New York City Council Introduces 10 Bills to Reform Rikers Island

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Update: A few thoughts on this reform package.

This week, New York City Council members introduced 10 bills outlining various reforms to the Department of Correction and city jails. Most of the proposals are focused on capturing data and increasing transparency, while others involve measures like crisis intervention programming and the establishment of an inmate “Bill of Rights.”

The language and formatting used in these bills can be difficult to read, but this stuff is important, so my intent with this post is to pare-down and clean up each of the proposals here, in one place.

Overview

Before we begin, there are two things to note. First, some readers may be surprised that the protocols and reports prescribed in these bills weren’t already in place. Some of these measures, such as tracking injuries and excessive use of force incidents, might seem like no-brainers, because they are. This slate of legislation reveals the comprehensive secrecy and opacity that has blanketed city jails and protected the department from oversight for decades.

Second, it is important to understand that even if all of these transparency measures are passed in their current form, it will take rigorous oversight to ensure the Department of Correction’s compliance. They have a history of dodgy and non-existent reporting, and unlike in the past, they will need to be called to account for any substandard performance.

Quarterly reports on bail status

Court delays and excessive or prohibitively expensive bail amounts are some of the primary driving forces behind New York City’s jail population. As part of a city-wide effort to clear up the logjam in the courts and reduce the length of stay for pretrial detainees (who make up the majority of NYC inmates), the council is proposing regular reporting on bail status for city inmates.

Injury reports and investigations

There have been multiple reports of heinous abuses and injuries on Rikers Island — and the investigations are often too few or far between to be noticed. This bill would illuminate such incidents and provide a way for the public and government to track the city’s progress in both reducing their number and resolving more of these cases in a just manner.

Security indicator reports

Monthly security indicator reports will give regular insight into things like the number of assaults and other security issues in city jails. This is one of those proposals that you almost can’t believe isn’t already a critical part of jail operations.

Crisis Intervention Program

With over 40% of Rikers Island inmates suffering from mental illness, it’s imperative that the city implement the appropriate protocols to care for this population and avoid their abuse, injury and death. The creation of a CIP and regular reporting on their operations will attempt to confront the high levels of violence facing mentally ill inmates in NYC jails.

Quarterly reports on excessive use of force investigations

The excessive use of force by New York City correction officials is practically legendary. Last year, the Department of Justice used the phrase “culture of brutality” to describe the environment in which inmates must live on Rikers Island. If the city is serious about getting control over its guards and reducing this violence, it will need regular reports like these.

Quarterly reports on inmate grievance system

Inmates have little recourse in NYC jails and face significant challenges in having their grievances and complaints addressed in a timely or serious matter (or at all). Regular reporting on the grievance system will ensure that the Department is doing due diligence with regards to these complaints.

Enhanced Supervision Housing reporting

The ESHU is perhaps the most controversial part of NYC’s affair with criminal justice reform, and initial reports from the facility do not instill confidence. There have been a lot of promises made about the ESHU: that mentally ill inmates would be diverted; that there would be adequate programming; and that it wouldn’t be used as just another overflow solitary unit. We are going to need robust reporting to verify that those promises are being kept.

Publishing DOC’s use of force policies

The Department of Correction’s use of force policy should be made widely available and should be the product of a transparent and informed debate. This is important for inmates as well as officers — and the public should have the opportunity to evaluate whether specific incidents fall within or outside that policy (or whether the policy needs to be changed).

Quarterly reports on jail demographics

Part of NYC jail reform entails reforming policing and jailing practices around the city. By reporting regularly on inmate demographics, the public can track and see how and whether the population is changing and evaluate these efforts that disproportionately target minorities or people suffering from mental illness.

Creation of an inmate Bill of Rights

The name of this reform is a little misleading, but it’s important nonetheless. This bill would make the DOC inform inmates of their rights while behind bars. NYC jails primarily house pre-trial detainees, many of whom lack the funds for bail let alone adequate legal representation (not a dig at public defenders, but they’re overworked and often play the long game). Any effort on behalf of the city to provide inmates with assistance in understanding their rights and situation should be very much welcomed.

Reform Package Details

1. Quarterly reports on bail status

By Council Members Rosenthal, Crowley, Dromm, Cumbo, Koslowitz, Palma, Cornegy, Torres, Cohen and Rodriguez

Int. No. 753 would require NYC’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to post regular reports on the department’s website regarding the bail status of inmates in the city.

