Agreement Reached in Nunez on Jail Brutality
MONDAY, JUNE 22, 2015

The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, together with co-counsel Ropes & Gray and Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady, as well as the United Stated Department of Justice (DOJ), has told a federal court they have reached an agreement with New York City to reform the widespread abuse of prisoners by correction staff on Rikers Island. This agreement would settle Nunez v. New York, the 2012 class action brought to halt excessive force by City jail staff. DOJ joined as a plaintiff in December 2014.

The plaintiffs, DOJ, and the City have sent the Court a joint letter that outlines the agreement which would become an enforceable federal consent decree, monitored by correctional expert Mr. Steve J. Martin of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The Agreement would require the Department of Correction to implement new policies and practices to curb the rampant misuse of force and end the culture of violence which emboldens staff to abuse prisoners and lie about such abuse with impunity. Some of the remedial measures in the 60-plus page document include:

  • A new use of force policy providing clear directions on when force may be used, and expressly limiting certain categories of force;
  • Revamped staff training to teach staff to defuse conflicts without force and avoid unnecessary injury to anyone when force is necessary;
  • Robust accountability measures, including requiring staff to report force honestly and completely, ensuring fair and professional use of force investigations of use of force, and requiring fair and timely discipline of staff who misuse force;
  • Vastly expanded video surveillance, through stationary, handheld and body-worn cameras;

Details about these reforms are in the attached letter to the Court, sent by the Department of Justice on behalf of all parties.

The Agreement must be approved by the Department of Justice and Mayor's Office before it is submitted to the Court for a hearing and approval if the Court finds it fair, reasonable, and adequate.

“This Agreement is historic in scope, putting in place landmark reforms that the parties all believe will make the City jails dramatically safer. For too long, New York City prisoners have suffered dreadful injuries at the hands of staff – fractured facial bones, traumatic brain injuries, internal bleeding – from excessive and sometimes brutal force. This Agreement seeks to end this culture of violence and bring the City into the mainstream of professional corrections,” said Mary Lynne Werlwas, one of the Legal Aid lawyers who spearheaded the case. Veteran Legal Aid supervisor Jonathan Chasan added, “this comprehensive agreement, should lead to a significant reduction in staff misuse of force, improvements in the quality and honesty of use of force investigations, and fewer of the horrible injuries we have seen repeatedly inflicted on our clients over the years.”




Federal prosecutors, city unveil Rikers Island agreement
Capitalnewyork.com
By Luca Marzorati
Jun. 22, 2015

Federal prosecutors have reached an agreement with New York City to implement new policies at the Rikers Island jail.

The contours of the settlement were first reported last week by The New York Times.

According to a letter sent from prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s office to Judge James Francis, the agreement will appoint longtime corrections consultant Steve Martin as the independent monitor to oversee the settlement, which was first reported by Capital.

According to the letter, the "agreement will require the New York City Department of Correction to develop and implement myriad new practices, systems, policies, and procedures designed to reduce violence in the jails and ensure the safety and well-being of inmates.

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, praised the settlement as a “groundbreaking agreement.”

“I have repeatedly made clear our unwavering commitment to enduring and enforceable reform at Rikers Island,” Bharara said in a statement. “This comprehensive framework requires the City to implement sweeping operational changes to fix a broken system and dismantle a decades-long culture of violence.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office, the city, and private lawyers who initially brought the suit agreed to create a new use-of-force policy along with new mandates for reporting the use of force. There will also be increased video surveillance of jails, including a pilot program for body cameras on corrections officers.

“Today’s settlement builds upon the important changes this administration is bringing to our correctional system and reinforces the necessity of Commissioner Ponte’s current reforms on Rikers Island,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We have a moral imperative to ensure every New Yorker in this city’s care is treated with decency and respect.”

Both the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice joined the case—Nunez v. City of New York—after federal prosecutors investigated conditions at the jail.

Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division, called the agreement “a model for corrections reform throughout the country.”




Deal reached for sweeping reform of Rikers Island
BY REUVEN BLAU , STEPHEN REX BROWN
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
June 22, 2015

Federal prosecutors announced Monday they had reached a deal with the city to implement “myriad new practices, systems, policies, and procedures designed to reduce violence” at Rikers Island.

The package of reforms for the troubled jail will be supervised by a federal monitor Steve J. Martin, a career corrections expert who has served as a correction officer and General Counsel of the Texas State Prison System, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

“This comprehensive framework requires the city to implement sweeping operational changes to fix a broken system and dismantle a decades-long culture of violence,” Bharara said.

His office joined a class action against the jail in December, resulting in the months of negotiations.

