Last Existing US Prison Ship Set to Close

The Vernon C. Bain, a five-story prison barge the length of two football fields, is the last of New York City’s late 1980s and early 1990s floating prisons. It is opposite Rikers Island, among a wastewater treatment facility and a wholesale fish market.

According to several reports, the Bain was re-established in 1992 with the intention of momentarily relieving overcrowding on Rikers Island, which is the primary facility for detainees awaiting trial. After 30 years of service, the 800-bed prison ship that the city of New York has used will permanently close.

Officials stated the ship would be abandoned by the end of the week as part of a strategy to replace the city’s problematic correctional system with smaller prisons. The Department of Corrections will move most of the 500 individuals aboard the ship to Rikers Island.

According to inmates, the boat sways with the river current. Inside, there are fractured walls and water leaks, and inmates complain they are crowded into suffocatingly hot dorms with cots barely inches apart in the summertime.

Historical reports show since the Revolutionary War, when hundreds of Americans perished on British ships in New York Harbor, maritime prisons in the US have been contentious.

The British employed prison vessels in New York Harbor to confine imprisoned sailors during the American Revolution, but this aspect of the war’s maritime history has been mostly forgotten. The most well-known of these vessels, “Jersey, ” was a 64-gun ship that has since been demolished.

Since then, the idea has seen limited application (most notably during the California gold rush), and it has often been accused of harsh and neglectful treatment.

When asked by reporters about the possibility of convicts being seasick on the boats, Mayor Edward Koch, an early supporter of the proposal, said that they would be provided Dramamine and that the boat was much better than Rikers Island.