This Barge Floating in the East River Is Home to 800 Prisoners

June 19, 2015

Photo via Wiki Commons

Thanks to “Law & Order” and “Orange Is the New Black,” we all think we’re experts on the local prison system. But there’s a lot more to incarceration than Elliot Stabler’s interrogation room and the Litchfield Penitentiary. For example, we bet you didn’t know there’s a giant floating barge in the East River that is home to 800 prisoners?

The Vernon C. Bain Center is a 47,326-ton jail barge used by the New York City Department of Corrections, located near Hunts Point in the Bronx just one mile west of the SUNY Maritime College. It was built in 1992 in New Orleans for $161 million as a means to curb overcrowding at Rikers Island. In the past, it’s been a facility for traditional inmates and juveniles, but today it’s used as a temporary holding and processing center.

In the late 1980s, the city’s prisons were having overcrowding issues. To solve the problem, Mayor Koch’s administration devised a plan to create prison ships, what they felt was a better alternative than adding jails to already crowded neighborhoods. The first two ships were the Bibby Resolution and the Bibby Venture, both brought to New York in 1988. They were previously used as British troop carriers, but were repurposed as jail cells. These ships were sold in 1994, after the city implemented the Bain as part of Rikers (the world’s largest prison complex).

The parking lot and main entrance to the barge, via Jim Henderson / Wiki Commons

Construction on the Vernon C. Bain barge began in 1989 at the the Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans, where a defunct Staten Island ferry boat was transformed into this massive prison boat. It was completed 18 months late and $35 million over budget, considered the most expensive jail ever at the time. It’s five stories and as large as two football fields, and offers a library, recreation rooms, three chapels, a medical facility, and a basketball court on the top deck. The medium- to maximum-security inmates are housed in 16 dormitories and 100 cells, and the ship is named for a well-respected warden who died in a car accident. Since the barge is technically floating, Coast Guard regulations require that a minimum of three maritime crew (a mate, an oiler, and an engineer) be on board at all times. Employing this additional staff reportedly costs about $650,00 a year. As of last year, the Vernon C. Bain Center was the largest operational prison ship in the world.


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More: History
Location: The Bronx

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  1. J

    I can’t quite get a feel from the article – is this a good thing or a bad thing?

  2. I

    Wonder if they took their cues from the British during the Revolution. Maybe they should re-name it The Jersey? — the most notorious of the British prison ships — likewise anchored in the East River.

  3. B

    i was a hold-over on the barge do to over crowding. It’s not a fun place. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.