The New York City Department of Correction, as a distinct entity, dates back to 1895, when the Department of Public Charities and Correction was split into separate agencies - the Department of Public Charities, with jurisdiction over the City’s hospitals and almshouses, and the Department of Correction. DOC was given jurisdiction over the City’s penal institutions including the Penitentiary and Workhouse on Blackwell’s Island (now called Roosevelt Island); City Prison, Manhattan (Tombs); and five District Prisons and the City cemetery (Potter’s Field) on Hart Island, off City Island in the Bronx. Other existing jails in Queens, Brooklyn, and Richmond counties, which in 1895 were not yet incorporated into the City of New York, fell under jurisdiction of their county sheriffs.
Blackwell’s Island was the Department’s main base of operations until the mid-1930s when the century-old Penitentiary and the 85-year-old Workhouse there were abandoned. Blackwell’s inmates were transferred to the newly constructed Penitentiary on Rikers Island, the first permanent jail structure on Rikers.
The City purchased Rikers Island in 1884 for $180,000. The original Island was 87 and one/half acres. From the late 19th century through the mid-20th, the Island was expanded by landfill to its current 415 acres. Today, the Island is the Department’s main base of operation, with 10 separate jails capable of housing up to 17,000 inmates. It is also home to the Department’s Transportation Division and numerous other support operations such as, central laundry, central bakery, K-9 and Marine units.
A detailed history of the NYC Department of Correction can be accessed on the Web site of the New York Correction History Society. The NYCHS was established through the initiative of the NYC Department of Correction in conjunction with other participating New York state, City, county and community-based correctional agencies. In addition to NYC Department of Correction materials, the Web site of this State Regents nonprofit historical society features extensive information on a variety of other NY correction-related subjects.