Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/doc 2017-12-13T07:28:22+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Inmate Bill of Rights Among New Wave of Rikers Reforms 2015-09-21T20:19:49+00:00 2015-09-21T20:19:49+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5897:inmate-bill-of-rights-among-new-wave-of-rikers-reforms Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_rikers_video.jpg" alt="bdb rikers video" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at Rikers Island (photo: Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council passed eight bills last week in an effort to mandate greater transparency into and oversight of the Department of Correction and to reduce violence within the city's jails. All are expected to soon be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, with the package part of ongoing reforms aimed at changing the culture at Rikers Island and other jail facilities run by the city.</p> <p>One of the bills (<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2272791&amp;GUID=C8A1E464-2342-4CE3-AA8A-6BCA1D45DB4A&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro 784-A</a>) creates an inmate Bill of Rights and Code of Conduct and mandates rules for ensuring that it is presented to prisoners.</p> <p>The bill would require the DOC to inform all incoming inmates of their rights and responsibilities under the DOC rules of conduct in plain and simple language. The bill also requires inmates' rights and code of conduct to be communicated orally to the inmates in their primary language. Currently, upon intake all inmates are given a rulebook, which explains the regulations they are expected to adhere to.</p> <p>Yet, with so many regulations listed in the dense rulebook, many inmates have failed to understand just what rules they are expected to follow behind bars, and many remain unaware of their rights as prisoners, especially since a significant number of inmates on Rikers are illiterate. There are also often language barriers if inmates primarily speak a language other than English.</p> <p>The bill aims to "clear the lines of communication between inmates and staff," Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, the bill's prime sponsor, said last week at the meeting of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services that saw the bills passed before they were then moved through the full Council.</p> <p>The inmate bill of rights will "communicate their rights to services, such as visitation and medical care," Crowley said at City Hall on Thursday. "It is critical that all individuals are aware of these rights."</p> <p>"Carlos Mercado died while in our city jails because of a diabetes-related complication, and because of simple neglect," Crowley continued, referring to the recent death of a Rikers Island inmate whose repeated pleas for medical assistance were ignored by correction officers over a 14-hour period. The new rules appear meant not only to make sure that inmates know their rights and expected conduct, but also to remind correction officers of what they must provide inmates.</p> <p>Seymour James, Jr., the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society, worked closely with the City Council to develop the legislation. James Jr. said that he believes the eight bills passed last week "will go a long way to address some of the problems," but added, "Aside from these bills, there needs to be greater oversight and discipline of the correctional officers. There's a pending lawsuit which is awaiting approval for the court which will attempt to address some of the problems."</p> <p>On the other hand, the president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Norman Seabrook, called the move for greater transparency a "welcome development," but added, "this package of legislation completely ignores the needs of our heroic correction officers."</p> <p>Though 784-A does not alter the rules that have already been established for prisoners, the change in the methods of communicating those rules (and rights) to inmates seeks to curb violence and mistreatment within Rikers by ensuring that all inmates (and guards) are well-informed.</p> <p>The bill mandates that prisoners are given information about their rights "under federal, state, and local laws, and the board of correction minimum standards" on topics such as "personal hygiene, recreation, religion, access to legal services, visitation, telephone calls and other correspondence, media access, due process in any disciplinary proceedings, medical care, safety from violence, and the grievance system."</p> <p>The plain-language document provided inmates will also have to include "a description of educational, vocational development, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling and other related services available to inmates." DOC will be required to post the documentation "on the department's website." The bill also mandates that each inmate receives a copy of "Connections," the resource-filled <a href="http://cdn-prod.www.aws.nypl.org/sites/default/files/NYPLConnections2015_0.pdf" target="_blank">guide</a> to reentry.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=434013&amp;GUID=197FE4B1-B8CD-4217-A165-995FF1D13A6B&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Other bills</a> passed last week are specifically intended to increase Department of Correction transparency by mandating that the city makes far more information publically available, including: demographic breakdowns of inmates; the rules regarding the use of force by staff on inmates; the number of inmates on a waiting list for a segregated housing unit; the bail amounts set for inmates; how long inmates are incarcerated pretrial; the number of visits inmates in city jails receive; and the number of grievances filed by inmates, the status of grievances, and the resolution or dismissal of grievances.</p> <p>"There has been a lack of transparency and that goes back a long time," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a press conference last Thursday. "The majority of inmates in our jails, in fact, have not been convicted of any crime and are still awaiting their day in court."</p> <p>"It is our moral obligation to ensure people in our jails are treated decently and humanely," Mark-Viverito continued. "These bills will mandate greater transparency regarding conditions in our city jails so the nature and extent of problems can be more readily assessed and addressed."</p> <p>Transparency alone will not necessarily reduce violence or protect inmates rights' within the city's jails, Alex Vitale, associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project, points out. Vitale told Gotham Gazette that "rights are only as good as the enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure them."</p> <p>"So it seems to me that it's not likely to be a very fruitful strategy for reducing abuses. The existing Board of Correction already has the authority to guarantee these rights, and to enforce them, but almost never does so," Vitale elaborated. "So, in my mind, if you want to really improve the situation at Rikers you need to do two things: reduce the population and get the BOC to be a robust oversight agency."</p> <p>The move to mandate greater transparency is still a "positive development," Vitale said, since the bills "hold out the possibility of giving advocates additional tools to push for meaningful reforms."</p> <p>Martin Horn, executive director of the New York State Sentencing Commission, expressed a similar point of view, "I'm a big believer in transparency. Increased transparency is always a good thing. The test will come when we see what they do with the data."</p> <p>Although Crowley maintained that the "grouping of bills emphasizes the Council's desire to curb violence on Rikers Island by addressing inmates' as well as staff's needs," the head of the correction officers' union does not share the same view.</p> <p>"We need to do much more to achieve real reform for inmates as well as the hard-working correction officers who are still treated like second-class citizens by a Department of Correction that doesn't seem to care about them," Seabrook said in a statement.</p> <p>The new package of Council bills comes as Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Joe Ponte continue to make changes at Rikers, including to limit the use of solitary confinement. There are also new proposed rules around visitation to Rikers inmates that <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5882-proposed-rikers-visitation-rules-stir-debate" target="_blank">have drawn criticism</a> from advocates and family members of incarcerated individuals.</p> <p>Greater transparency about the conditions on Rikers Island and increased protection of inmates' rights are desperately needed, as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/manhattan-us-attorney-finds-pattern-and-practice-excessive-force-and-violence-nyc-jails" target="_blank">2014 investigation</a> into the conditions on Rikers Island found there to be "rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by New York City Department of Correction staff," and that the "inadequate reporting by staff of the use of force, including false reporting" contributed to the "excessive and unnecessary use of force by DOC staff."</p> <p>At City Hall on Thursday, Council Member Dan Garodnick, who sponsored three of the eight bills that were passed, called attention to the fact that "conditions have deteriorated to the point where the United States government is now suing the New York City Department of Correction in order to enforce change. It should never have come to that."</p> <p>Garodnick and other Council members have noted that it is the Council's responsibility to perform oversight of city agencies and in doing so, they must have more data at their fingertips. Ideally, the increased availability of information will make the situation in New York City jails much clearer, ultimately making it easier for advocates and policymakers to enact meaningful reform to alleviate some of the problems that plague the jails system - including violence that hurts both inmates and officers.</p> <p>"We believe that if they have to report on the problems that are in existence, then there will be pressure on them to reduce the problems and limit them," James Jr. of Legal Aid Society told Gotham Gazette. "If in fact there are long waits for people to get into housing, if there are problems with visitation, if they have to report on it, it's an incentive for them to correct the problem."