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NY City Council passes bill on Rikers transparency

August 21, 2014
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York City Council on Thursday passed a bill that would force correction officials to publish information about Rikers Island inmates in solitary confinement — including any injuries suffered behind bars and the state of their mental health.

The legislation awaits the mayor's signature.

Under the bill, the Department of Correction would issue four annual reports also detailing the number of inmates in solitary, why and for how long they are in solitary, whether they ever attempted suicide and whether they received proper medical care.

The sponsor, Councilman Danny Dromm, says he wants to stop what he calls the "degradation, isolation, humiliation and torture" of prisoners as described recently by the media.

Federal investigators had cited a "deep-seated culture of violence" and civil rights violations surrounding Rikers inmates, with guards using "excessive and inappropriate" solitary confinement, especially for teens charged as adults.

Dromm said "darkness" has surrounded the abuses.

"Brutalizing individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues — and Rikers Island is one of the largest facilities in the world housing this population — and then releasing them to the street endangers everyone," Dromm said.

After Thursday's vote, Norman Seabrook, president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, called the bill "arbitrary and capricious" and said it is asking officers to do what they're already doing.

"I understand there needs to be some reform, but I also believe that many council members who have no experience whatsoever in law enforcement should at least have the courtesy to speak to law enforcement to make a decision, rather than issue a piece of legislation like they're giving out candy," Seabrook told The Associated Press.

Spokeswoman Marti Adams issued a statement saying Mayor Bill de Blasio backs the bill and "efforts by council members to encourage more transparency and use data to more effectively develop, manage and monitor programs that support better outcomes for the individuals incarcerated in our city's jails."

Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The new legislation would require the beleaguered Department of Correction to publish 42 different inmate statistics also including race, age, frequency of recreation time, telephone calls and showers.

"This bill 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 need to be made," said Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the council's Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice.

On Wednesday, city Comptroller Scott Stringer released data showing that lawsuits against the city over injuries at jails have gone up by 114 percent since 2009, and 174 percent at Rikers.



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