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Queens Chronicle

Council passes Rikers solitary bill

Dept. of Correction may have to share details of segregation practices

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Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:50 am, Thu Sep 4, 2014.

After the Department of Correction’s use of solitary confinement came under fire during a recent Council hearing, a new bill to force Rikers Island administrators to publicly release statistics on inmates thrown into segregation was approved by the City Council on Aug. 21.

According to the bill, drafted by Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) — an avid opposer of solitary confinement — the department would have to publish four reports a year detailing how many inmates are placed in solitary, why they are sent and for how long, whether they attempt suicide or are physically or sexually assaulted.

The race, age, mental health, hygiene and recreation time would also be reported and made available to the public.

“Brutality at Rikers Island has been well documented,” Dromm said in a written statement. “We are enacting legislation aimed at clearly sending a message that we will no longer tolerate the violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, be they incarcerated or not.”

The bill is in part a response to recent deaths of at least two inmates who were held in segregation for an extended period of time, something Dromm and other city representatives called unacceptable at the time.

“It’s time we re-examine how the Department of Correction administers punitive segregation in our city jails,” said Councilwoman and Chairwoman of the Fire and Criminal JusticeCcommittee Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale).

“This bill will bring an unprecedented level of transparency to Rikers Island, and will enable the Council and the public to have a better understanding of DOC’s use of punitive segregation and whether changes to the disciplinary process needs to be made.”

A recent federal investigation reported a “deep-seated culture of violence” and a number of civil rights violations of teen inmates at Rikers.

The report also said guards commonly used excessive and inappropriate solitary confinement against teens.

New York is one of two states in the country that automatically charges 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, a practice many City Council members have called for an end to.

After Crowley and the rest of the committee unanimously approved Dromm’s bill on Aug. 20, city Comptroller Scott Stringer released data showing the number of lawsuits against the city over jail-related injuries. The figure has gone up 37 percent since last year and 114 percent since 2009.

“The problems on Rikers Island have been decades in the making, but now we have the right climate and leadership to begin serious discussions about reform and the threshold of acceptable use of force in our city jails,” Crowley said.

The mayor is expected to sign the legislation into law in the coming weeks.

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