After a federal investigation, a lawsuit over the death of an inmate, and a shocking expose on the widespread use of solitary confinement on juvenile defenders, the City Council has passed a Rikers Island transparency bill that aims to have the jail produce quarterly reports on its treatment of inmates.
The bill, sponsored by Council Member Daniel Dromm, aims to bring out into the light long-standing practices that are underreported by the Department of Correction. The bill focuses on the use of "punitive segregation," in which an inmate (who could still be awaiting trial) is put in isolation for months at a time, sometimes resulting in serious mental health issues.
The bill stipulates that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will help the Department of Correction to report every quarter the following information:
•The total number of inmates housed in punitive segregation
•Their age, race, and gender
• Length of stay
• Whether they’ve been injured, attempted or committed suicide while segregated
• Whether they were sexually or physically assaulted
• Whether they were subject to use of force
• Whether they received certain services such as recreation and showers, medical attention and phone calls as well as a number of other indicators.
“Brutality at Riker's Island has been well documented," Council Member Daniel Dromm, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. "Today we take an important first step in changing that culture of brutality. 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."
At a Department of Correction graduation yesterday, Commissioner Joseph Ponte told the graduates and collected officers that there was much more to the Department of Correction than what is written in the press. "The majority of our staff are committed to the agency’s goals and perform their duties in a professional manner, day in and day out, under very difficult circumstances,” Ponte told graduates. “Change starts with the individual, not the agency, so we all need to look at ourselves and what we need to change for the department to change."