</p> <p>***<br />by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/megoconnor13" target="_blank">@megoconnor13</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_rikers_video.jpg" alt="bdb rikers video" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at Rikers Island (photo: Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council passed eight bills last week in an effort to mandate greater transparency into and oversight of the Department of Correction and to reduce violence within the city's jails. All are expected to soon be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, with the package part of ongoing reforms aimed at changing the culture at Rikers Island and other jail facilities run by the city.</p> <p>One of the bills (<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2272791&amp;GUID=C8A1E464-2342-4CE3-AA8A-6BCA1D45DB4A&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro 784-A</a>) creates an inmate Bill of Rights and Code of Conduct and mandates rules for ensuring that it is presented to prisoners.</p> <p>The bill would require the DOC to inform all incoming inmates of their rights and responsibilities under the DOC rules of conduct in plain and simple language. The bill also requires inmates' rights and code of conduct to be communicated orally to the inmates in their primary language. Currently, upon intake all inmates are given a rulebook, which explains the regulations they are expected to adhere to.</p> <p>Yet, with so many regulations listed in the dense rulebook, many inmates have failed to understand just what rules they are expected to follow behind bars, and many remain unaware of their rights as prisoners, especially since a significant number of inmates on Rikers are illiterate. There are also often language barriers if inmates primarily speak a language other than English.</p> <p>The bill aims to "clear the lines of communication between inmates and staff," Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, the bill's prime sponsor, said last week at the meeting of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services that saw the bills passed before they were then moved through the full Council.</p> <p>The inmate bill of rights will "communicate their rights to services, such as visitation and medical care," Crowley said at City Hall on Thursday. "It is critical that all individuals are aware of these rights."</p> <p>"Carlos Mercado died while in our city jails because of a diabetes-related complication, and because of simple neglect," Crowley continued, referring to the recent death of a Rikers Island inmate whose repeated pleas for medical assistance were ignored by correction officers over a 14-hour period. The new rules appear meant not only to make sure that inmates know their rights and expected conduct, but also to remind correction officers of what they must provide inmates.</p> <p>Seymour James, Jr., the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society, worked closely with the City Council to develop the legislation. James Jr. said that he believes the eight bills passed last week "will go a long way to address some of the problems," but added, "Aside from these bills, there needs to be greater oversight and discipline of the correctional officers. There's a pending lawsuit which is awaiting approval for the court which will attempt to address some of the problems."</p> <p>On the other hand, the president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Norman Seabrook, called the move for greater transparency a "welcome development," but added, "this package of legislation completely ignores the needs of our heroic correction officers."</p> <p>Though 784-A does not alter the rules that have already been established for prisoners, the change in the methods of communicating those rules (and rights) to inmates seeks to curb violence and mistreatment within Rikers by ensuring that all inmates (and guards) are well-informed.</p> <p>The bill mandates that prisoners are given information about their rights "under federal, state, and local laws, and the board of correction minimum standards" on topics such as "personal hygiene, recreation, religion, access to legal services, visitation, telephone calls and other correspondence, media access, due process in any disciplinary proceedings, medical care, safety from violence, and the grievance system."</p> <p>The plain-language document provided inmates will also have to include "a description of educational, vocational development, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling and other related services available to inmates." DOC will be required to post the documentation "on the department's website." The bill also mandates that each inmate receives a copy of "Connections," the resource-filled <a href="http://cdn-prod.www.aws.nypl.org/sites/default/files/NYPLConnections2015_0.pdf" target="_blank">guide</a> to reentry.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=434013&amp;GUID=197FE4B1-B8CD-4217-A165-995FF1D13A6B&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Other bills</a> passed last week are specifically intended to increase Department of Correction transparency by mandating that the city makes far more information publically available, including: demographic breakdowns of inmates; the rules regarding the use of force by staff on inmates; the number of inmates on a waiting list for a segregated housing unit; the bail amounts set for inmates; how long inmates are incarcerated pretrial; the number of visits inmates in city jails receive; and the number of grievances filed by inmates, the status of grievances, and the resolution or dismissal of grievances.</p> <p>"There has been a lack of transparency and that goes back a long time," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a press conference last Thursday. "The majority of inmates in our jails, in fact, have not been convicted of any crime and are still awaiting their day in court."</p> <p>"It is our moral obligation to ensure people in our jails are treated decently and humanely," Mark-Viverito continued. "These bills will mandate greater transparency regarding conditions in our city jails so the nature and extent of problems can be more readily assessed and addressed."</p> <p>Transparency alone will not necessarily reduce violence or protect inmates rights' within the city's jails, Alex Vitale, associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project, points out. Vitale told Gotham Gazette that "rights are only as good as the enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure them."</p> <p>"So it seems to me that it's not likely to be a very fruitful strategy for reducing abuses. The existing Board of Correction already has the authority to guarantee these rights, and to enforce them, but almost never does so," Vitale elaborated. "So, in my mind, if you want to really improve the situation at Rikers you need to do two things: reduce the population and get the BOC to be a robust oversight agency."</p> <p>The move to mandate greater transparency is still a "positive development," Vitale said, since the bills "hold out the possibility of giving advocates additional tools to push for meaningful reforms."</p> <p>Martin Horn, executive director of the New York State Sentencing Commission, expressed a similar point of view, "I'm a big believer in transparency. Increased transparency is always a good thing. The test will come when we see what they do with the data."</p> <p>Although Crowley maintained that the "grouping of bills emphasizes the Council's desire to curb violence on Rikers Island by addressing inmates' as well as staff's needs," the head of the correction officers' union does not share the same view.</p> <p>"We need to do much more to achieve real reform for inmates as well as the hard-working correction officers who are still treated like second-class citizens by a Department of Correction that doesn't seem to care about them," Seabrook said in a statement.</p> <p>The new package of Council bills comes as Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Joe Ponte continue to make changes at Rikers, including to limit the use of solitary confinement. There are also new proposed rules around visitation to Rikers inmates that <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5882-proposed-rikers-visitation-rules-stir-debate" target="_blank">have drawn criticism</a> from advocates and family members of incarcerated individuals.</p> <p>Greater transparency about the conditions on Rikers Island and increased protection of inmates' rights are desperately needed, as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/manhattan-us-attorney-finds-pattern-and-practice-excessive-force-and-violence-nyc-jails" target="_blank">2014 investigation</a> into the conditions on Rikers Island found there to be "rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by New York City Department of Correction staff," and that the "inadequate reporting by staff of the use of force, including false reporting" contributed to the "excessive and unnecessary use of force by DOC staff."</p> <p>At City Hall on Thursday, Council Member Dan Garodnick, who sponsored three of the eight bills that were passed, called attention to the fact that "conditions have deteriorated to the point where the United States government is now suing the New York City Department of Correction in order to enforce change. It should never have come to that."</p> <p>Garodnick and other Council members have noted that it is the Council's responsibility to perform oversight of city agencies and in doing so, they must have more data at their fingertips. Ideally, the increased availability of information will make the situation in New York City jails much clearer, ultimately making it easier for advocates and policymakers to enact meaningful reform to alleviate some of the problems that plague the jails system - including violence that hurts both inmates and officers.</p> <p>"We believe that if they have to report on the problems that are in existence, then there will be pressure on them to reduce the problems and limit them," James Jr. of Legal Aid Society told Gotham Gazette. "If in fact there are long waits for people to get into housing, if there are problems with visitation, if they have to report on it, it's an incentive for them to correct the problem."