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The city Department of Corrections will double the prisoner capacity of the Brooklyn House of Detention as part of a scheme to add retail to the jail’s first floor.

The retail proposal was first reported in The Brooklyn Papers earlier this month — but the city withheld its plan to expand the 11-story jail with a rear annex facing State Street until this week.

“We thought as long as we are building, why not add more cells?” said Correction spokesman Tom Antenen.

The proposal will add 800 beds to jail, which at present is home to 760 cells. The jail sits at the rapidly gentrifying intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street.

Inmates were moved out of the jail in 2003, but sometimes shuffle in and out as they await trials in nearby courtrooms, which can be accessed through an underground tunnel.

“We can build a little more and have capacity for all the people that are traveling through [Downtown Brooklyn] to get to the court,” said Antenen, adding that the new cells would reduce the number of wire-mesh windowed jail vans shuttling prisoners through Brooklyn and help lessen traffic congestion.

Area residents said this week that they would fight the expansion.

“We want retail, but not if it comes with doubling the jail,” said Sandy Balboza, president of Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association. “We hear the offer and we don’t accept.”

One letter demanding a better explanation for the new plan has already gone out to the city.

“If the jail can’t go away we need to know why,” said Sue Wolfe, president of the Boerum Hill Association.

The city says the answer is obvious.

“Why build a new jail when you can add onto one that is in pretty good shape and already in the inventory,” said Antenen.

The House of D is the only municipal jail still standing in Brooklyn and since it closed in 2003, inmates have been sent to Rikers Island. But officials say crime levels could easily rise and Rikers could become overcrowded.

“The jail population is down now but there are fluctuations that we need to be ready for,” Antenen said. “A city needs jails in multiple areas.”

When the House of Detention was built in 1957 architectural critics compared its harsh modern lines to Manhattan’s UN Headquarters. .



Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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