The reforms include:

  • New policies involving when guards can use force, as well as how such incidents are reported and investigated.
  • A pilot program for body cameras on correction officers.
  • The installation of at least 7,800 new surveillance cameras on a rolling basis.
  • Use of handheld cameras to film “responses to use of force incidents, cell extractions, and most living quarter searches.”
  • New computer systems to track violence-prone correction officers.
  • New policies for promotions of correction officers.
  • New protocols for inmates under 18 years old.

Martin, federal authorities and city officials all have their work cut out for them.

On Monday alone there were three stabbing and slashings, according to a jail insider. They occurred on a Correction Department bus, in the Brooklyn House of Detention and in the Anna M. Kross Center at Rikers, the source said.

There have been over 100 stabbing and slashings this fiscal year, the highest total since 1999.The deal is subject to final approval of Mayor de Blasio and Manhattan Federal Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain, among others.

“Today’s agreement represents another strong step toward our goal of reversing the decades of abuse on Rikers and building a culture of safety for officers and inmates alike,” de Blasio said.

Negotiations for settlements with the 11 inmates remaining on the original class action are also nearly resolved, prosecutors said.

“For too long, New York City prisoners have suffered dreadful injuries at the hands of staff — fractured facial bones, traumatic brain injuries, internal bleeding — from excessive and sometimes brutal force,” said said Mary Lynne Werlwas, one of the Legal Aid lawyers who spearheaded the case.

“This comprehensive agreement...should lead to fewer of the horrible injuries we have seen repeatedly inflicted on our clients over the years.”




FEDS, NYC REACH DEAL TO CURB VIOLENCE IN RIKERS ISLAND JAILS
BY JAKE PEARSON
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Jun 22, 6:23

NEW YORK (AP) -- Federal prosecutors and lawyers for injured inmates have reached an agreement with the city to curb widespread violence and other problems that have plagued the Rikers Island jail system for years, according to court papers filed Monday.

The consent decree, summarized in a letter filed in Manhattan federal court, will require city officials to install nearly 8,000 surveillance cameras in the 10-jail complex, retrain correction officers to reduce the use of force, vastly improve internal investigations and punish guards who use excessive force.

The agreement comes six months after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara joined a class action lawsuit filed by The Legal Aid Society and other lawyers claiming system-wide brutality by guards against inmates at Rikers and nearly a year after a scathing Department of Justice report detailed troubling conditions for teenage inmates.

"This comprehensive framework requires the City to implement sweeping operational changes to fix a broken system and dismantle a decades-long culture of violence," Bharara said in a statement.

The agreement must be submitted to the court for approval by July 1. It will be monitored by longtime correction official Steve Martin, of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, who previously worked as a DOJ expert consultant and as a federal court monitor.

Rikers has come under increased scrutiny in the past year after The Associated Press and other news organizations reported allegations of brutality, the deaths of mentally ill inmates and mismanagement at the Department of Correction.

Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio subsequently vowed to reform the 10,000-inmate jail and appointed a correction commissioner, Joe Ponte, with a reputation for reforming troubled lockups across the country.

Despite the attention, guards' use of force at Rikers and inmate-on-inmate stabbings and slashings continued to rise. Four months after assistant U.S. attorneys filed their review of conditions for teenage inmates at Rikers, Bharara joined the Legal Aid lawsuit to speed the pace of reforms.

On Monday, de Blasio called the proposed agreement "another strong step" toward fixing Rikers.

"We have a moral imperative to ensure every New Yorker in this city's care is treated with decency and respect," he said.

The agreement would require jail officials to create a computerized system that tracks use-of-force incidents, start a pilot program for body cameras and require guards to film via handheld cameras cell extractions and other searches. The agreement also says the city will identify a location off Rikers Island to house 16- and 17-year-old inmates.

The president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Norman Seabrook, rejected the notion that brutality against inmates at Rikers was widespread, saying the consent decree failed to address violent inmates and poor management by the Department of Correction.

"The bottom line to it is that correction officers have been made the scapegoat of New York City policies on mental health, homelessness, education, guilt and innocence," he said.

But Legal Aid lawyer Mary Lynne Werlwas said the agreement was meant to undo a disturbing culture of brutality in the jails.

"For too long, New York City prisoners have suffered dreadful injuries at the hands of staff - fractured facial bones, traumatic brain injuries, internal bleeding - from excessive and sometimes brutal force," she said.




Feds, NYC Reach Deal to Curb Violence in Rikers Island Jails
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
June 22, 2015

NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors and lawyers for injured inmates have reached an agreement with the city to curb widespread violence and other problems that have plagued the Rikers Island jail system for years, according to court papers filed Monday.

The consent decree, summarized in a letter filed in Manhattan federal court, will require city officials to install nearly 8,000 surveillance cameras in the 10-jail complex, retrain correction officers to reduce the use of force, vastly improve internal investigations and punish guards who use excessive force.

The agreement comes six months after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara joined a class action lawsuit filed by The Legal Aid Society and other lawyers claiming system-wide brutality by guards against inmates at Rikers and nearly a year after a scathing Department of Justice report detailed troubling conditions for teenage inmates.