</p> <p>***<br />by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/megoconnor13" target="_blank">@megoconnor13</a></p> Proposed Rikers Visitation Rules Stir Debate 2015-09-09T16:55:54+00:00 2015-09-09T16:55:54+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5882:proposed-rikers-visitation-rules-stir-debate Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/IMG_8666_1.JPG" alt="Johnny Perez of the Jails Action Coalition" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Johnny Perez of the Jails Action Coalition (photos: Meg O'Connor)&nbsp;</span></p> <hr /> <p>On Tuesday, City Council members, faith leaders, and activists spoke out against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed restrictions for visitors to Rikers Island jails. At a rally on the steps of City Hall organized by the Jails Action Coalition, speakers called de Blasio’s plan to limit visitors and physical contact by those who do visit inmates counterproductive and wrong.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposed visitation limits were first announced when de Blasio visited Rikers Island in March, and are part of a 14-point plan to reduce violence among inmates and among inmates and guards.</p> <p>&nbsp;“We have to keep weapons, drugs, and other contraband off this island,” de Blasio said at Rikers on March 12. “The only weapons that should be used on this island should be used by people wearing uniforms, not by inmates who got weapons, who got drugs, who got contraband illegally and inappropriately.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/DOC%20Petition%20to%20the%20NYC%20Board%20of%20Correction%20for%20Rulemaking.pdf" target="_blank"> proposed rules</a> seek to limit the physical contact inmates may have with visitors, broaden the criteria for restricting visitors by allowing the Department of Correction to consider factors like criminal record, and establish a visitor registry.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet, critics say the limitations would deter visitors, needlessly make an already arduous visitation process more difficult, and disproportionately affect black and Latino families, as well as poor people unable to afford bail.</p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;“I want to remind everybody that the overwhelming majority of people who are on Rikers have not yet been convicted of the crime for which they are being held,” City Council Member Daniel Dromm, of Queens, said at the Tuesday press conference. The jail complex has an average daily population of about<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/html/about/facilities-overview.shtml" target="_blank"> 11,400</a> – roughly<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/16/nyregion/what-is-happening-at-rikers-island.html?_r=0" target="_blank"> 85%</a> of whom are pretrial detainees.</p> <p dir="ltr">Others, like Tanya Krupat, Program Director for the NY Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, say that what is “most concerning is the way they’re talking about looking into the backgrounds of visitors and making an assessment about whether that person is deemed a threat, including a threat to the ‘good order of the facility,’ which is very vague.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Krupat added, “the potential for arbitrary subjective implementation of these is what’s really worrisome. Where are the checks and balances? They have over 1,000 visitors coming in every day, and over 3,000 children visiting each month, so who is making these decisions?“&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio and his corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, have been credited by prison reform activists for other changes they’re making at Rikers, including around treatment of mentally ill and younger prisoners. The proposed visitation limits fall into a different category - and the city’s Board of Correction will hold a public hearing in the near future before voting on the plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates for the incarcerated and their families fear that the proposed changes will harm the mental well-being of those imprisoned on Rikers Island by denying inmates the much-needed sense of support and connection that visits from loved ones bring. “I believe the proposed plan to restrict visitation has the capacity to deteriorate the already-fragile family unit of people of color, contributing to depression, isolation, loneliness, and increased recidivism,” Reverend Que English, Chair of the NYC Clergy Roundtable said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about this criticism, a spokesperson for the mayor, Monica Klein, wrote Gotham Gazette to say, “Commissioner Ponte understands how important family relationships are in the rehabilitation and re-entry of inmates, and DOC’s proposed visitation policy will allow the Department to foster the kind of positive visitation environment that help inmates’ well-being while maintaining the safety and security of the facilities.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Some see the stricter visitation rules as a give by de Blasio in order to obtain support for other reforms he’s making and seeking at Rikers, such as his work to reduce solitary confinement and separate younger offenders and detainees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposed rules would <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/DOC%20Petition%20to%20the%20NYC%20Board%20of%20Correction%20for%20Rulemaking.pdf" target="_blank">restrict</a> the amount of physical contact between inmates and their visitors to a “brief embrace and kiss between the inmate and visitor at both the beginning and the end of the visitation period.” There is currently no limitation on physical contact like hugs and hand-holding during visits.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking about the importance of physical contact with a loved one, Anisah Sabur, who was incarcerated on Rikers for eight months in 2008, said, “being in a place surrounded by people that you don’t know, to see somebody that you know, be it your loved one, your mother, your brother, that hug and that holding of the hand is very important for somebody on the inside who doesn’t know when they’ll get that again. That love and affection is truly needed for somebody to keep their sanity.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Significantly, critics of the proposed policy changes have pointed out that a majority of the contraband at Rikers is not smuggled in by visitors. During a May 12 Board of Correction<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/Minutes/2015/BOCMinutes_20150512.pdf" target="_blank"> meeting</a>, board member Dr. Robert Cohen noted that the BOC’s recent report using data from the Department of Correction showed that 80% of weapons recovered on Rikers are constructed on site, meaning they were not brought in by visitors or staff.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, as Dromm (pictured below) mentioned during the rally Tuesday, a 2014<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2014/Nov14/pr26rikers_110614.pdf" target="_blank"> investigation</a> conducted by Mark Peters, Commissioner of the Department of Investigation, “found that the majority of drugs that were getting into Rikers Island were being brought in by corrections officers themselves.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/IMG_8653_1.JPG" alt="CM Daniel Dromm" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="263" width="350" /></p> <p dir="ltr">City &amp; State NY<a href="http://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/heard-around-town-proposed-rikers-visitor-policy-would-exacerbate-tale-of-two-cities,-critics-say.html" target="_blank"> reported</a> that the city has said “371 [visitors] were arrested in fiscal year 2015,” meaning that with over 1,000 people visiting Rikers every day, a small fraction of those visitors are contributing to the flow of contraband into the jail complex.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You’re changing policy [in response to] less than 1% of the visitors who come in,” Krupat said at the press conference yesterday. “That’s not how policy is made.”</p> <p>However, the de Blasio administration says it is responding to an increase in those arrests - the 371 was up 307 in the prior fiscal year, and drugs recovered during visits were also up.</p> <p>&nbsp;In March, when Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Joe Ponte announced the 14-point initiative to reduce violence at Rikers, de Blasio said, “we know that the reality is that so many inmates acquire weapons and acquire drugs through visitors. In fact, we know that many criminal gangs use the visitation process to pass weapons and pass drugs to their fellow gang members here in these facilities. They also pass messages. You’ve seen it in the movies – it happens in real life.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“So, to address this problem at the root, we need a much stronger, much stricter visitor policy,” the mayor continued, “which will limit physical contact between visitors and inmates and will, in fact, restrict the right of certain individuals to visit, in the first place, if they do not pass a security screen.”</p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;The mayor said that the proposed changes would bring Department of Correction policy closer in line with that of other large jail systems around the country that place limits on physical contact between inmates and visitors and restrict visitors based on security concerns.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet critics view the proposed limitations as a step backwards for de Blasio’s self-professed progressive administration, which was praised by advocates for the incarcerated earlier this year after city officials agreed to make sweeping<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/nyregion/accord-near-on-sweeping-reforms-at-rikers-jail-including-us-monitor.html" target="_blank"> reforms</a> aimed at increasing safety for inmates of the violence-stricken jail complex.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor ran on not having a tale of two cities, and this is kind of a tale of two cities issue,” said Krupat. “Most people are pre-trial, they just can’t afford their bail. If you’re poor, you’re on Rikers and now maybe your family can’t come and see you, but if you have means, you’re out in the community at home eating dinner with your family. It’s kind of shocking from a progressive administration to go after visitors as part of an agenda to reduce violence at Rikers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Board of Correction must approve the policy before the proposed changes to visitation rules can go into effect. The BOC<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/Variance_Documents/20150908/Proposed%20rule%20package%20for%20posting.pdf" target="_blank"> announced</a> Tuesday that it will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules, though the date has not yet been set.