, Brown asked that the Council set aside funding to renovate the building.

“It would eliminate the dangers of having our staff cross Queens Boulevard to get to work each day,” he said.

The prosecutor’s office said a case study would have to be conducted in order to determine the cost of renovating the detention center.

The district attorney also asked that the city restore funding that was cut in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

“We’re still about $10 million behind where we were in fiscal 2002,” he said. “That’s the equivalent of about 30 new assistant district attorneys.”

In the years following the terrorist attacks, Brown’s office lost $11.7 million — or about a quarter of its budget. The city has been making restorations and Brown said he got back on solid financial ground about four years ago, but there was still a way to go in order to get his office back up to full strength.

“They provided us for the first time in many years with some degree of fiscal certainty,” he said. “It’s important to note, however, that we still have a long road ahead of us to rebuild.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 12:00 am, March 28, 2014
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May 1, 2014, 12:12 am
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Serviced Offices
May 29, 2014, 4:15 am

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