The reports will include:

  1. The average daily population of inmates in the custody of the department of correction.
  2. # and % of inmates who had been sentenced, held on pending criminal charges, and in any other category.
  3. % remanded without bail.
  4. # sentenced to a definite sentence
  5. % whose sentences were of the following lengths: 1-15 days; 16-30 days; 31-90 days;  91-180 days; or 180 days or more.
  6. # and % with pending criminal charges for felonies, misdemeanors or non-criminal charges
  7. # and % with pending criminal charges for violent and nonviolent felonies, misdemeanors or non-criminal charges.
  8. # and % charged with:
    • Misdemeanor: larceny, drug possession, assault, harassment, theft of services, trespass, criminal mischief or graffiti, sexual crimes, resisting arrest or obstructing governmental administration, marijuana possession.
    • Felony: vehicular assault or vehicular manslaughter, homicide or manslaughter, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, arson, robbery or grand larceny, drug possession or sale, firearm or weapons possession
    • Driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a suspended license
  9. # and % who had bail fixed in the following amounts: $1; $2-500; $501-$1000; $1001-2500; $2501-5000; $5001-10,000; $10,001-25,000; $25,001-50,000; $50,001-100,000; or $100,001 and higher
  10. # and % who had no criminal record or a criminal history with 1 or more non-violent felony conviction but no violent felony convictions; or with 1 or more violent felony convictions.
  11. % who had been incarcerated for the following lengths of time: 1-2 days; 3-5 days; 6-15 days; 16-30 days; 31-90 days; 91-180 days; 180 – 365 days; or 366 days or more.

The bill also sets out to get the following information from the police and the courts:

  1. # and % of cases in which bail was set at arraignment on a misdemeanor or felony complaint.
  2. # and % of cases in which bail was posted during any time in which the most serious pending count was a misdemeanor or felony, and the defendant failed to appear for at least one court appearance during the reporting period.
  3. # and % of cases in which the defendant was released without bail during any time in which the most serious pending count was a misdemeanor and the defendant failed to appear for at least one court appearance during the reporting period.
  4. # and % of cases in which the defendant’s release was subject to specified conditions, including but not limited to supervised release programs, but not including the sole condition that the defendant not be re-arrested.
  5. % of cases in which a form of bail other than cash or insurance company bond was ordered.
  6. % of cases in which the defendant posted bail, in total and disaggregated by the following bail amounts: (a) $1-500; (b) $501-$1000; (c) $1001-2500; (d) $2501-5000; (e) $5001-10,000; (f) $10,001-25,000; (g) $25,001-50,000; (h) $50,001-100,000; or (i) $100,001 and higher.
  7. % of cases in which the disposition was as follows: (a) conviction for a violent felony; (b) conviction for of a non-violent felony; (c) conviction for a misdemeanor; (d) conviction for a non-criminal offense; (e) charges dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal; or (f) any other disposition.
  8. % of cases in which the status of the criminal case is as follows: (a) the charges are pending and the defendant was released by posting bail, (b) the charges are pending and the defendant was released by court order, (c) the charges are pending and the defendant was not released (d) conviction for a violent felony; (e) conviction for a non-violent felony; (f) conviction for a misdemeanor; (g) conviction for a non-criminal offense; (h) charges dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal; or (i) any other disposition.
  9. % of cases in which the status of the criminal case on the final day of the reporting period is as follows: (a) the charges are pending and the defendant was released by posting bail, (b) the charges are pending and the defendant was released by court order, (c) the charges are pending and the defendant was not released (d) conviction for a violent felony; (e) conviction for a non-violent felony; (f) conviction for a misdemeanor; (g) conviction for a non-criminal offense; (h) charges dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal; or (i) any other disposition.

2. Injury Reports and Investigations

By Council Members Cabrera, Arroyo, Dickens, Dromm, Gentile, Johnson, King, Mealy, Richards and Rose
Int. No. 759 would require the departments of Correction and Health and Mental Hygiene to produce reports on injuries to inmates and staff in city jails. It would also require those cases to be referred for investigation.

Beginning October 1, 2015, the departments will be required to issue quarterly reports on the following:

  1. # of physical injuries to the head and the number of serious physical injuries to inmates and staff, in total and the rate of each such injury per 100 inmates/staff
  2. # of incidents in which the department determined that staff violated departmental rules or directives regarding the use of force;
  3. # of incidents in which the department determined that excessive force was used;
  4. # of incidents referred to a District Attorney’s office;
  5. # of incidents in which command discipline was recommended or imposed;
  6. The nature of any command discipline sanctions imposed;
  7. # of incidents in which the department brought formal charges;
  8. # of incidents in which sanctions were imposed pursuant to formal charges;
  9. The nature of any sanctions recommended by the department or administrative law judge as part of formal charges;
  10. The nature of any sanctions imposed by the department as part of formal charges;
  11. The number of incidents in which the sanctions imposed differed from those recommended by the department or an administrative law judge pursuant to formal charges along with a written explanation regarding the reasons for varying from the recommendation.

The council will also attempt to obtain from District Attorney:

  1. Total # of cases referred for criminal prosecution,
  2. # that were actually prosecuted,
  3. # in which the inmate was charged with a felony or misdemeanor.