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/twitter.com/megoconnor13" target="_blank">@MegOConnor13</a><br /><a href="https://twitter.com/gothamgazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/IMG_8666_1.JPG" alt="Johnny Perez of the Jails Action Coalition" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Johnny Perez of the Jails Action Coalition (photos: Meg O'Connor)&nbsp;</span></p> <hr /> <p>On Tuesday, City Council members, faith leaders, and activists spoke out against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed restrictions for visitors to Rikers Island jails. At a rally on the steps of City Hall organized by the Jails Action Coalition, speakers called de Blasio’s plan to limit visitors and physical contact by those who do visit inmates counterproductive and wrong.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposed visitation limits were first announced when de Blasio visited Rikers Island in March, and are part of a 14-point plan to reduce violence among inmates and among inmates and guards.</p> <p>&nbsp;“We have to keep weapons, drugs, and other contraband off this island,” de Blasio said at Rikers on March 12. “The only weapons that should be used on this island should be used by people wearing uniforms, not by inmates who got weapons, who got drugs, who got contraband illegally and inappropriately.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/DOC%20Petition%20to%20the%20NYC%20Board%20of%20Correction%20for%20Rulemaking.pdf" target="_blank"> proposed rules</a> seek to limit the physical contact inmates may have with visitors, broaden the criteria for restricting visitors by allowing the Department of Correction to consider factors like criminal record, and establish a visitor registry.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet, critics say the limitations would deter visitors, needlessly make an already arduous visitation process more difficult, and disproportionately affect black and Latino families, as well as poor people unable to afford bail.</p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;“I want to remind everybody that the overwhelming majority of people who are on Rikers have not yet been convicted of the crime for which they are being held,” City Council Member Daniel Dromm, of Queens, said at the Tuesday press conference. The jail complex has an average daily population of about<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/html/about/facilities-overview.shtml" target="_blank"> 11,400</a> – roughly<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/16/nyregion/what-is-happening-at-rikers-island.html?_r=0" target="_blank"> 85%</a> of whom are pretrial detainees.</p> <p dir="ltr">Others, like Tanya Krupat, Program Director for the NY Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, say that what is “most concerning is the way they’re talking about looking into the backgrounds of visitors and making an assessment about whether that person is deemed a threat, including a threat to the ‘good order of the facility,’ which is very vague.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Krupat added, “the potential for arbitrary subjective implementation of these is what’s really worrisome. Where are the checks and balances? They have over 1,000 visitors coming in every day, and over 3,000 children visiting each month, so who is making these decisions?“&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio and his corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, have been credited by prison reform activists for other changes they’re making at Rikers, including around treatment of mentally ill and younger prisoners. The proposed visitation limits fall into a different category - and the city’s Board of Correction will hold a public hearing in the near future before voting on the plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates for the incarcerated and their families fear that the proposed changes will harm the mental well-being of those imprisoned on Rikers Island by denying inmates the much-needed sense of support and connection that visits from loved ones bring. “I believe the proposed plan to restrict visitation has the capacity to deteriorate the already-fragile family unit of people of color, contributing to depression, isolation, loneliness, and increased recidivism,” Reverend Que English, Chair of the NYC Clergy Roundtable said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about this criticism, a spokesperson for the mayor, Monica Klein, wrote Gotham Gazette to say, “Commissioner Ponte understands how important family relationships are in the rehabilitation and re-entry of inmates, and DOC’s proposed visitation policy will allow the Department to foster the kind of positive visitation environment that help inmates’ well-being while maintaining the safety and security of the facilities.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Some see the stricter visitation rules as a give by de Blasio in order to obtain support for other reforms he’s making and seeking at Rikers, such as his work to reduce solitary confinement and separate younger offenders and detainees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposed rules would <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/DOC%20Petition%20to%20the%20NYC%20Board%20of%20Correction%20for%20Rulemaking.pdf" target="_blank">restrict</a> the amount of physical contact between inmates and their visitors to a “brief embrace and kiss between the inmate and visitor at both the beginning and the end of the visitation period.” There is currently no limitation on physical contact like hugs and hand-holding during visits.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking about the importance of physical contact with a loved one, Anisah Sabur, who was incarcerated on Rikers for eight months in 2008, said, “being in a place surrounded by people that you don’t know, to see somebody that you know, be it your loved one, your mother, your brother, that hug and that holding of the hand is very important for somebody on the inside who doesn’t know when they’ll get that again. That love and affection is truly needed for somebody to keep their sanity.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Significantly, critics of the proposed policy changes have pointed out that a majority of the contraband at Rikers is not smuggled in by visitors. During a May 12 Board of Correction<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/Minutes/2015/BOCMinutes_20150512.pdf" target="_blank"> meeting</a>, board member Dr. Robert Cohen noted that the BOC’s recent report using data from the Department of Correction showed that 80% of weapons recovered on Rikers are constructed on site, meaning they were not brought in by visitors or staff.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, as Dromm (pictured below) mentioned during the rally Tuesday, a 2014<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2014/Nov14/pr26rikers_110614.pdf" target="_blank"> investigation</a> conducted by Mark Peters, Commissioner of the Department of Investigation, “found that the majority of drugs that were getting into Rikers Island were being brought in by corrections officers themselves.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/IMG_8653_1.JPG" alt="CM Daniel Dromm" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="263" width="350" /></p> <p dir="ltr">City &amp; State NY<a href="http://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/heard-around-town-proposed-rikers-visitor-policy-would-exacerbate-tale-of-two-cities,-critics-say.html" target="_blank"> reported</a> that the city has said “371 [visitors] were arrested in fiscal year 2015,” meaning that with over 1,000 people visiting Rikers every day, a small fraction of those visitors are contributing to the flow of contraband into the jail complex.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You’re changing policy [in response to] less than 1% of the visitors who come in,” Krupat said at the press conference yesterday. “That’s not how policy is made.”</p> <p>However, the de Blasio administration says it is responding to an increase in those arrests - the 371 was up 307 in the prior fiscal year, and drugs recovered during visits were also up.</p> <p>&nbsp;In March, when Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Joe Ponte announced the 14-point initiative to reduce violence at Rikers, de Blasio said, “we know that the reality is that so many inmates acquire weapons and acquire drugs through visitors. In fact, we know that many criminal gangs use the visitation process to pass weapons and pass drugs to their fellow gang members here in these facilities. They also pass messages. You’ve seen it in the movies – it happens in real life.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“So, to address this problem at the root, we need a much stronger, much stricter visitor policy,” the mayor continued, “which will limit physical contact between visitors and inmates and will, in fact, restrict the right of certain individuals to visit, in the first place, if they do not pass a security screen.”</p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;The mayor said that the proposed changes would bring Department of Correction policy closer in line with that of other large jail systems around the country that place limits on physical contact between inmates and visitors and restrict visitors based on security concerns.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet critics view the proposed limitations as a step backwards for de Blasio’s self-professed progressive administration, which was praised by advocates for the incarcerated earlier this year after city officials agreed to make sweeping<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/nyregion/accord-near-on-sweeping-reforms-at-rikers-jail-including-us-monitor.html" target="_blank"> reforms</a> aimed at increasing safety for inmates of the violence-stricken jail complex.