In New York City, ending youth solitary confinement comes with a complicated price tag

Under Mayor de Blasio’s new preliminary budget, 282 correction officers would be brought on to oversee New York City’s juvenile prisoners as funding for staff and alternative programming doubles to $25.3 million in 2016 — the year NYC is scheduled to end solitary confinement for 18-21 year olds.

The mayor’s proposal, which arrives amid a federal lawsuit and several bombshell investigations concerning conditions in the city’s jails, also includes:

  • Funding for 6 new staff at the Department of Investigation to investigate “Department of Correction excessive use of force allegations and allegations of criminal conduct.”
  • A $1.8 million infusion to troubled private healthcare provider Corizon to provide additional medical and mental health staff for the new Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit (ESHU) for solitary confinement.
  • Expanding the hiring task force known as the Applicant Investigation Unit and re-establishing a dedicated recruitment unit in an effort to fight the epidemic corruption and abuse among newly-hired CO’s.
  • Provisions for 10 new corrections officers to monitor feeds of the new $15 million security camera network and 6 more CO’s for expanding the canine unit.
  • Significant collective bargaining increases for the officers’ unions

It’s important to note that last month, just before the city voted to ban solitary for prisoners 21 and under, and just after several successive months of mounting public pressure to reduce guard-on-inmate violence, the Board of Correction (BOC) amended its proposed rule change to include the condition that the youth solitary ban only take effect if ‘adequate funding for staff and alternative programming’ is available in 2016.

This was also the same vote that authorized the construction and staffing of the controversial $15 million ESHU, which shocked former prisoners, families and advocates when it was announced and led to protests at the BOC hearings and final vote.

The combination of nearly 300 more corrections officers, a boatload of funding and a new solitary unit has turned a well-intentioned effort to end youth prisoner abuse into a deepened commitment to youth incarceration and solitary confinement. This is hardly a fair compromise. As far as I can tell, no comparable effort or funding has been afforded to getting juvenile prisoners out and into programs, treatments and settings that might actually help them.

The New York City Council has yet to respond to the mayor’s budget, but if it were to meet these conditions, the corrections officers and the dues-collecting unions that represent them would arguably stand to gain more from these “reforms” than the city’s chronically victimized prisoners.

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solitary is torture jailsaction by @aintacrow on twitter

NYC’s new rules for solitary are not the reforms we’ve been looking for

Would NYC’s new rules for solitary confinement have saved the life of 19-year-old Andy Henriquez?

Henriquez was brought to Rikers Island when he was only 16. Three years later, he was still awaiting trial when he was placed in isolation. Henriquez had complained of chest pains for seven months before being thrown in ‘the bing,’ but no one at the prison took him seriously.

Health and correction staff ignored Henriquez’ increasingly-dire calls for help, to the point where other inmates on his block began shouting for someone to save him. But no one ever did. Henriquez suffered alone and in extreme pain, given only a prescription for hand cream under the wrong name, until he eventually died from a tear in his aorta.

The question of whether things might have turned out differently for Henriquez stood out in my mind on Tuesday as all 7 members of NYC’s Board of Correction (BOC) voted to adopt changes to the city’s solitary confinement policy.

The amendments featured an end to solitary confinement for all 18 to 21 year old inmates by 2016, “provided that sufficient resources are made available to the Department for necessary staffing and implementation of necessary alternative programming.” Effective immediately, solitary confinement will no longer be used for 16 and 17 year old inmates, those suffering from ‘serious mental illness,’ or those with owed-time.

The amendments also pave the way for the construction of a controversial new isolation area on Rikers Island called the ‘Enhanced Supervision Housing unit,’ or the ESHU, which will cost $14.8 million, introduce 250 new isolation beds to the island and have its own specially-trained, full time staff. Continue reading

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NYC Doubles Down on Solitary Confinement with Latest Rikers “Reforms”

The AP reports that the NYC Board of Correction (BOC) will vote this coming Tuesday on changes to solitary confinement on Rikers Island, including a new Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit (ESHU) for the prison’s “most dangerous” inmates and policies that seek to limit punitive segregation for other inmates, particularly the mentally ill and juveniles aged 16-21.

