[Pnews] Is Rikers' New "Secure Unit" Just Solitary Confinement By Another Name?
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 13 13:12:34 EDT 2016
Is Rikers' New "Secure Unit" Just Solitary Confinement By Another Name?
Victoria Law <http://gothamist.com/author/Victoria%20Law> in News
<http://gothamist.com/news> on May 13, 2016
June 1st is supposed to be the date that New York City’s Department of
Correction stops placing 18 to 21-year-olds in solitary confinement
on Rikers Island, making the jail the first in the nation to end
isolation, not just for adolescents but also for young adults.
But at a public meeting on Tuesday, the DOC stated that they won’t be
entirely eliminating solitary, better known as "punitive segregation,"
<http://gothamist.com/2014/08/05/teen_solitary_rikers_jail.php> for that
In its place, the DOC is implementing a new “Secure Unit.” That unit,
said DOC’s Chief of Staff Jeff Thamkittikasem in his presentation [PDF
to the Board of Correction, will be used for young adults with "the most
persistent and violent behavior."
The 56-bed Secure Unit is one of three types of alternative housing
intended to permanently replace solitary for young adults. None of these
units, which will have a total of 140 beds, were ever formally proposed
to the Board of Correction, the agency that monitors conditions and
institutes rules governing the city’s jails. If they were, they would
have had to undergo a lengthy approval process. The Board would have
drafted a multi-page rule allowing its creation, held a public hearing
and, after all testimony had been heard, voted on whether to allow them.
That’s what happened when the DOC created its Enhanced Supervision
Housing (ESH) Unit
in January 2015.
Instead, the creation of these alternative housing units was briefly
mentioned in the Department’s December 2015 request [PDF
to extend the deadline for separating 18 to 21-year-olds from older
adults and address concerns after assaults on jail staff
Two of those units, the Second Chance and Transitional Restorative Unit,
have already been put into place for adolescents; similar units will be
implemented for young adults.
But it’s the Secure Unit which troubles advocates most. Inside this new
56-bed Secure Unit, young adults will initially be locked in their cells
for 14 hours a day [PDF
with only 10 hours out of cell. (People in the two other alternative
housing units are allowed out of their cells for 14 hours each day.)
Inside their cells, young adults will be allowed one stamped envelope a
week and their personal property will be limited to one book. They must
spend at least 28 days in that first restrictive phase before they are
reviewed and potentially allowed to progress to the next phase, in which
they are allowed two more hours out of their cells and can have family
In contrast to punitive segregation
now has a 60-day time limit
for most rules violations, there is no fixed sentence for the Secure Unit.
Instead, the DOC will utilize what they call a "phased incentivized
approach" in which a person must earn their way out by participating in
programs. Every 28 days, DOC staff will review the person's record and
decides whether to allow them to move onto the next phase or be kept in
their current phase. In other words, a person could stay in the first
restrictive phase for his entire time on Rikers. According to the DOC,
the average length of stay at Rikers in 2015 was 56 days.
As of Tuesday, 38 young adults were in punitive segregation.
"Even if someone behaves perfectly, they can get out in 84 days," argued
Riley Doyle Evans, the jail services coordinator at the Brooklyn
Evans also noted that the Adolescent and Young Adult Advisory Board,
created by the DOC to help guide their policies and practices regarding
these age groups, has repeatedly asked DOC for the unit’s mission,
operations and process at their biweekly meetings. But he and other
AYAAB members only learned these details at Tuesday’s Board of
Jennifer Parish, the director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban
Justice Center's Mental Health Project and member of the AYAAB, reminded
the Board that, in January 2015, they had voted to end punitive
segregation for young adults and that the consequences of isolation last
beyond the time spent in those cells. "Young people are suffering," she
said. "The scars they suffer may stay with them for the rest of their
Charlotte Pope, a policy research advocate with the Children's Defense
Fund, both submitted written testimony and appeared in person to voice
similar concerns and urged the Board not to consider the variance
without imposing conditions, such as time restrictions on placement.
DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte said he doesn’t see a problem with
incarcerated youth spending the entirety of their stay in relative
isolation, noting that each person will be told how they can work
towards getting out of the Secure Unit. “If they choose not to
participate in the program, then they know that they won’t get out of
the unit,” he told the Board.
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