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor ran on not having a tale of two cities, and this is kind of a tale of two cities issue,” said Krupat. “Most people are pre-trial, they just can’t afford their bail. If you’re poor, you’re on Rikers and now maybe your family can’t come and see you, but if you have means, you’re out in the community at home eating dinner with your family. It’s kind of shocking from a progressive administration to go after visitors as part of an agenda to reduce violence at Rikers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Board of Correction must approve the policy before the proposed changes to visitation rules can go into effect. The BOC<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/Variance_Documents/20150908/Proposed%20rule%20package%20for%20posting.pdf" target="_blank"> announced</a> Tuesday that it will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules, though the date has not yet been set.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/twitter.com/megoconnor13" target="_blank">@MegOConnor13</a><br /><a href="https://twitter.com/gothamgazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> Prison Escape Allows Critics to Attack Cuomo on Prior Source of Strength 2015-07-10T03:29:48+00:00 2015-07-10T03:29:48+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5803:prison-escape-allows-critics-to-attack-cuomo-on-prior-source-of-strength Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/18532282172_4601834f9d_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Dannemora prison escpae" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Cuomo at a prison escape briefing (photos via Governor's Office on flickr)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Richard Matt, one of the two men involved in a daring and complex escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility, is dead, shot by officers after he refused to be taken alive. The other, David Sweat, was captured and returned to a maximum security prison after being shot twice. The high drama, which played out across national media, is apparently at an end. But investigations of the prison have begun, prison employees are retiring and suspended, and later this year things are likely to flare up in Albany hearing rooms, as Senate Republicans plan to investigate how policy may have led to the pair's escape.</p> <p>Some legislators see the incident as reflective of the strain Gov. Andrew Cuomo's prison reforms has put on guards and correctional facilities across the state. Others insist the escape was an isolated incident that isn't indicative of anything other than two criminals so badly wanting to escape that they went to remarkable, made-for-Hollywood lengths.</p> <p>Some advocates and legislators who support Cuomo's prison policy, which has led to the closing of 13 prisons across the state, say they fear the hearings may be used to attack that policy rather than investigate the escape. The Cuomo administration did not return a request for comment.</p> <p>Sen. Patrick Gallivan, chair of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections, told Gotham Gazette that he intends to hold joint hearings of his committee with the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations after any criminal investigations are completed. "I want to be conscious of the Legislature's role here and maybe not get into the nitty-gritty, but look at the larger issues of public policy," Gallivan said. He noted that, while his thought process is ongoing, he expects the main areas of focus to be staffing, safety, and contraband. The government operations committee has subpoena power.</p> <p>Gallivan also noted that The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association has testified "for the last five years about safety and staffing levels."</p> <p>NYSCOPBA contends that the Cuomo administration maintains a "bloated" administrative department at the Department of Corrections, and should look there to make cuts rather than closing prisons and cutting staff. They say that small upstate communities that rely on prison jobs are devastated by the closures and cuts while the safety of communities across the state is jeopardized.</p> <p>"Violence in New York State prisons is on pace to reach a record high this year," Mike Powers, president of the NYSCOPBA, wrote in a statement this spring. "It's time for a real plan to invest in staffing and resources to help protect our law enforcement officers and keep our prisons safe."</p> <p>The New York Daily News and the Albany Times Union both reported that the Cuomo administration's efforts to reduce overtime spending left two guard towers at Clinton Correctional Facility empty and that similar concerns about overtime prevented a lockdown and search after a brawl broke out involving dozens of inmates only a few days before the escape.</p> <p>Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who sits on the Senate corrections committee and supports Cuomo's prison reform efforts, said that he has tremendous respect for Gallivan and expects him to take a thoughtful approach to any investigation. However, he said he felt that the escape was an isolated incident and not reflective of any major policy. "I don't think this is a systemic issue. These were two guys who were committed to get the hell out," said Rivera. "We know there may have been a few bad staffers but that does not lead me down the road to, 'We need systemic changes,' or something particular like increased staffing."</p> <p>Many reform advocates also consider Gallivan to be especially open-minded on criminal justice issues and receptive to ideas from both sides of the aisle. However, they are concerned that with 2016 being an election year, Republican leadership will see the hearings as an opportunity to attack prison reform efforts.</p> <p>Cuomo has made that issue one of his administration's top priorities. "An incarceration program is not an employment program," Cuomo famously said during his 2011 State of the State address. "If people need jobs, let's get people jobs. Don't put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don't put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That's not what this state is all about. And that has to end this session."</p> <p>Since then the administration has closed 13 facilities, both upstate and downstate, and reduced the corrections budget by millions of dollars. The administration backed up its efforts to close prisons by pointing out that the state has been paying to maintain thousands of empty prison beds while increasing funding for alternative sentencing.</p> <p>Gallivan said that empty prison beds doesn't necessarily mean they have enough beds in the right places. He wants to investigate whether there is overcrowding within higher-security facilities. Records show that the population at Clinton Correctional has declined, while incidents of violence or finding contraband have increased fairly dramatically. Assaults on prison officers across the state increased by 29 percent between 2010 and 2014; with most assaults occurring in maximum-security facilities.</p> <p>Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell, chair of his chamber's Corrections Committee, was so shocked by what he saw during a December tour of Dannemora that <a href="http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/new-york/2015/06/13/clinton-prison-recent-history-violence/71183366/" target="_blank">he wrote</a> the Cuomo administration and asked it to invest in body cameras for prison guards to reduce violence. He has since said he believes the prison is "The most dangerous prison in the New York state system."</p> <p>The Cuomo administration dismissed discussion of O'Donnell's letter when the two prisoners escaped in early June, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/cuomo-warned-safety-prison-escape-article-1.2255475" target="_blank">telling</a> the Daily News, "This is a serious situation and shouldn't be used as an opportunity to push an agenda."</p> <p>Gallivan said that he has heard anecdotal evidence from corrections officials that body cameras are helpful in reducing violence and that he has an open mind about their employment.</p> <p>The senator added he is still in the early planning stages of the hearings and that developments in the criminal investigation could change things drastically. "We're going to let any criminal investigations run their course and I expect that could be sometime in the fall. Meanwhile, staffing is a budget issue, so I'd like to get this done before next year's budget."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany Editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/18532282172_4601834f9d_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Dannemora prison escpae" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Cuomo at a prison escape briefing (photos via Governor's Office on flickr)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Richard Matt, one of the two men involved in a daring and complex escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility, is dead, shot by officers after he refused to be taken alive. The other, David Sweat, was captured and returned to a maximum security prison after being shot twice. The high drama, which played out across national media, is apparently at an end. But investigations of the prison have begun, prison employees are retiring and suspended, and later this year things are likely to flare up in Albany hearing rooms, as Senate Republicans plan to investigate how policy may have led to the pair's escape.</p> <p>Some legislators see the incident as reflective of the strain Gov. Andrew Cuomo's prison reforms has put on guards and correctional facilities across the state. Others insist the escape was an isolated incident that isn't indicative of anything other than two criminals so badly wanting to escape that they went to remarkable, made-for-Hollywood lengths.</p> <p>Some advocates and legislators who support Cuomo's prison policy, which has led to the closing of 13 prisons across the state, say they fear the hearings may be used to attack that policy rather than investigate the escape. The Cuomo administration did not return a request for comment.</p> <p>Sen. Patrick Gallivan, chair of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections, told Gotham Gazette that he intends to hold joint hearings of his committee with the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations after any criminal investigations are completed. "I want to be conscious of the Legislature's role here and maybe not get into the nitty-gritty, but look at the larger issues of public policy," Gallivan said. He noted that, while his thought process is ongoing, he expects the main areas of focus to be staffing, safety, and contraband. The government operations committee has subpoena power.