A vertical institution


Most prisons are flat affairs. They take what space they need by reaching out horizontally, typically occupying 40 to 50 acres of rural land. Not Bayview. This combination general confinement and work release facility for women achieves its space by stretching skyward: its "acreage" is vertical. It is an urban institution, contained entirely within the walls of an eight-story building at the corner of West 20th Street and 11th Avenue in downtown Manhattan's West Chelsea district.

Traditional prisons have grounds and yards outside their buildings; Bayview has city sidewalks. The sidewalks are of course out-of-bounds to the inmates, for whom the only "outside" is the roof. That is where Bayview's incarcerated smokers go, with the grim resolve of mailmen: neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay them from their appointed puffs.

The roof is good for more than smoking. One side is equipped with a wrap-around, chain-link enclosure, like a bird cage, to prevent volleyballs from disappearing over the side, while the other side is used by inmates who just want to enjoy the flower garden, fresh air and exhilarating sights. This is not called "Bayview" for nothing. The Hudson River is just across 11th Avenue and the roof is an ideal perch for viewing the Tall Ships when they are in town. On a clear day, you can see the Statue of Liberty down river. Opposite the facility are the Chelsea piers, where a rescue ship carrying the survivors of the Titanic docked 89 years ago.

The river and piers are the reason Bayview was built. It was constructed in 1931 as the Seamen's House YMCA, a place for merchant sailors to stay while their ships were docked at the piers. The original use can still be detected in the hotel-style lobby and in the seafaring scenes depicted in the stained glass windows of the chapel. The Y included kitchen and dining facilities, a gymnasium, a swimming pool and individual rooms on the upper floors.

Conversion to drug treatment center

Shipping and transportation practices changed over the years, reducing the need for a merchant marine home away from home. But the Seamen's Y was well-suited to the needs of a new state program of residential treatment for drug addiction.

In 1967, the Narcotic Addiction Control Commission (NACC) was created to direct the state's efforts-ongoing since the 1950's and redoubled under Governor Rockefeller-to curb heroin use and trafficking. In addition to a public education program, NACC offered out-patient and in-patient treatment in "rehabilitation centers". Treatment at the centers was usually compulsory in lieu of jail or prison terms; NACC commitments were for either three years (for an addict charged with a crime) or five (for an addict convicted of a crime).

The Seamen's Y site was one of the first NACC centers. The site was purchased in 1967 for a total cost (including rehabilitation) of $3,912,389. For seven years, it served as the Bayview Rehabilitation Center in the large NACC system, which like the correctional system included facilities of differing security levels. Bayview was one of several "intramural" (residential) treatment programs. Its inmates were called "clients", and it was staffed by treatment personnel and a force of Narcotic Correction Officers who wore civilian clothes to downplay the imprisonment feature of the program. Clients who participated satisfactorily in institution programs were considered for transfer to less restrictive sites, such as Fulton, which was one of NACC's "community based centers" offering continuing treatment on an "outpatient" basis. The final stage of the NACC program was "aftercare", release to the community under the supervision of Narcotic Aftercare Officers.

Bayview enters the DOCS system

The NACC program was short-lived, however. The drug agency came under severe criticism for mismanagement and failure either to rehabilitate its clients or to make a difference in street crime. In 1973, the Rockefeller drug laws were enacted, and addicts formerly committed to NACC were instead receiving long prison sentences. The state began to phase out its drug rehabilitation centers.

Meanwhile - and largely as a result of the Rockefeller drug laws and the closing of the rehabilitation centers - the inmate count in the prisons was beginning a prolonged climb. DOCS needed beds, and eventually took over many of the closing drug agency facilities. Bayview was one of the first to go.

The acquisition of Bayview added beds to the adult correctional system, and it added them exactly where DOCS wanted them - in the midst of the metropolis, which was home to most of the inmates. Bayview would be a major step toward the realization of DOCS strategic goal of developing community-based programs and reducing the proportion of offenders confined in remote, maximum-security fortresses. This vision, akin to the "deinstitutionalization" movement in the mental health field, was shared by most corrections professionals.

