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Rikers Island Laundry Upgrade Pays Dividends For NYC (Conclusion)

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Rikers Island inmates finish sheets on a new ironer. (Photos: Richard Merli)

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A staff of five oversees the Rikers laundry operations: (from left) Captain Estanislao Perez, Corrections Officer Dennis Phillips, Laundry Supervisor Darrell Jennings, Corrections Officer George Person, and Corrections Officer Michael Joyner.

Richard Merli |

EAST ELMHURST, N.Y. — A $5 million renovation of the on-premise laundry at the Rikers Island jail is rapidly producing dividends for the city of New York, not only by reducing energy and water consumption, but also by making the facility a resource.

Last October and November, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York City area, the laundry pitched in and processed thousands of pounds of linen and personal clothing for people in emergency shelters. It was the first time Rikers’ laundry was used to help in a citywide emergency, according to the New York City Department of Corrections.

During the renovation in July-August 2012, the laundry removed six side-loading washer-extractors, seven dryers and three ironers.

The new Milnor eight-module tunnel system reduces not only the use of water but also the need to heat hot water. Its Mentor computer management system enables management to track the status of goods in the tunnel.

The new Milnor system includes a loading conveyor that feeds the tunnel; an extraction press; and elevating shuttle conveyors that load 150-pound wash cakes into the four automated 320-pound pass-through dryers. A computerized Miltrac system enables laundry management to track the status of clean goods in the drying system. Inmates process clean goods through three new Chicago Dryer Co. Imperial 232 steam-heated ironers. The laundry kept its Washex finishing equipment.

The laundry processes goods for 12,500 inmates, including those at Rikers, the Manhattan Detention Complex, the Brooklyn Detention Complex and the Vernon C. Bain Center in the Bronx.

The laundry also processes goods for five New York City homeless shelters (one in each borough) and uniforms for the New York City Parks and Recreation Department.

Inmates in the laundry earn 39 cents per hour, but also acquire job skills that could one day prove useful in the outside world, according to Darrell Jennings, laundry superintendent at Rikers.

The laundry did not experience downtime during the renovation. “It was very challenging working at night while the old laundry continued operating,” says Ron Hirsch, president of Direct Machinery, the equipment distributor based in Hicksville, N.Y., which managed the renovation.

Good coordination among contractors and the laundry made for a smoother transition. Project planning began two years before the actual work began. One major challenge involved replacing steel beams and reinforcing the floor beneath the tunnel system, according to Richard Turchiano, president of Richard’s Plumbing and Heating Company Inc., based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

“We had to plan very carefully with facility management,” he says.

The timing of the laundry installation in July-August 2012 was fortuitous and proved to be a “boon” for the city, says Hirsch. Hurricane Sandy struck two months later, crippling numerous areas of the city, including city institutions and offices, and forcing thousands of people into emergency shelters. When it did, the Rikers laundry was prepared to offer support.

During the crisis, corrections officers picked up sheets, blankets, towels and clothes from a dozen emergency shelters in storm-struck parts of the city. The items were returned laundered within hours. Corrections Department buses and vans transported evacuees on Staten Island and shuttled recovery workers in Brooklyn.

With 8,500 uniformed staff, Rikers is a miniature city within a city, sometimes referred to as New York City’s sixth borough. Spread over 400 acres and isolated in the East River, the jail has its own schools, infirmary, power plant, auto shop, car wash, chapels, commissary stores, barbershops, bakery, tailor, print shop, and athletic fields and gyms.

Access is restricted to a narrow, two-way bridge overseen by security checkpoints at either end. Approximately 10,000 inmates are incarcerated on Rikers Island; 80% of them have been sentenced to a year or less in jail, while the remainder are awaiting trial.

Among the Rikers Island facilities are a jail for sentenced males, another for sentenced and detainee females, and a detention center for adolescent males aged 16 to 18. The seven other jails on the Island house adult male detainees.

About the author

Richard Merli

Richard Merli, who resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a former editor of American Laundry News.

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