</p> <p>Gallivan also noted that The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association has testified "for the last five years about safety and staffing levels."</p> <p>NYSCOPBA contends that the Cuomo administration maintains a "bloated" administrative department at the Department of Corrections, and should look there to make cuts rather than closing prisons and cutting staff. They say that small upstate communities that rely on prison jobs are devastated by the closures and cuts while the safety of communities across the state is jeopardized.</p> <p>"Violence in New York State prisons is on pace to reach a record high this year," Mike Powers, president of the NYSCOPBA, wrote in a statement this spring. "It's time for a real plan to invest in staffing and resources to help protect our law enforcement officers and keep our prisons safe."</p> <p>The New York Daily News and the Albany Times Union both reported that the Cuomo administration's efforts to reduce overtime spending left two guard towers at Clinton Correctional Facility empty and that similar concerns about overtime prevented a lockdown and search after a brawl broke out involving dozens of inmates only a few days before the escape.</p> <p>Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who sits on the Senate corrections committee and supports Cuomo's prison reform efforts, said that he has tremendous respect for Gallivan and expects him to take a thoughtful approach to any investigation. However, he said he felt that the escape was an isolated incident and not reflective of any major policy. "I don't think this is a systemic issue. These were two guys who were committed to get the hell out," said Rivera. "We know there may have been a few bad staffers but that does not lead me down the road to, 'We need systemic changes,' or something particular like increased staffing."</p> <p>Many reform advocates also consider Gallivan to be especially open-minded on criminal justice issues and receptive to ideas from both sides of the aisle. However, they are concerned that with 2016 being an election year, Republican leadership will see the hearings as an opportunity to attack prison reform efforts.</p> <p>Cuomo has made that issue one of his administration's top priorities. "An incarceration program is not an employment program," Cuomo famously said during his 2011 State of the State address. "If people need jobs, let's get people jobs. Don't put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don't put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That's not what this state is all about. And that has to end this session."</p> <p>Since then the administration has closed 13 facilities, both upstate and downstate, and reduced the corrections budget by millions of dollars. The administration backed up its efforts to close prisons by pointing out that the state has been paying to maintain thousands of empty prison beds while increasing funding for alternative sentencing.</p> <p>Gallivan said that empty prison beds doesn't necessarily mean they have enough beds in the right places. He wants to investigate whether there is overcrowding within higher-security facilities. Records show that the population at Clinton Correctional has declined, while incidents of violence or finding contraband have increased fairly dramatically. Assaults on prison officers across the state increased by 29 percent between 2010 and 2014; with most assaults occurring in maximum-security facilities.</p> <p>Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell, chair of his chamber's Corrections Committee, was so shocked by what he saw during a December tour of Dannemora that <a href="http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/new-york/2015/06/13/clinton-prison-recent-history-violence/71183366/" target="_blank">he wrote</a> the Cuomo administration and asked it to invest in body cameras for prison guards to reduce violence. He has since said he believes the prison is "The most dangerous prison in the New York state system."</p> <p>The Cuomo administration dismissed discussion of O'Donnell's letter when the two prisoners escaped in early June, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/cuomo-warned-safety-prison-escape-article-1.2255475" target="_blank">telling</a> the Daily News, "This is a serious situation and shouldn't be used as an opportunity to push an agenda."</p> <p>Gallivan said that he has heard anecdotal evidence from corrections officials that body cameras are helpful in reducing violence and that he has an open mind about their employment.</p> <p>The senator added he is still in the early planning stages of the hearings and that developments in the criminal investigation could change things drastically. "We're going to let any criminal investigations run their course and I expect that could be sometime in the fall. Meanwhile, staffing is a budget issue, so I'd like to get this done before next year's budget."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany Editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> Reforming Solitary Confinement At The City's Biggest Psych Ward — Rikers Island 2013-11-18T02:44:00+00:00 2013-11-18T02:44:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=4727:reforming-solitary-confinement-at-the-citys-biggest-psych-ward-nrikers-island Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/Ismael-Nazario-Solitary-Confinement.jpg" alt="Ismael-Nazario-Solitary-Confinement" width="600" height="510" class="caption" title="Ismael Nazario, who was held in solitary confinement for months as an adolescent at Rikers Island, stands on the block where he now works as a case manager for at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives in Brooklyn." /></p> <p>NEW YORK —&nbsp;After about three days of being isolated in “the Box” away from his fellow detainees at Rikers Island, Ismael Nazario was beginning to break.</p> <p>"That's when it started to take it's toll,” he said, conjuring memories of his time in punitive segregation —&nbsp;solitary confinement — in one of the nation’s biggest jail complexes. “I was just like, 'Yo, I cannot be here like this.’”</p> <p>In his compact cell, furnished with a toilet and cot, Nazario had little space to move, he recalled in a recent interview. "I just talked to myself, answering myself, pacing back and forth.”</p> <p>Nazario was 16 years old and awaiting trial for robbery the first time he was sent to the Box, he said. According to Nazario, he had been caught with a pouch of tobacco, considered contraband, and was accused of pushing an officer as he tried to dispose of it in the toilet. But the contraband alone would have been enough: both violent and non-violent infractions can land an inmate in punitive segregation. Once there, detainees spend 23 hours per day in their cells.</p> <p>Now a 25-year-old case manager for at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives in Brooklyn, Nazario said his multiple stays in the Box stayed with him long after he left.</p> <p>“You have this deep rooted anger and frustration from being in the Box, so the first thing somebody says wrong to you or does wrong, looks at you wrong, you're gonna pop off,” he said. Several <a href="http://solitarywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/fact-sheet-psychological-effects-final.pdf">studies</a>&nbsp;have found that being confined to a cell for 22 or more hours per day with limited human contact can leave inmates socially and emotionally unstable.</p> <p>After years of criticism from advocates, the city’s practice of isolating detainees through punitive segregation has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and city officials. In recent months, the City Council passed legislation to bring greater transparency to the practice. But perhaps the greatest change will come in the months ahead.</p> <p>Motivated by <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/184998385/Report-to-the-New-York-City-Board-of-Correction">a recent report on solitary confinement at Rikers</a>, the Board of Correction, which oversees the Department of Correction, is seeking to limit the city’s use of the punishment through a slow-moving rulemaking process that could take up to a year. "We're concerned about everybody in solitary confinement, and particularly those with serious mental illness and adolescents," said Dr. Robert Cohen, chair of the Board's committee on punitive segregation.</p> <p>However, the city’s Department of Correction and the mayor's office have rejected the sweeping critique of solitary confinement contained in the report that informed the Board's decision, as well as the report’s recommendation that isolation only be used as punishment in the most extreme cases.</p> <p>In an email, the Department defended punitive segregation as just one part of "a comprehensive continuum of care and control" developed to "ensure everyone’s safety." Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro declined to comment further.</p> <p>The Department has been working towards its own program for reform, however. One major change is already underway: eliminating solitary confinement for people with serious mental illness.</p> <h2>The Push for Reform</h2> <p>In mid-September, members of the Jails Action Coalition rallied outside of a meeting of the Board of Correction at the Municipal Building in Lower Manhattan.</p> <p>As they awaited a decision from the Board on whether it would attempt to change Rikers' punitive segregation policies, the lawyers, case workers and activists who form the Coalition sang and held a banner that read "Solitary is Torture."</p> <p>The banner invoked Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights,<a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf"></a><a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf">who called</a>&nbsp;more than 15 days in solitary confinement 'torture'&nbsp;and recommended the punishment not be used at all for adolescents and people diagnosed with mental illness.</p> <p>In June, following a petition by the Jails Action Coalition, the Board commissioned an independent investigation into punitive segregation at Rikers.<sup><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#cmnt6" name="cmnt_ref6"></a></sup></p> <p>The study found that punitive segregation sentences at Rikers routinely exceed 15 days and that people with mental illness are disproportionately placed in isolation for breaking the rules. When the researchers visited the city jail over the summer, they found a quarter of the adolescent inmates of 16 and 17 years old in solitary confinement.</p> <p>A separate, recent count by the DOC&nbsp;also revealed that more than one in seven inmates at Rikers is currently being held in isolation — significantly higher than the<a href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/07/board-of-correction-votes-against-limiting-solitary-confinement-in-new-york-city-jails/"></a><a href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/07/board-of-correction-votes-against-limiting-solitary-confinement-in-new-york-city-jails/">national average</a>&nbsp;of about one in 25.</p> <h2>Rethinking the City's Largest Psych Ward</h2> <p>Nearly 40 percent&nbsp;of the population at Rikers Island is mentally ill, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">according</a>&nbsp;to the Department of Correction, making it, de facto, the city's largest psychiatric facility.</p> <p>Martin Horn, the city's previous Commissioner of Correction and Probation, said this has posed more than just a disciplinary challenge.</p> <p>"You're asking the jail to take on a role and a responsibility that it was never intended for, it was never physically constructed for, it was never properly equipped for, the staff was never properly trained for, and the staffing patterns were never properly based upon," said Horn, who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.</p> <p>This past month, the DOC launched the Clinical Alternative to Punitive Segregation at Rikers, which was<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">announced</a>&nbsp;in May as an answer to "widespread concern about the impact that solitary confinement has on the mentally ill."</p> <p>The program places people who break the rules and have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or another condition the Department considers a "serious mental illness" in a separate, but more communal setting, where therapy is available.</p> <p>Inmates diagnosed with mental disorders that are not considered "serious" can still be placed in isolated cells for breaking the rules, although they will be offered therapy and incentives for good behavior.</p> <p>The Department <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">expressed hopes</a>&nbsp;that this approach would help remedy the fact&nbsp;that the average stay of a mentally ill inmate at Rikers is twice as long as that of an inmate who has not been diagnosed with a mental illness.</p> <p>But advocates for prisoner rights say the DOC needs to focus on improving the quality of its psychiatric treatment in order for it to be effective.</p> <p>"The way they're trying to provide therapy with a therapist who isn't really engaged reading from a manual, that's just not the way we do it," said attorney Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center. Parish has represented several mentally ill inmates at Rikers and is a founding member of the Jails Action Coalition.</p> <p>Parish said inmates who receive therapy while in solitary often meet with the mental health clinician inside their cells.</p> <p>"If you read the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/mental_health_minimum_standards.pdf">[Minimum] Mental Health Standards</a>, there's no way that you can think that adequate mental health treatment could be provided in a punitive environment," Parish said.</p> <h2>Making Solitary Public</h2> <p>There are no public records of the number of people in solitary confinement at Rikers.</p> <p>In April, City Council members Daniel Dromm and Elizabeth Crowley introduced<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344634&amp;GUID=A3A68BE3-E965-4221-8B56-B4302EC2400E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=solitary+confinement"></a><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344634&amp;GUID=A3A68BE3-E965-4221-8B56-B4302EC2400E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=solitary+confinement">legislation</a>&nbsp;to require the Department of Correction to publish monthly statistics on punitive segregation.&nbsp;The mayor’s office has declined to comment on the pending legislation.</p> <p>"We need to know who they're putting in solitary, why they're going into solitary, and how long they're staying in solitary," said Dromm, who added he took up the cause after noticing the "very, very detrimental effect" solitary confinement had on a friend who served time at Rikers for drug charges.</p> <p>The punitive segregation capacity at Rikers peaked at 1,035 cells and is now on the decline, according to the DOC.</p> <p>The Department attributed the hundreds of punitive segregation beds added in the last two years to a "long-standing backlog" of unserved time by inmates who have broken the rules. Dromm has introduced a<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344636&amp;GUID=6AD28CA8-C858-4B51-B0E2-D5F9D0A14FDA&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=punitive+segregation"></a><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344636&amp;GUID=6AD28CA8-C858-4B51-B0E2-D5F9D0A14FDA&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=punitive+segregation">resolution</a>&nbsp;calling on the Department to end the practice of cashing in on "time owed" in solitary confinement by inmates who return to Rikers after being released.</p> <h2>Is there a way out?</h2> <p>The addition of punitive segregation cells at Rikers has corresponded with a significant increase in violent incidents in the last five years, according to Mayor’s Management Reports between<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/mmr/0908_mmr.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/mmr/0908_mmr.pdf">2008</a>&nbsp;and<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/pmmr2013/doc.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/pmmr2013/doc.pdf">2013.</a></p> <p>"Correction officers bear the brunt of it by being assaulted on a daily basis," Norman Seabrook, president of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association,<a href="http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/4559/solitary-confinement-on-the-rise-at-rikers"></a><a href="http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/4559/solitary-confinement-on-the-rise-at-rikers">told City Limits</a>&nbsp;in March.</p> <p>Both Seabrook and former Commissioner Horn have cited cuts to the number of correction officers at Rikers as part of the problem.</p> <p>There was a decrease in jail violence during Horn’s tenure from 2003 to 2009, which he attributes to a variety of preventive tactics, including the installation of video cameras. "I think it was the result of putting staff resources where they were most needed," Horn said.</p> <p>Still, Horn said that punitive segregation is necessary to maintain order.</p> <p>"If two inmates get in a fight, they have to be separated, they have to be protected from each other. In society, when you break a rule, you go to jail. Punitive segregation is the jail within the jail."</p> <p>Parish suggested that offering inmates more services could also create more alternative punishments for breaking the rules.</p> <p>"The more incentives that you have that people want to be involved in, the more you can make not having access to that one of the potential punishments," she said.</p> <p>Parish acknowledged the need to separate inmates who pose a threat to others, but said the disciplinary system should be "focused on rehabilitation, not locking someone in for 23 hours a day."</p> <p>"As long as we see even one day of that as trivial, as not such a big deal, we're going to have a hard time getting to another place."</p> <p><em>Caroline Lewis is a freelance radio and web journalist working towards a Masters at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Read and listen to her stories <a href="http://carolinelewismedia.com">here</a>.</em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/Ismael-Nazario-Solitary-Confinement.jpg" alt="Ismael-Nazario-Solitary-Confinement" width="600" height="510" class="caption" title="Ismael Nazario, who was held in solitary confinement for months as an adolescent at Rikers Island, stands on the block where he now works as a case manager for at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives in Brooklyn." /></p> <p>NEW YORK —&nbsp;After about three days of being isolated in “the Box” away from his fellow detainees at Rikers Island, Ismael Nazario was beginning to break.</p> <p>"That's when it started to take it's toll,” he said, conjuring memories of his time in punitive segregation —&nbsp;solitary confinement — in one of the nation’s biggest jail complexes. “I was just like, 'Yo, I cannot be here like this.’”</p> <p>In his compact cell, furnished with a toilet and cot, Nazario had little space to move, he recalled in a recent interview. "I just talked to myself, answering myself, pacing back and forth.”</p> <p>Nazario was 16 years old and awaiting trial for robbery the first time he was sent to the Box, he said. According to Nazario, he had been caught with a pouch of tobacco, considered contraband, and was accused of pushing an officer as he tried to dispose of it in the toilet. But the contraband alone would have been enough: both violent and non-violent infractions can land an inmate in punitive segregation. Once there, detainees spend 23 hours per day in their cells.</p> <p>Now a 25-year-old case manager for at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives in Brooklyn, Nazario said his multiple stays in the Box stayed with him long after he left.</p> <p>“You have this deep rooted anger and frustration from being in the Box, so the first thing somebody says wrong to you or does wrong, looks at you wrong, you're gonna pop off,” he said. Several <a href="http://solitarywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/fact-sheet-psychological-effects-final.pdf">studies</a>&nbsp;have found that being confined to a cell for 22 or more hours per day with limited human contact can leave inmates socially and emotionally unstable.</p> <p>After years of criticism from advocates, the city’s practice of isolating detainees through punitive segregation has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and city officials. In recent months, the City Council passed legislation to bring greater transparency to the practice. But perhaps the greatest change will come in the months ahead.