NYC Lawmakers Inquire About Conditions at Rikers for Adolescents
Controversy surrounding the treatment of adolescent inmates on Rikers Island has led the New York City Council to hold an oversight hearing to examine the matter.
New York City lawmakers holding an oversight hearing Wednesday plan to ask correction officials about conditions for 16- and 17-year-old inmates on Rikers Island in the wake of a U.S. Justice Department review that found their constitutional rights were routinely violated.
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the committee on fire and criminal justice, said the questioning will center primarily on what's being done to embrace the more than 80 recommendations made in the federal report released in August. Among them, the department recommended removing adolescents entirely off of Rikers, the city's giant 10-facility jail complex on the 400-acre island near LaGuardia Airport.
"That report was really alarming and it depicted the levels of violence," she said. "While we wait for the state to raise the age of criminality, we must make sure our inmates on Rikers Island are safe."
New York and North Carolina are the only two states that charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.
Commissioner Joseph Ponte has vowed to reform the nation's second-largest jail system, and recently said he'll end, by Dec. 31, the longstanding practice of placing 16- and 17-year-old inmates who break jailhouse rules in solitary confinement.
Ponte has said staffing ratios in the facility housing the majority of the young inmates have been reduced to 15-to-1 from 33-to-1.
The agency charged with overseeing the jails, the New York City Board of Correction, is in the lengthy process of changing city rules that govern when and how solitary can be doled out. In New York, the disciplinary action is called punitive segregation but referred to more commonly as The Bing.
Those planning to testify Wednesday include board member Bryanne Hamill; John Boston, head of the Prisoners' Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society; and Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook.
New York's troubled jail system has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. The Associated Press and others have reported extensively on both the violence in city jails and the treatment of the mentally ill, who now account for about 40 percent of the roughly 11,500 daily inmates.