Report: Excessive force continues at massive jail complex

AP News
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Posted: Apr 03, 2017 11:06 PM
Report: Excessive force continues at massive jail complex

NEW YORK (AP) — Guards at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex, one of the biggest correctional facilities in the world, continue to use excessive force like "head strikes, wall slams and violent takedowns" at an alarming rate, according to a report released Monday by a federal monitor.

The report claims inmates have been unnecessarily struck in the head and kicked while restrained in handcuffs, subjected to chokeholds, pepper-sprayed and slammed against walls, causing injuries, "only to be followed by delays in providing needed medical attention."

"Often these incidents are not reported accurately and in some cases not reported at all," the report said.

The report analyzed the city Department of Correction's performance between Aug. 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2016, and found supervisors failed to "rein in excessive force and implement seriously the reforms ordered by the federal court."

The independent monitor was installed after a 2015 agreement to settle civil litigation over pervasive brutality at Rikers.

Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte on Monday released a statement saying the department "is moving quickly to fix the issues the monitor identifies."

"We recognize much more hard work lies ahead, and we look forward to working diligently with the monitor and his staff to establish a culture of safety" at the department, Ponte said.

Ponte said the department has "made great strides" in implementing reforms at Rikers, which sits on a 400-acre (162-hectare) island in the East River and holds most of the city's 10,000 inmates. In the facilities that house the youngest inmates, he said, "through March 2017 uses of force are at the lowest they have been in years."

The department also has overhauled training of officers and added de-escalation techniques.

Rikers, a former dump near the runways of LaGuardia Airport, is accessible only by a narrow bridge between it and Queens. For decades, the city has sent its inmates there while they await trial, and they're housed in 10 jail facilities.

Monday's report was the third since the 2015 civil litigation settlement led to the installation of the monitor, which is responsible for overseeing the city's progress in adding thousands of surveillance cameras and stricter policies on use of force.

The Associated Press and other news outlets first exposed conditions on Rikers in a series of reports in 2014.

The director of the Prisoners' Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, Mary Lynne Werlwas, who's counsel for the plaintiffs, said the report's findings were "deeply disappointing at this juncture, well over a year and a half after the city agreed to the reforms."

"Progress requires a fundamental shift in the culture of impunity for misconduct and mismanagement," Werlwas said. "It is that culture that will remain long after Rikers Island is shuttered if it is not faced squarely and robustly right now."

On Sunday, an independent commission established by the City Council released its recommendations for closing Rikers. Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has thrown his support behind the 10-year plan, which would halve the city's inmate population.