3. Security indicator reports

By Council Members Ferreras, The Speaker (Council Member Mark-Viverito), The Public Advocate (Ms. James), Garodnick, Cabrera, Dromm, Johnson, Lander, Levine, Mealy, Richards and Rose
Int. No. 763 would require the Department of Correction Commissioner to issue monthly reports on security indicators inside city jails.
Beginning October 1, 2015, the commissioner will be required to report:
  1. Assaults on inmates and staff involving a knife or other dangerous instrument
  2. Assaults on staff or inmates in which the staff suffered physical injury and/or was admitted to a hospital as a result
  3. Fight infractions written against inmates, and whether the inmate has been designated a “gang member”
  4. Homicides involving inmates
  5. Suicides and attempted suicides by inmates
  6. Substantiated incidents of sexual assault by and against inmates and staff
  7. Allegations, incidents and hospitalizations related to use of force (A, B and C)
  8. Class B use of force incidents involving mechanical restraints
  9. Class C use of force incidents involving chemical agents
  10. Average daily inmate population.

4. Crisis Intervention Program

By Council Members Gibson, Dromm and Eugene
Int. No. 770 would require the Department of Correction to create a crisis intervention program that will “establish protocols to […] utilize crisis intervention teams to address frequently encountered issues with mentally ill inmates, including but not limited to situations in which mentally ill inmates refuse to leave their cell or refuse to follow officer’s commands.
It also calls for there to be “at least one crisis intervention team available in any facility in which the department could reasonably foresee that a crisis could occur, at any time during which the department could reasonably foresee that a crisis could occur.”
The commissioner would be required to meet with Health and Mental Hygiene annually to evaluate the program and issue annual reports on the department’s website as well. Those reports would include:
  1. # of correction officers and non-correction officers who received crisis intervention training
  2. Total # of departmental and non-departmental employees who have received such training.
  3. # of crisis intervention teams utilized by the department.
  4. # of crises responded to by crisis intervention teams, in total and disaggregated by facility.
  5. # of crises responded to without a crisis intervention team, in total and disaggregated by facility.

5. Quarterly reports on excessive use of force investigations

By Council Members Mendez, Garodnick, Cabrera, Chin, Constantinides, Dromm, Johnson, Lander, Richards and Rose
Int. No. 778 would rquire the board of correction and the commissioners of the DOC and DOI to issue quarterly reports on investigations of excessive use of force by correction officers on inmates.
  1. # of incidents in which a facility investigation was conducted
  2. # of incidents investigated by investigation division
  3. # of incidents in which the department of investigation submitted a report regarding the use of force by staff on inmates
Indicators include:
  1. # of incidents in which the department determined that staff violated departmental rules or directives regarding the use of force,
  2. # of incidents in which the department determined that excessive force was used,
  3. # of incidents in which command discipline was recommended,
  4. #of incidents in which command discipline was imposed,
  5. the nature of any command discipline sanctions imposed
  6. # of incidents in which the department brought formal charges
  7. # of incidents in which sanctions were imposed pursuant to formal charges, 
  8. the nature of any sanctions recommended by the department and/or an administrative law judge as part of formal charges,
  9. the nature of any sanctions imposed by the commissioner as part of formal charges.

6. Quarterly reports on inmate grievance system

By Council Members Barron, Arroyo, Cabrera, Dickens, Dromm, Johnson, Levine, Richards, Williams and Torres

Int. No. 758 would require the commissioner of the Department of Correction to issue quarterly reports on the inmate grievance system.

Beginning October 1, 2015, the report would include:

  1. # of grievances submitted in all departmental facilities, by facility: enhanced supervision housing, punitive segregation, health clinics, and any other facility in which a grievance and request box or an inmate grievance and request program office is not available
  2. #of grievances submitted in all departmental facilities, by method: the grievance and request box, the inmate grievance and request program office, directly to an inmate grievance and request program staff member, or any other method
  3. # of grievances in which the subject matter of the grievance request was deemed to be outside the scope of the inmate grievance request process and in which the request was forwarded to another entity
  4. #of grievances that were dismissed, including for the following reasons:
    • the inmate was not personally affected by the condition at issue with the grievance
    • the subject matter of the grievance was outside the department’s jurisdiction
    • the inmate was transferred from the facility in which the issue occurred, or any other reason for dismissal;
  5. # of grievances that were withdrawn by the inmate;
  6. # of grievances in which an informal resolution was proposed;
  7. # of grievances in which an informal resolution was accepted by the inmate in writing;
  8. # of grievances in which the inmate requested a hearing before the inmate grievance resolution committee;
  9. # of grievances in which the inmate grievance resolution committee proposed a disposition;
  10. # of grievances in which the inmate accepted the disposition of the inmate grievance resolution committee in writing;
  11. # of grievances in which the inmate appealed the disposition of the inmate grievance resolution committee to the inmate grievance and resolution program commanding officer;
  12. # of grievances in which the inmate grievance and resolution program commanding officer proposed a disposition;
  13. # of grievances in which the inmate accepted the disposition proposed by the inmate grievance resolution program commanding officer in writing;
  14. # of grievances in which the inmate appealed the disposition of the inmate grievance resolution program commanding officer to the central office review committee;
  15. # of grievances in which the central office review committee rendered a decision
  16. # of inmates that submitted grievances.

