rikers island

NO ESCAPE: Both the number of use-of-force incidents and their rate inside the city’s jails, including those on Rikers Island, above, reached their highest point during the height of the pandemic, continuing a disturbing trend, according to the latest report from a Federal Monitor. 

Violence within city jails showed no signs of abating during the first half of the year, with the use-of-force rate by correction officers climbing to its highest level since a consent decree was adopted in late 2015, according to the latest report from a Federal Monitor and his team

And in March, despite the releases of hundreds of inmates as the coronavirus swept through facilities on Rikers Island and in other city lockups, the number of incidents also reached a high for that nearly five-year period, the report noted.  

“Although the decrease in the population was extremely positive on the macro-level, it did little to change the conditions of the confinement in the jails—the use of force rate remains unacceptably high,” it said. 

30-Percent Increase

While a smaller proportion of use-of-force incidents resulted in injuries during the reporting period—19 percent, compared to 25 percent for all of last year and 34 percent in 2019—data from the report showed that the use-of-force rate, calculated using the jails' average daily population, climbed 30 percent to 10.6 for the six-month period ending June 30 from 2019’s rate of 8.2. 

In a statement, the head of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Benny Boscio, ripped the reporting team for its selective use of statistics.

Citing figures from the most-recent Mayor’s Management Report, he said, "The Federal Monitor’s 10th report is based on the same false narrative as his previous nine reports, using data to misrepresent the outstanding work Correction Officers are doing in an almost-impossible environment.” 

He noted the year-over-year increase in inmate assaults on staff, which according to the Mayor’s Management Report climbed from a rate of 12.5 to 15.8. The rate of serious injuries to staff caused by inmates also rose, from .49 to .65. "Would hope the Federal Monitor could focus his next report" on those statistics, the COBA leader said.

But while Mr. Boscio, citing the Mayor's Management Report, said use-of-force incidents had climbed just 2 percent in Fiscal Year 2020 from the prior year, that bump reflected raw numbers during a period when the average daily population decreased by about 26 percent, meaning, as the Monitor documented, that the rate of violent incidents increased substantially.

Some Progress

The monitor acknowledged that the jail’s institutional and operational mandates dictated by the consent decree were severely hampered and compromised by the pandemic, but added that “this does not suggest that Staff are absolved from misconduct during this time.” 

The report noted that the monitoring team “continued to identify an unreasonable number of unnecessary and excessive uses of force,” particularly by so-called “probe teams”—officers equipped with armor and large batons. The report, illustrating several incidents, said the mere presence of those officers inflames situations rather than quells them. 

“Not only does the show of force tend to exacerbate the risk of violence, but the demeanor of the Probe Team often escalates the situation," it noted. Those officers also “demonstrate an inability to establish a constructive dialogue with the people involved and fail to identify or address the primary issue underlying the discontent,” it said. 

It noted officers’ “use of unnecessarily painful escort techniques,” excessive and inappropriate use of pepper spray, “and lack of efforts to de-escalate situations including at times hyper-confrontational Staff behaviors.”

In previous reports, the monitoring team has several times noted staff’s “hyper-confrontational” or “confrontational” actions.

Better Investigations

The report said that the DOC had made substantial progress with regard to the timeliness and quality of its investigations into uses of force, which is an essential component to reducing “unnecessary and excessive force."

Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann said that highlight reflected “a major milestone” for department staff. 

“After years of consistent effort, including a complete overhaul of the investigations process that was implemented during the pandemic, we have been rated in compliance with our obligation to conduct timely Use of Force investigations. Importantly, the monitor acknowledged the successful closure of over 80 percent of backlogged investigations over the same period,” she said in a statement. “We remain determined that each alleged Use of Force is investigated in a timely and effective manner as a key part of our ongoing commitment to creating safer and more humane facilities.”

The reduction in the prison population means that the inmates who remain in jail tend to be more aggressive. According to the DOC, 18.5 percent of the average daily jail population was gang-affiliated and 45 percent were charged with a violent felony during FY 2020, increases of 10.3 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively, from the prior year. 

The department said it would be introducing an individualized case-management approach when dealing with particularly violent inmates. According to the Monitor’s report, a relatively small number of inmates—typically less than 1 percent in recent years—are involved in large numbers of uses of force. 

'Not Accountable'

The Monitor’s report noted the DOC's collaborative approach and its “foundational aspects of reform,” including the implementation of policies and procedures, developing tracking and reporting systems, and training staff. The Department, though, “has not yet demonstrated progress in reducing the frequency of unnecessary and excessive force.”

The director of the Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, Mary Lynne Werlwas, who served as counsel for the plaintiffs in the action that brought about the consent decree, said the reluctance of DOC leadership to impose either discipline or sufficient supervision was to blame for the enduring violence in the jails. 

"The most richly staffed jail in the country is effectively unmanaged, because neither rank and file staff nor managers are held accountable for their misconduct," she said in a statement. 

Legal Aid said no “formal discipline” was imposed on officers in connection with misconduct that occurred during the monitoring period. It said that more than 2,000 incidents involving potential use-of-force cases were disposed of without the imposition of penalties or punishment because time limits on disciplinary proceedings had expired.


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(2) comments

Benzo

Soon going to jail will be like be sentenced to a 5 star Hotel

dstadnyckyj

Maybe the city should house the inmates in all the vacant "luxury" apartments that are available now? The city has a billion dollars from the NYPD budget they can use to pay their rents or at least their cable bills.

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