[Pnews] Is Rikers' New "Secure Unit" Just Solitary Confinement By Another Name?

Prisoner News 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 
age group.

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 
<http://gothamist.com/2014/08/05/teen_solitary_rikers_jail.php>, which 
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 
Defender Services.

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 
Correction meeting.

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.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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