T he New York City Department of Corrections is currently pushing a broad platform of rule changes that would restrict family visiting at City Jails, rollback reforms to Solitary Confinement approved earlier this year and prohibit people detained in City Jails from receiving packages – their lifelines to the outside world. The proposal is being considered by the NYC Board of Corrections, which sets the Minimum Standards for NYC jails. The Jails Action Coalition is urging people to speak out against the plan, which will make conditions in City Jails harsher for people who are incarcerated, their families and friends. The discriminatory proposal will overwhelmingly impact Black and Latino families and communities, and poor people who cannot afford bail.
DOC wants to impose severe limitations on the ability of children, family, and friends to have meaningful physical contact with loved ones awaiting trial or serving a short sentence in NYC jails. The proposed rules permit DOC to deny visits based on vague criteria about the dangerousness of the incarcerated person and their visitors. They allow DOC to conduct broad investigations of visitors, including criminal record checks, and to make decisions about who is a family member and what constitutes a close or intimate relationship. Allowing DOC such wide discretion would affect many people including LGBTQI individuals and survivors of intimate partner violence. Over-policing and criminalization of communities of color increase the likelihood that criminal records will be used to restrict or prohibit family members from visiting their incarcerated loved ones.
DOC claims that these limitations are needed to reduce violence and stop contraband from entering the jails. Yet they present no evidence that the proposed limitations would accomplish these goals. The vast majority of violent incidents in the NYC jails do not involve smuggled contraband. The plan to impose new restrictions on visits as a violence reduction measure inappropriately shifts the blame for violence in the jails away from correction officers and their powerful union. The fact is that there is a lack of a connection between visit restrictions, violence reduction, and reduction in contraband in the jails. Visitors support the mental health of those who are incarcerated, provide important community connections, and facilitate successful reentry.
In January 2015, the NYC Board of Correction passed new Jail Minimum Standards limiting the use of solitary confinement – “punitive segregation” – in NYC jails. These recently passed rules limited the maximum time any incarcerated person can be sentenced to solitary confinement to 30 days for any single infraction, and 30 consecutive days overall, with 7 days out before the person may be returned to solitary confinement. In addition, the new rules prohibit anyone being held in solitary confinement for more than 60 days within a six-month period unless the person continues to engage in “persistent acts of violence” that can’t be addressed by placement in an enhanced supervision housing unit.
The Department of Correction wants to rollback these reforms by increasing the sentence for assaulting staff to 60 days and removing the requirement for a 7-day respite period after a person has served 30 consecutive days of solitary confinement.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has determined that anything more than 15 days of solitary confinement constitutes torture. The psychological and physical damage to individuals isolated in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day is well-established.
DOC wants to prohibit people in NYC jails from receiving packages, except for court clothes, unless the items are purchased from an approved vendor. Family and friends will not be able to provide reading material and other property without purchasing it new and paying for shipping. Having to repurchase what could be delivered from home will be a financial hardship for many.
There is no evidence that incoming packages are a significant source of weapons that cannot be detected by DOC searches. The proposed restrictions on packages are unlikely to reduce violence but will be an extreme, unnecessary hardship for incarcerated individuals (most of whom are pre-trial detainees who are incarcerated due to their inability to pay bail) and their families and friends.
The Board will have a PUBLIC HEARING about the proposed rule changes on October 16, 2015 at 1 p.m. at 455 1st Avenue, Ground floor auditorium, New York, NY 10016.
To testify at the October 16 hearing and/or send written comments to the Board at 1 Centre Street, Room 2213, New York, NY 10007 or to BOC@BOC.nyc.gov. To speak at the hearing, sign up in advance by calling 212-669-7900 or show up by 1 p.m. on October 16.
For more information, contact JAC at 646-459-3067 or firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.nycjac.org.
Jails Actions Committee is a coalition of activists that includes the formerly incarcerated, currently incarcerated, family members and other community members working to promote human rights, dignity and safety for people in New York City jails.