By Bill Parry
Reforms on Rikers Island and other city prisons have resulted in a 45 percent reduction in serious violence indicators during the first half of 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday with Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte.
For the first time since 2011, overall uses of force and overall assaults on staff are now trending downward.
“Every day, our dedicated correction officers work to drive down violence in our city’s jails — and today it’s clear their hard work is paying off,” de Blasio said. “Today’s numbers are a heartening sign that a culture of safety is taking hold throughout the department. The most serious assaults on staff are down by nearly half; the most serious uses of force are down by nearly half. Newly refurbished jails are safer places for inmates to live and officers to work. Commissioner Ponte is showing the nation we can run humane jails that keep our officers and inmates safe from harm.”
Since his appointment, Ponte has reduced the use of punitive segregation by 75 percent while achieving these reductions in violence.
“As these statistics show, our focused reforms on better staff training, added educational opportunities, and smarter inmate classification are leading to a safer environment for inmates and staff alike,” Ponte said.
Since 2011, stabbings and slashings continued to rise until now, they said. In the first six months of this year compared to last, stabbings and slashings held even at 66 and as of July 31, stabbings and slashing are now down to 78 for the year, compared to 87 at this time last year.
“The statistics released today substantiate our belief that — piece by piece — we can dismantle the culture of violence in city jails,” the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Director Elizabeth Glazer said. “Programs built to meet the unique needs of individuals with behavioral health issues, including de-escalation training for correction officers and access to clinical care, are showing that consistent safety is possible even for populations historically linked to frequent violent incidents in jail.”
The department achieved these strong reductions in violence through Ponte’s 14-point anti-violence agenda aimed at making staff and inmates safer. The reforms also include adding recruitment and vetting standards to attract more qualified officers and graduating the largest recruit class in recent history.
“Reforms aimed at reducing violence while reducing reliance on punitive segregation work, as these figures plainly demonstrate,” Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “I applaud Commissioner Ponte for this significant progress and encourage him to continue to focus on evidence-based solutions. Both individuals held in our jails and the staff that run the facilities deserve to be in an environment that avoids brutalization and prepares individuals for release.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr