Neighborhood Watch: 5 Things You Never Knew About NYC's Prison on the Park

The real estate scene surrounding Central Park is among the hottest and most coveted that New York City market has to offer. 

From Hotel Row and Museum Mile to the Fifth Avenue townhouses and Columbus Circle, properties on the park glitter in the city’s real estate crown.

However, overlooking a picturesque view of the park lies an unsuspecting property that embodies the time-old dilemma, 'One of these things is not like the other.'

At first glance, the Lincoln Correctional Facility at 31 West 110th Street, a minimum-security men’s prison, looks just like any of the other apartment building that line Central Park North. 

But do the neighbors really know who lives right down the block?

1. You’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it


The eight-story building sits right by the eastern edge of Central Park, just yards away from the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center and the Harlem Meer. With neat rowed windows and quaint hedges out front, it seamlessly blends right in with the neighborhood.

When you take a closer look however, you’ll notice strategically placed security cameras hovering above each entryway and that each of those “park view” windows aren’t windows at all but blacked out facades, a safeguard against would-be escapees.

And if you look up, that’s not on outdoor playground up on the roof. Situated up on top is a fully fenced in prison yard, including the top, albeit one with what must be a breathtaking downtown view of the park and beyond.

2. It’s been a prison for a while


The prison officially opened in 1976, bought by the State Department of Corrections to hold less offensive lawbreakers in a South Harlem that is very different than the one we have and walk through carefree today.

As of 1991, it began to be used more so as a work release center for those brought in under drug possession charges, what the bulk of offenders are brought into Lincoln for.

However, although the facility is equipped to hold up to 408, about 5% of their 275 inmates are white-collar criminals, a number of which have been from high profile cases.

3. The building has been used for more than just a prison

Before its conversion into a prison, the building was founded in 1914 for recently immigrated Jewish women who needed help getting started in the States as a branch of the Young Women’s Hebrew Association (YWHA).

In that period, the Harlem neighborhood housed over 170,000 Jews and was, as reported by The New York Times, "the third largest Jewish settlement in the world, after the Lower East Side and Warsaw."

The YWHA sold the building in 1942 to the U.S. Army and was temporarily used for local soldiers during World War II to get some much-needed r&r.

It had also housed the experimental New Lincoln School in 1948, which tested out new “core” education methods for grades K-12, and the Northside Center for Child Development in 1954, a psychological, behavioral and educational center for children with learning difficulties.

4. It’s not the only prison in Manhattan


Just when you thought it was safe to go back downtown… totally kidding! But there is a higher security prison lurking downtown that New Yorkers also don’t seem to know much about, and has held some pretty rough trade over the years.

Since 1975, the Metropolitan Correctional Center has guarded the likes of mob boss John Gotti, drug kingpin Frank Lucas and the scandal-ridden Bernie Madoff. 


Much more guarded than its uptown cousin, the facility holds male and female prisoners of all security levels.

Conveniently close to the federal court across the street, they transfer convicts through a tunnel almost 40 feet below the city’s surface, leaving it looking like a just another quiet government building in the Financial District.

5. There haven’t been any reported incidents since its first inmate


You’d think that plopping a prison in the middle of Manhattan would have caused quite a stir, especially given the era it was founded in. But the city of New York is happy to report there hasn’t been a single disturbance at Lincoln to date.

The prison also boasts an impressive 95% percent release rate for parole, a statistic pretty much unheard of when compared to many other prisons across the country. Its lack of notoriety has most definitely helped it maintain its “good neighbor” status.

So the next time you’re walking along the North side of Central Park, look towards the east and see if you can spot the red-gated rooftop of on top of the Lincoln Correctional Facility, one of the city’s lesser-known secrets with one of its best-known views.

Check out 9 Facts You Probably Never Even Knew About The Strand Bookstore.

[Feature Image Courtesy Flickr] 

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