A group of local elected officials plan to introduce two pieces of legislation on Thursday that they hope will end the New York City Department of Correction’s use of solitary confinement.
The planned bills, introduced by City Councilman Daniel Drumm is an attempt to address safety issues at Rikers Island jail, revealed recently by probed conducted by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan and the city’s Department of Investigation.
Mr. Drumm, a Queens Democrat, announced the planned measures on the steps of City Hall on Monday, flanked by City Council members Jumaane Williams, Andy King, and Ydanis Rodriguez and Public Advocate Letitia James.
Mr. Drumm said the conditions he saw on a tour of Rikers Island earlier this year were “dehumanizing,” specifically mentioning the size of cells, the smell of urine, graffiti, rusted beds, and 4 a.m. wake-up calls for recreation.
A correction department official said new strategies are being put into place that focus on inmate safety, such as an updated use of force policy and the installation of more cameras. So far, incidents among adolescent inmates dropped from 31 in April to 19 in June, the official said.
“Commissioner Joseph Ponte has made it clear that excessive use of force unnecessary or unwarranted use of punitive segregation and corruption of any kind are absolutely unacceptable, and will not be tolerated under his watch,” said spokesman Eldin Villafane.
Correction Officers Benevolent Association spokesperson didn’t immediately return a message for comment.
“Having gone there and witnessed the conditions that I saw in solitary was of major concern to me,” said Mr. Drumm.
The first planned bill calls for the composition of a quarterly report detailing the number of inmates in solitary confinement, their age, the reason for their confinement, the length of stay and whether they had any mental health issues. The planned bill calls for the end of a practice known as “time owed,” where an inmate who returns to Rikers has to finish any time in solitary confinement they did not complete on their first stay.
Mr. Drumm said he believes he has the votes in place to get both bills passed.
“This reporting bill will be the first step to correct” those conditions, said Mr. Drumm.
Prisoners sent to solitary confinement could be in their jail cells alone for up to 23 hours a day. In January, the New York City Department of Correction stopped putting mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, a move hailed as groundbreaking by jail officials.
Over the past month, police officers in the United States have killed three unarmed black men in circumstances that raise serious human rights concerns. On July 17, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, died after a New York Police Department officer placed him in a choke hold—a tactic that the NYPD banned in 1993—while trying to arrest him for selling black market cigarettes on a Staten Island street. The New York Medical Examiner has ruled his death a homicide.
On August 5, police fatally shot John Crawford, 22, inside a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. Witnesses say Crawford was holding a toy gun that was available for purchase in the store, and that police opened fire when he did not comply with an order to put it down.
Then, on August 9, police in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old due to start college two days later. Police allege that Brown assaulted an officer, but witnesses say he was 35 feet away from the police car when he was shot. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation into the shooting as a possible violation of federal civil rights laws.
Communities throughout the US have long voiced concerns about the use of excessive force by police, saying incidents like these disproportionately involve black men. And indeed, Garner, Crawford, and Brown join an appallingly long list of unarmed black men killed by police in the US in recent years. Some—like Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and Oscar Grant—have made national headlines and generated public protests. In Ferguson, the at-times violent unrest has continued for days. Police have used teargas and rubber bullets against protesters, and in some instances, told journalists to leave the scene.
But it’s almost impossible to get a firm handle on the full extent of the problem. As journalists and others have documented time and time again, there are no reliable nationwide figures on police use of deadly force. A federal law, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, requires the Attorney General to collect and publish data on the use of force by police and issue an annual summary. A search of the Justice Department website yielded no indication that such a summary has ever been published.
Without this data, one can’t know whether, as some claim, police abuse can be traced to a few “bad apple” officers, or is an endemic problem; and how to best go about addressing it. Implementation of the 1994 law would not solve the problem, but it would be an important step in taking measure of exactly how big it is. Meanwhile, the headlines, the funerals, and the protests continue, documenting yet another life lost.
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Alliance of immigration and civil rights organisations file complaint claiming ‘widespread and systematic’ abuse of unaccompanied migrant children in border agency control
An alliance of immigration and civil rights organisations have filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general on behalf of more than 100 unaccompanied migrant children, some as young as five, alleging abuse by US Customs and Border Protection, in a document which they say reflects a “humanitarian crisis” at the border.
The groups, who have urged the DHS to investigate the allegations, say the documented reports reflect “widespread and systematic”…
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