New York was ready to get on board the community corrections bandwagon. In 1971, the parole and prison systems were merged to facilitate a "continuum" of correctional programming, from reception to parole to final discharge. "Residential treatment facilities" were authorized, with Rochester the first to open in 1973. The next year, Bayview and Edgecombe opened in New York City. Opening, reorganization and growth

The Bayview Rehabilitation Center closed prior to the decision to convert it to a correctional facility; clients and staff were absorbed by other NACC centers. Then in June of 1974, the state transferred Bayview to DOCS. Roughly simultaneously, NACC's Cooper Rehabilitation Center on East 12th Street closed, fortunately permitting the orderly transfer of many of Cooper's employees - including Superintendent Dominic Salamack and a number of counselors and supervisory security staff - to the new DOCS facility at Bayview. About a month later, the first inmates, men approved for work release, began to arrive.

One of the first needs that surfaced was the development of a "pre-work release" program. Most of the inmates had not held a job in years, if ever. That was of course also true of the addicts the former NACC staff were accustomed to working with. Bayview's experienced personnel set up a counseling and training program on how to fill out a resume, how to dress, how to behave at an interview and, once hired, how to meet work-a-day world expectations and keep the job. Here, and in other pioneer work release facilities, were the beginnings of what would later become a standardized, statewide pre-release curriculum, recently refined in the expanded Transitional Services program.

The swap for women inmates

By 1978, DOCS had a sizable network of facilities in New York City - all of them former NACC centers. Bayview, Edgecombe, Queensboro, Lincoln and Parkside (for women) were work release facilities. A sixth facility, Fulton, was a general confinement facility for women.

In 1978, DOCS decided to swap programs and populations at Bayview and Fulton - perhaps because Bayview, with a swimming pool and gymnasium, seemed a better site for a general confinement program. Bayview's males were transferred to Fulton in the summer, but there was work to do to ready Bayview to receive female replacements in December.

The change in the sex of the inmates presented no difficulties. The switch from work release to general confinement, however, required major adjustments. Aside from the job search preparatory course, Bayview had no programs, because most of the inmates' time was spent at their jobs in the community. A confined population would need a full program of in-house activities. Classroom space was created by opening up the unused "annex" section. (Bayview is actually two adjoining buildings. The "main" section is the eight-story Seamen's Y built 70 years ago; the annex is a six-story structure built flush against the Y at a later date, probably as a warehouse. Doorways were later punched through the common wall to unify the two structures.)

Equipment for the vocational programs was brought down from Fulton and installed in the new annex classrooms. Teachers and instructors were also transferred. A recreation director with certification as a lifeguard was hired, so that the inmates could use the swimming pool.

Along with academic and vocational education, the Stay'n Out program was transferred down to Bayview. Stay'n Out is a privately operated drug treatment program that was instituted in Arthur Kill and Fulton in 1977. It was the first treatment program contracted out by DOCS and is still operating at Arthur Kill and Bayview.

Temporary setback stimulates program growth

Further progress toward the innovative program now offered at Bayview was jump-started by a scandal that broke in the early 1980's. Investigation of an inmate pregnancy found evidence of widespread sexual misconduct involving inmates and staff. This was years before Governor Pataki signed legislation criminalizing such activity, but it was clearly prohibited by DOCS regulations. The department swiftly disciplined offending staff, and Bayview's entire executive team was replaced.

Almost daily for several weeks, personnel were greeted on their way to work by television news crews outside the front door. Though DOCS' responded quickly to the specific misconduct, the story sparked public interest in the broader issue of conditions of confinement for female prisoners.

The unwanted attention may have triggered the arrival of community resources that helped staff to develop a progressive program for women inmates. Bayview contracted with a private agency for transportation to the facility for inmates' children, and initiated and supervised a program of activities in the visiting room. The service, now provided by Family Dynamics, grew to include a formal parenting education program for inmate mothers as well as sessions on legal issues, money management and housing, communicating with relatives and building new support networks.

Domestic violence and money addiction, issues prevalent in Bayview's female population, are dealt with in the Transitional Services Program, which since 1979 has been conducted by South Forty under contract with DOCS. Their efforts are assisted by a variety of volunteers. Since the early 1980's, the New York Junior League has assisted South Forty with domestic violence counseling and also works to familiarize inmates with government and community resources including Medicare and public housing. Transitional Services also include the pre-release program originally developed for the male work release population.

