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City jails end solitary confinement of young inmates

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By Bill Parry

The city’s jail system will no longer subject inmates 21 years old and younger to solitary confinement, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte announced Tuesday. The DOC has created alternative, more humane approaches for managing young inmates’ behavior that have paved the way for ending a practice that can be counterproductive to the development of young adults.

“Today’s announcement shows that New York City is leading the nation down a path toward rehabilitation and safety,” de Blasio said. “Commissioner Ponte has established viable options for managing and disciplining young inmates that can bring about better outcomes while reducing violence — and has done so years ahead of other jurisdictions.”

Ponte embarked on a 14-point anti-violence reform agenda in March 2015, including alternative housing models for managing the behavior of young inmates. Prisoners ages 18 to 21 comprise less than 12 percent of the jail population but commit nearly a third of the violence in the city’s jails.

“During the last two years, the department created and tested a number of models for safely managing our youngest inmates,” Ponte said. “Each step of the way, we assessed our progress and setbacks with safety for staff and inmates foremost in mind. Our ending of punitive segregation today is founded upon thoughtful evaluation, flexibility and adjustments with the needs and safety concerns of staff and young adults front and center.”

New York City becomes the first in the nation to end solitary confinement of young adults. Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen blasted the initiative.

“Ending punitive segregation is another way of saying it’s open season on correction officers and an invitation for inmates to increase their terrorist attacks on correction officers, civilians, and other inmates,” he said. “This administration continues to put their desire to be ‘first in the nation’ instead of being the smartest in the nation, when it comes to ensuring the safety of staff and inmates alike.”

Glenn Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA, which organized a march through Astoria and rally calling for the closing of Rikers Island last month, hailed the reform. Martin was sent to Rikers on a shoplifting charge when he was 16.

“Prolonged segregation for anyone, but especially young people, is counter-productive as well as cruel,” he said. “This form of confinement makes people suffer without making Rikers safe for detainees or correction officers. While we continue to demand the closure of Rikers Island, JLUSA thanks the mayor for his leadership in moving New York City’s jail system towards being more fair, humane and just.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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