</p> <p>Motivated by <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/184998385/Report-to-the-New-York-City-Board-of-Correction">a recent report on solitary confinement at Rikers</a>, the Board of Correction, which oversees the Department of Correction, is seeking to limit the city’s use of the punishment through a slow-moving rulemaking process that could take up to a year. "We're concerned about everybody in solitary confinement, and particularly those with serious mental illness and adolescents," said Dr. Robert Cohen, chair of the Board's committee on punitive segregation.</p> <p>However, the city’s Department of Correction and the mayor's office have rejected the sweeping critique of solitary confinement contained in the report that informed the Board's decision, as well as the report’s recommendation that isolation only be used as punishment in the most extreme cases.</p> <p>In an email, the Department defended punitive segregation as just one part of "a comprehensive continuum of care and control" developed to "ensure everyone’s safety." Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro declined to comment further.</p> <p>The Department has been working towards its own program for reform, however. One major change is already underway: eliminating solitary confinement for people with serious mental illness.</p> <h2>The Push for Reform</h2> <p>In mid-September, members of the Jails Action Coalition rallied outside of a meeting of the Board of Correction at the Municipal Building in Lower Manhattan.</p> <p>As they awaited a decision from the Board on whether it would attempt to change Rikers' punitive segregation policies, the lawyers, case workers and activists who form the Coalition sang and held a banner that read "Solitary is Torture."</p> <p>The banner invoked Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights,<a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf"></a><a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf">who called</a>&nbsp;more than 15 days in solitary confinement 'torture'&nbsp;and recommended the punishment not be used at all for adolescents and people diagnosed with mental illness.</p> <p>In June, following a petition by the Jails Action Coalition, the Board commissioned an independent investigation into punitive segregation at Rikers.<sup><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#cmnt6" name="cmnt_ref6"></a></sup></p> <p>The study found that punitive segregation sentences at Rikers routinely exceed 15 days and that people with mental illness are disproportionately placed in isolation for breaking the rules. When the researchers visited the city jail over the summer, they found a quarter of the adolescent inmates of 16 and 17 years old in solitary confinement.</p> <p>A separate, recent count by the DOC&nbsp;also revealed that more than one in seven inmates at Rikers is currently being held in isolation — significantly higher than the<a href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/07/board-of-correction-votes-against-limiting-solitary-confinement-in-new-york-city-jails/"></a><a href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/07/board-of-correction-votes-against-limiting-solitary-confinement-in-new-york-city-jails/">national average</a>&nbsp;of about one in 25.</p> <h2>Rethinking the City's Largest Psych Ward</h2> <p>Nearly 40 percent&nbsp;of the population at Rikers Island is mentally ill, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">according</a>&nbsp;to the Department of Correction, making it, de facto, the city's largest psychiatric facility.</p> <p>Martin Horn, the city's previous Commissioner of Correction and Probation, said this has posed more than just a disciplinary challenge.</p> <p>"You're asking the jail to take on a role and a responsibility that it was never intended for, it was never physically constructed for, it was never properly equipped for, the staff was never properly trained for, and the staffing patterns were never properly based upon," said Horn, who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.</p> <p>This past month, the DOC launched the Clinical Alternative to Punitive Segregation at Rikers, which was<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">announced</a>&nbsp;in May as an answer to "widespread concern about the impact that solitary confinement has on the mentally ill."</p> <p>The program places people who break the rules and have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or another condition the Department considers a "serious mental illness" in a separate, but more communal setting, where therapy is available.</p> <p>Inmates diagnosed with mental disorders that are not considered "serious" can still be placed in isolated cells for breaking the rules, although they will be offered therapy and incentives for good behavior.</p> <p>The Department <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">expressed hopes</a>&nbsp;that this approach would help remedy the fact&nbsp;that the average stay of a mentally ill inmate at Rikers is twice as long as that of an inmate who has not been diagnosed with a mental illness.</p> <p>But advocates for prisoner rights say the DOC needs to focus on improving the quality of its psychiatric treatment in order for it to be effective.</p> <p>"The way they're trying to provide therapy with a therapist who isn't really engaged reading from a manual, that's just not the way we do it," said attorney Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center. Parish has represented several mentally ill inmates at Rikers and is a founding member of the Jails Action Coalition.</p> <p>Parish said inmates who receive therapy while in solitary often meet with the mental health clinician inside their cells.</p> <p>"If you read the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/mental_health_minimum_standards.pdf">[Minimum] Mental Health Standards</a>, there's no way that you can think that adequate mental health treatment could be provided in a punitive environment," Parish said.</p> <h2>Making Solitary Public</h2> <p>There are no public records of the number of people in solitary confinement at Rikers.</p> <p>In April, City Council members Daniel Dromm and Elizabeth Crowley introduced<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344634&amp;GUID=A3A68BE3-E965-4221-8B56-B4302EC2400E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=solitary+confinement"></a><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344634&amp;GUID=A3A68BE3-E965-4221-8B56-B4302EC2400E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=solitary+confinement">legislation</a>&nbsp;to require the Department of Correction to publish monthly statistics on punitive segregation.&nbsp;The mayor’s office has declined to comment on the pending legislation.</p> <p>"We need to know who they're putting in solitary, why they're going into solitary, and how long they're staying in solitary," said Dromm, who added he took up the cause after noticing the "very, very detrimental effect" solitary confinement had on a friend who served time at Rikers for drug charges.</p> <p>The punitive segregation capacity at Rikers peaked at 1,035 cells and is now on the decline, according to the DOC.</p> <p>The Department attributed the hundreds of punitive segregation beds added in the last two years to a "long-standing backlog" of unserved time by inmates who have broken the rules. Dromm has introduced a<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344636&amp;GUID=6AD28CA8-C858-4B51-B0E2-D5F9D0A14FDA&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=punitive+segregation"></a><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344636&amp;GUID=6AD28CA8-C858-4B51-B0E2-D5F9D0A14FDA&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=punitive+segregation">resolution</a>&nbsp;calling on the Department to end the practice of cashing in on "time owed" in solitary confinement by inmates who return to Rikers after being released.</p> <h2>Is there a way out?</h2> <p>The addition of punitive segregation cells at Rikers has corresponded with a significant increase in violent incidents in the last five years, according to Mayor’s Management Reports between<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/mmr/0908_mmr.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/mmr/0908_mmr.pdf">2008</a>&nbsp;and<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/pmmr2013/doc.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/pmmr2013/doc.pdf">2013.</a></p> <p>"Correction officers bear the brunt of it by being assaulted on a daily basis," Norman Seabrook, president of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association,<a href="http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/4559/solitary-confinement-on-the-rise-at-rikers"></a><a href="http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/4559/solitary-confinement-on-the-rise-at-rikers">told City Limits</a>&nbsp;in March.</p> <p>Both Seabrook and former Commissioner Horn have cited cuts to the number of correction officers at Rikers as part of the problem.</p> <p>There was a decrease in jail violence during Horn’s tenure from 2003 to 2009, which he attributes to a variety of preventive tactics, including the installation of video cameras. "I think it was the result of putting staff resources where they were most needed," Horn said.</p> <p>Still, Horn said that punitive segregation is necessary to maintain order.</p> <p>"If two inmates get in a fight, they have to be separated, they have to be protected from each other. In society, when you break a rule, you go to jail. Punitive segregation is the jail within the jail."</p> <p>Parish suggested that offering inmates more services could also create more alternative punishments for breaking the rules.</p> <p>"The more incentives that you have that people want to be involved in, the more you can make not having access to that one of the potential punishments," she said.</p> <p>Parish acknowledged the need to separate inmates who pose a threat to others, but said the disciplinary system should be "focused on rehabilitation, not locking someone in for 23 hours a day."</p> <p>"As long as we see even one day of that as trivial, as not such a big deal, we're going to have a hard time getting to another place."</p> <p><em>Caroline Lewis is a freelance radio and web journalist working towards a Masters at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Read and listen to her stories <a href="http://carolinelewismedia.com">here</a>.</em></p>