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Solitary confinement on Riker Island to end for prisoners under 21

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New York City will no longer use solitary confinement for all prisoners under the age of 21 in its prisons. The policy change was announced by Mayor de Blasio Tuesday following a vote by the Board of Correction..

“For the first time in years, Rikers Island will be at the forefront of national jail reform efforts,” de Blasio said. “Today’s vote to eliminate punitive segregation for inmates under 21 years old and to create a new, non-punitive housing unit for the most violent inmates will enhance the safety and security of every person on Rikers Island.”

The Corrections Department has been facing scrutiny for over a year about the levels of brutality and other mistreatment at Rikers Island. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is joining a class action suit against the city over its treatment of young inmates at the prison.

His office issued a scathing report in August that detailed the use of solitary calls for adolescents in the prison as “excessive and inappropri­ate.”

The plan to further reduce the use of solitary confinement in city prisons was approved unanimously, 7-0, Tuesdayby the city’s Board of Correction, and will take effect in January 2016.

“We have listened to the needs of corrections officers, health care workers, advocates and inmates,” de Blasio said. “The board’s decision will help Commissioner Ponte implement strategy to enhance safety, reduce jail-based violence and promote better inmate outcomes.”

The mayor appointed Joseph Ponte commissioner of the city’s Department of Corrections last year, demanding immediate reform.

“For years New York City has locked people up without the provision of adequate programs and treatment to change their thinking and their behavior.” de Blasio said. “Under Commissioner Ponte’s leadership, we have ended the department’s overreliance on punitive segregation, we’ve begun to offer enhanced programming and treatment options, and we are pursuing evidence-based practices that will lead to a safer and more humane system.”

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “With these reforms, New York City has taken an important stand for basic human rights and reaffirmed its commitment to the safety of prisons, prison staff and our communities. An institution as profoundly broken as Rikers Island will require wholesale reform to transform into a humane environment that emphasizes treatment and rehabilitation over punishment and isolation, and these rules are a major step forward.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Posted 12:00 am, January 21, 2015
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