Rikers Island Penitentiary Improvements – East Elmhurst NY


Excerpt from the National Archives and Records Administration, Neg. 17975-D:

“Rikers Island Penitentiary. Description of work done by WPA. Erection of four single family residences; two single family residences; 5400 linear feet chain-like fence. Fence around entire institution, fence around baseball field; one concrete coping wall; piping in tunnel to the new proposed buildings. Erection of new hay and feed barn in wagon sheds on Riker’s Island. Project No. 665-97-3-22. Social rehabilitation of Prison Inmates, Department of Correction, 2 Rikers Island.”


Excerpt from the (1939) WPA Guide to New York City, Federal Writers Project:

“The island is now entirely given over to the city’s MODEL PENITENTIARY, which replaced the obsolete Welfare Island prison in 1935. The twenty-six fireproof brick buildings, costing $9,106,000, constitute one of the most modern and efficient penal institutions in the country. The new prison, with a total capacity of 2,550, houses annually more than 25,000 offenders whose sentences run for not more than three years. The rapid turnover creates many special problems of management.

Much of the made land has been landscaped. A sixty-acre farm cultivated by prisoners is being steadily enlarged; the renowned prison piggery produces more than fifty thousand pounds of pork every year. The modern plant includes a fully equipped hospital with the largest venereal disease clinic in the city, and a large laundry which serves the prison, the Department of Sanitation, and other institutions. The management uses a scientific classification system for determining the needs and attributes of each prisoner in preparation for the prison’s unusual educational, vocational, and recreational program.”

Source notes

National Archives and Records Administration, Neg. 17975-D

The WPA Guide to New York City, Federal Writers Project, Random House (1939), p. 426.



Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on April 12, 2017.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

1616 Hazen St
East Elmhurst, NY 11370

Location notes: General location marker

Coordinates: 40.791561, -73.884385

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