New York's jails still plagued by violence, city official says

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 16, 2015 12:16 PM

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Violence has continued to rise in New York City's jails including Rikers Island despite a declining inmate population and millions of dollars spent to address the problem, according to a report released by a city official who called the situation "completely out of hand."

The number of assaults by inmates on guards in the city's jails rose 46 percent and use-of-force incidents by uniformed personnel increased 27 percent in fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30, compared to the prior year, the report released on Friday by city Comptroller Scott Stringer showed.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration has made reforming the city's jails a priority in response to widespread allegations of violence at Rikers Island, one of the country's biggest jail complexes, which houses the vast majority of the city's inmates.

"This is the second year in a row that we have seen an escalation of disturbing trends," Stringer said in a statement. "With costs per inmate that are twice as high as many other cities, it is clear the situation at New York City jails is completely out of hand."

The report found the city spent $112,665 per inmate during the 2015 fiscal year, more than twice what cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles spend. The inmate population dropped to a 31-year low of 10,240.

Monica Klein, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said inmate fights and use-of-force incidents had decreased since January. She also said guards were causing serious injuries less often when using force, showing better training is having an impact.

"Meaningful reform takes time, and we are confident the commissioner is creating safer and more supportive jails for our staff and inmates alike," she said of Joseph Ponte, the city's corrections commissioner.

Dozens of guards have been charged by local and federal authorities with corruption and assault. This week, a former officer was sentenced to 3-1/2 months in prison for sneaking marijuana and other banned items into Rikers, while two guards were convicted in connection with a 2009 beating that left an inmate blind in one eye.

In June, the city settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, by agreeing to several reforms including a federal monitor for the city's jails.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Will Dunham)