The proposed BOC rules also include:

  • Ending isolation for ‘owed time
  • Ending isolation for ‘minor offenses’
  • Exempting ‘seriously mentally ill’
  • Exempting juveniles aged 16-17
  • Capping solitary confinement at 30 days
  • Additional training for ESHU guards

The announcement of a $14.8 million ESHU is the latest piece of Mayor de Blasio’s Rikers Island reform package, and it is complicated by the fact that we don’t know what the programming or therapy regimen for its prisoners will look like. Such proposals are supposed to come out later this year. However, a former head of the Dept. of Mental Health & Hygeine voiced his skepticism over the plan when he testified at a public hearing last month, noting that “previous attempts to create special housing units for troublesome inmates that similarly claimed would provide therapeutic services ultimately turned into restrictive, punitive holding pens.”

And if you dig into the document, you can begin to see what he’s talking about. Continue reading

Prison News Round-up for Oct. 28, 2014

There are far too many stories out there that I want to write about, but I just don’t have the time to fully cover them. So occasionally I’ll be posting a collection of important stories from around the country with some thoughts and notes where appropriate.

This week:

1. Vermont Lawmakers Quiz the State’s Private Prison Company
2. Lawsuit accuses Aurora private prison of paying immigrants $1 a day
3. Meet the controversial private prison corporation, Geo Care, that may run Terrell State Hospital
4. Prison panel suggests broader menu, more recreation for inmates at Ohio facility
5. Pope Francis blasts life sentences as ‘hidden death penalty’
6. 19-year-old dies naked on cell floor of gangrene; lawsuits target deaths in Madison County jail
7. Senators ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Plans to Detain More Immigrant Women and Children
8. Virginia prison system faces $45 million shortfall in inmate health care
9. 10-Year-Old Murder Defendant Shows Failure of U.S. Juvenile Justice System

Here’s my take on these stories… Continue reading

Rumor Has It That NYC May End Corizon Contract on Rikers Island

For years, the nation’s largest for-profit prison healthcare provider — Corizon Health Services, Inc. — has repeatedly won lucrative government contracts despite numerous appalling reports and hundreds of lawsuits for inmate abuse and employee misconduct.

But with the possibility of a federal intervention looming over their heads, NYC officials are considering revoking their contract with Corizon. The AP reports that anonymous leaks from the de Blasio administration claim the city drawing up plans to replace its private contract with a public or non-profit healthcare model. Continue reading

Terrebonne Parish Juvenile Justice Complex

Former Louisiana Corrections Officer Argues 14 Year Old Prisoner ‘Consented’ to Being Raped

The age of consent in the state of Louisiana is 17. The girl was 14 at the time of the incident. This is textbook statutory rape.

Read the whole report if you can stomach it. But I think this quote from a local attorney and children’s advocate sums up the issue perfectly:

“To say that a 14-year-old mentally and emotionally distressed girl with a history of having been abused and neglected as a child should be found at fault for consenting to be raped by a male guard while in confinement at the hands of my local government, which is charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe, not only sets the cause of children’s advocacy back a hundred years, but I believe the parish government commits ‘documentary’ sexual assault against the child by taking this position in a public record.”

Continue reading

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New York City Doesn’t Care About Young People

NYC city council held a hearing yesterday featuring department of corrections commissioner and fabled “reformer” Joseph Ponte.

It was cathartic to see some city council members confronting Ponte over the DOC’s utter failure to protect young prisoners on Rikers Island. In discussing the case of Kaleif Browder (a 16 year old boy who was wrongfully imprisoned and spent nearly 800 days in solitary confinement) city councilman Daniel Dromm (D) told Ponte that officials “subjected this child to torture. There’s no other way to put it.”

Nonetheless, Ponte seemed to be unmoved by the gravity of the situation. He continued to parrot his weak assortment of promises to reduce violence and phase out the use of solitary for a small number of the facility’s incarcerated children. Unfortunately, the “reforms” have more holes than swiss cheese, and are so weak as to suggest they would be more accurately described as ‘damage control.’

When confronted about his promotion of two Rikers officials to top positions, despite emerging evidence that their staff routinely underreported jail fights, Ponte never once hinted he would do the reasonable thing, which would be to review his decision in light of this new information. Instead, he pretty much tried to shrug it off: Continue reading