City Jail Living Conditions

PRP’s past litigation brought the elimination of overcrowding and reforms in access to media, reading materials and telephones, religious services and other religious rights, food service, search procedures, family visiting procedures, prisoner security classification, disciplinary proceedings, the safeguarding of prisoners’ property, and many other areas of jail life. In the Benjamin litigation, PRP has more recently obtained orders requiring improvements in sanitation procedures, ventilation, lighting, protection from extremes of heat and cold, attorney visiting procedures, and security restraint procedures, and is seeking to enforce compliance with them, and to obtain improvements in fire safety.

PRP has also responded to a new threat to prisoners’ welfare: proposed amendments to the minimum standards of the City Board of Correction, the supposed jail “watchdog” agency, which would have authorized more crowding, cut back on assistance to Spanish-speaking prisoners, put protective custody prisoners in near 23-hour lock-in like inmates being punished for disciplinary infractions, deny pre-trial detainees the right to wear civilian clothes, and provide for eavesdropping on detainees’ telephone calls and letters on jail officials’ say-so, with no warrant requirement or other check on official discretion. PRP assisted in bringing together a coalition of community groups and concerned individuals to resist the proposed changes, the Coalition to Raise the Minimum Standards (www.nycjailreform.org), and provided substantial leadership in that campaign. Ultimately the Board rejected the proposals for greater overcrowding, for 23-hour lock-in, for reduction in assistance to Spanish-speaking prisoners, while approving the proposals for jail uniforms and for warrantless surveillance. The amended standards were effective in June 2008.

PRP has taken action to enforce one of these decisions by the Board. The Board’s “lock-in” standard requires that prisoners not in punitive segregation or medical isolation be allowed out of their cells for 14 hours a day. The Department of Correction has continued to keep prisoners in “close custody” housing, many of whom are held there for their own protection, locked in their cells for periods approaching 23 hours a day, despite the Board’s rejection of a Standards change that would have permitted such treatment. After unsuccessfully requesting the Department of Correction to comply with the law, PRP filed suit in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan to enforce the Board of Correction lock-in standard. The suit, Jackson v. Horn, is pending before Hon. Marcy Friedman.