The Women's Prison Association - a group providing post-release assistance to female offenders for over a century - advises inmates on family court issues and also assists with job placement and housing. Still other volunteers come in to conduct AA and NA groups, to supplement religious programs or lead meditation and yoga sessions. Some, such as the Irish artist who taught painting classes during a recent visit to the United States, share their special talents and interests with the inmates.

Another innovation was the Motor Vehicles Telephone Answering Program. Patricia Adducci, the new commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), wanted to improve her agency's customer service operation.

Lacking staff to respond to telephone inquiries, she approached DOCS Division of Correctional Industries (Corcraft). Her timing was right: Corcraft wanted to expand program opportunities for women inmates, and Bayview was looking for ways to improve its vocational training offerings. DOCS and DMV worked out the details and the program got underway in March, 1986.

The program occupies a large area on the second floor of the annex. Up to 40 inmates, some working mornings, some afternoons and others full-time, sit in cubicles that they personalize, like office workers everywhere, with family photographs and inspirational messages. Thousands of overflow calls to local DMV offices a day are routed here, and the caller has no idea he or she is talking to a prison inmate. Callers typically ask for directions to drivers' license testing sites, registering or transferring vehicle ownership or other routine matters.

The program, which pays at the correctional industry rates and which provides valuable work experience, has a year-long waiting list. Inmates from Bayview and other facilities whose records are free of telephone-related crime or credit card or computer fraud are eligible to apply; if accepted, they must sign a contract promising to stay in the program for at least a year. Once assigned to the program, they are trained and supervised by a staff of six on-site DMV employees. All calls are monitored at random, either live or on tape.

Two years later, based on Bayview's success, a second Telephone Answering Program was established at Arthur Kill.

Work release

In 1990, for the first time since the departure of the male inmates 13 years earlier, a work release component was added to Bayview. To accommodate the new work release inmates, the fourth and fifth floors of the annex section were converted to dormitories. The programs formerly using space on those floors had to be moved, with a domino action that reached down to the swimming pool. The pool, which did not get a great deal of use, was covered over for storage space.

The work release inmates are housed separately from the general confinement population at all times. There are no in-house programs for the work release inmates, who spend relatively few of their waking hours at Bayview. Evenings are typically spent relaxing and getting ready for work the next day. Since they are all furlough eligible, they are expected to attend to other needs, such as school or substance abuse counseling, in the community, as other working citizens do. Weekends or other days off are usually spent at home.

Bayview's capacity today is 183 general confinement beds (in single rooms to which inmates are issued keys) plus 140 work release beds for a total of 323. The work release count often exceeds 140; this is accomplished by "double-encumbering", in which a bed is used by two inmates whose furloughs fall on different nights.

For the last two years, Bayview has also functioned as a day reporting center after Parkside closed.


When DOCS acquired the old Seamen's Y a quarter-century ago, it moved into a rough-and-tumble waterfront neighborhood. West Chelsea was piers, warehouses and longshoremen. The elevated West Side Drive ran alongside 11th Avenue back then, blocking Bayview's view. After the highway was shut down to traffic about 20 years ago, some of Bayview's staff used it as a bicycle path for their daily commute.

The dismantling of the elevated highway later not only opened up the view of the river: it announced the birth of a new neighborhood. The nearby meat packing plant closed and was taken over for the celebrated indoor Chelsea Market. Art galleries moved into the warehouses surrounding the prison; one is used as a movie studio. The piers across the street were converted to a huge sports complex, with tennis, bowling, rock climbing, horseback riding, ice skating, a netted outdoor driving range extending out along a pier into the waters, and restaurants and other services sought by the upscale Chelsea residents. Down the avenue is a park just for dogs. Their owners wait outside for them, like chauffeurs.

In 1970, prior to the rejuvenation of the district, Bayview's entire south wall was decorated with a red and pink abstract painting, called "Venus" by artist Knox Martin. The mural, conspicuous for its size and beauty, has often been used on post cards. It is also conspicuous - in a culture that regards large, exposed surface as prime advertising space - for not being a billboard. Not surprisingly, advertisers call from time to time with proposals to lease the wall for commercial messages, but Bayview doesn't want its beautiful Venus covered over with a beer or jeans ad.

Besides, it's state property.

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Article is from DOCS TODAY November 2001

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