7. Enhanced Supervision Housing reporting

By Council Members Garodnick, Dromm, Ferreras, Constantinides, Gentile, Johnson, Lander, Levine and Rose
Int. No. 768 would require the Department of Correction to issue a report on Rikers Island’s new Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit.
The report report would include:
  1. # of inmates in each security risk group
  2. # of inmates subject to enhanced restraints, including but not limited to, shackles, waist chains and hand mittens
  3. # of inmates sent to punitive segregation, restricted housing and clinical alternative to punitive segregation housing
  4. # of those inmates from mental observation housing areas
  5. # of inmates, by highest infraction offense grade as classified by the department, (grade one, two, or three)
  6. # of inmates serving punitive segregation per the following time periods: less than ten days, ten to thirty days, thirty-one to ninety days, ninety-one to one hundred eighty days, one hundred eighty-one to three hundred sixty-five days, and more than three hundred sixty-five days
  7. # of inmates receiving mental health services
  8. # of inmates twenty-one years of age and under
  9. # of inmates over twenty-one years of age in ten-year intervals
  10. Race and gender of  ESHU inmates
  11. # of inmates who received infractions while in punitive segregation, restricted housing and clinical alternative to punitive segregation housing
  12. # of inmates who received infractions that lead to the imposition of additional punitive segregation time
  13. # of inmates who committed or attempted suicide
  14. # of inmates on suicide watch
  15. # of inmates who caused injury to themselves (excluding suicide attempt)
  16. # of inmates seriously injured while in punitive segregation, restricted housing and clinical alternative to punitive segregation housing,
  17. # of inmates who were sent to non-psychiatric hospitals outside the city jails,
  18. # of inmates who died (non-suicide),
  19. # of inmates transferred to a psychiatric hospital from punitive segregation (not MHU)
  20. # of inmates transferred to a psychiatric hospital from MHU
  21. # of inmates moved from general punitive segregation to MHU
  22. # of inmates placed into MHU following a disciplinary hearing
  23. # of inmates moved from MHU to punitive segregation (not MHU),
  24. # of inmates prescribed anti-psychotic medications, mood stabilizers or anti-anxiety medications, by type
  25. # of requests made by inmates for medical or mental health treatment and the number granted
  26. # of requests made by inmates to attend congregate religious services and the number granted
  27. # of requests made by inmates for assistance from the law library and the number granted
  28. # of requests made by inmates to make telephone calls and the number granted, by weekly personal calls
  29. # of inmate recreation days and the number of recreation hours attended
  30. # of individual recreation hours that were offered to inmates prior to six a.m.
  31. # of inmate shower days and the number of showers taken
  32. # of inmates who received visits
  33. # of instances of allegations of use of force
  34. # of instances of use of force
  35. # of instances in which contraband was found
  36. # of instances of allegations and substantiated staff on inmate sexual assault
  37. # of instances of allegations and substantiated inmate on staff sexual assault

8. Publishing DOC’s use of force policies

By Council Members Garodnick, Dromm, Ferreras, Chin, Constantinides, Johnson, Lander and Levine
Int. No. 767 would require the Department of Correction to publish its policies on the use of force against inmates on the department’s website.

9. Quarterly reports on jail demographics

By Council Members Garodnick, Dromm, Ferreras, Cabrera, Chin, Constantinides, Johnson, Lander, Levine, Richards and Rose
Int. No. 766 would require the Department of Correction to issue quarterly reports on city jail population demographics.
Those reports would include:
  1. Age,
  2. Gender, including a separate category for transgender inmates,
  3. Race
  4. The borough in which the inmate was arrested.
  5. Educational background
  6. # of inmates identified by the department as a member of a “criminal gang”

 10. Creation of an inmate Bill of Rights

By Council Members Crowley and Dromm

This bill would require the Department of Correction “communicate to every inmate their rights as inmates in plain and simple language, both in writing and orally.
Brian Sonenstein
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein is a Berkeley-based writer, activist and former Campaign Director and Associate Publisher for Firedoglake.com. Learn more at http://briansonenstein.com
Brian Sonenstein
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2 Comments

  1. Reformation is a good idea as I think. We have a lot of old things that makes us fall behind the modern standards.

  2. Thanks for sharing with us this very important news about Reform Rikers

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