The lack of available space on the island of Manhattan often leads to creative solutions for problems that arise due to overcrowding. In the late 1980s, New York City jails and prisons were filling past capacity and there was nowhere on land to expand. The solution devised by Mayor Koch’s administration was to create prison ships, the first of which arrived in 1988. The Bibby Resolution and the Bibby Venture were formerly British troop carriers repurposed as jail cells. Those two ships were sold in 1994, when the 47,326 ton Vernon C. Bain center arrived in the East River to replace them.
Built in New Orleans in 1992, “The Boat” is now stationed near Hunts Point in The Bronx just one mile west of the SUNY Maritime College. At the time, the $161 million construction budget — $35 million more than was originally planned — made the Bain the most expensive jail ever. Coast Guard regulations mandate that a minimum of three maritime crew members, a mate, an oiler, and an engineer, be on board at all times adding an additional cost of about $650,00 a year.
Named for a well-respected warden who died in a car accident, the Vernon C. Bain Center is currently used by the New York City Department of Corrections as a temporary holding and processing center. It was built to take on the overflow of inmates from Rikers Island, and can house approximately 800 medium-to maximum-security inmates. Additionally, the 5-story barge also contains a library, recreation rooms, three chapels, a medical facility, and a basketball court on the top deck. As such, it was named the largest operational prison ship in the world in 2014.