"This comprehensive framework requires the City to implement sweeping operational changes to fix a broken system and dismantle a decades-long culture of violence," Bharara said in a statement.

The agreement must be submitted to the court for approval by July 1. It will be monitored by longtime correction official Steve Martin, of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, who previously worked as a DOJ expert consultant and as a federal court monitor.

Rikers has come under increased scrutiny in the past year after The Associated Press and other news organizations reported allegations of brutality, the deaths of mentally ill inmates and mismanagement at the Department of Correction.

Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio subsequently vowed to reform the 10,000-inmate jail and appointed a correction commissioner, Joe Ponte, with a reputation for reforming troubled lockups across the country.

Despite the attention, guards' use of force at Rikers and inmate-on-inmate stabbings and slashings continued to rise. Four months after assistant U.S. attorneys filed their review of conditions for teenage inmates at Rikers, Bharara joined the Legal Aid lawsuit to speed the pace of reforms.

On Monday, de Blasio called the proposed agreement "another strong step" toward fixing Rikers.

"We have a moral imperative to ensure every New Yorker in this city's care is treated with decency and respect," he said.

The agreement would require jail officials to create a computerized system that tracks use-of-force incidents, start a pilot program for body cameras and require guards to film via handheld cameras cell extractions and other searches. The agreement also says the city will identify a location off Rikers Island to house 16- and 17-year-old inmates.

The president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Norman Seabrook, rejected the notion that brutality against inmates at Rikers was widespread, saying the consent decree failed to address violent inmates and poor management by the Department of Correction.

"The bottom line to it is that correction officers have been made the scapegoat of New York City policies on mental health, homelessness, education, guilt and innocence," he said.

But Legal Aid lawyer Mary Lynne Werlwas said the agreement was meant to undo a disturbing culture of brutality in the jails.

"For too long, New York City prisoners have suffered dreadful injuries at the hands of staff — fractured facial bones, traumatic brain injuries, internal bleeding — from excessive and sometimes brutal force," she said.



Rikers Monitor Familiar With Jails in City, Elsewhere
Joel Stashenko
New York Law Journal
June 24, 2015

Steve J. Martin, the monitor named to oversee reforms at Rikers Island, is no stranger to the jail complex, the litigants or to New York City.

Martin, a prison reform expert based in Oklahoma, has worked on cases involving New York City jails dating back to 1992. In the 2000s, he helped enact a settlement of another excessive force case against the New York City Department of Correction in Sheppard v. Phoenix.

It now will be his job to enact an agreement stemming from a suit filed by the Legal Aid Society, Nunez v. City of New York, 11-cv-5845, claiming abusive treatment toward inmates at Rikers Island by jail staff.

The U.S. Justice Department joined the 2011 litigation late last year following release of a report by Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who said a culture of violence against prisoners pervaded the jail complex, especially toward young and mentally ill inmates (NYLJ, Dec. 19, 2014).

The agreement, announced Monday, calls for wide-ranging changes in Rikers' policies, such as developing a new use-of-force policy by jail personnel, prompt and detailed reporting of every use-of-force incident, more thorough investigations of use of force, stricter punishment for officers using excessive force, adding nearly 8,000 video cameras within two years and treating inmates younger than 19 less severely.

Michael Mushlin, a Pace University Law School professor specializing in crime and corrections issues, said he has seen Martin's work in New York and elsewhere and that choosing him to monitor the Nunez agreement was a smart choice.

"He's very knowledgeable, he's got really good instincts and he's had experience with Rikers Island," Mushlin said in an interview Tuesday. "He probably knows as much as anybody about violence in prison and how to prevent it."

Martin spent three years as a corrections officer in maximum-security state prisons in Texas, followed by five years as a federal parole and probation officer.

After graduating from the University of Tulsa School of Law, he served in the Tulsa County district attorney's office before joining the legal staff of the Texas state Department of Corrections, where he rose to general counsel.

While Martin typically has been an expert witness for plaintiffs in excessive use-of-force cases since leaving the Texas corrections department, Mushlin said Martin's experience "on the inside" as a prison guard and administrator will give him credibility with both the plaintiffs and the defendants as monitor in the Nunez case.

"That is an invaluable perspective to have," Mushlin said. "He has a terrific personality. He's the kind of person who will try to get along with people from both sides. I think he will listen and will be really responsive to what both sides will say."

Norman Seabrook, the president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, said he expects Martin will treat his roughly 9,200 members even-handedly—and conclude that the vast majority of guards are not responsible for excessive violence that has been the target of critics.

"You can't reform a system one-sidedly," Seabrook said Tuesday. "There is no mention of reform when it comes to inmates who assault guards and cause them injury. There is no mention of reform when it comes to the Department of Mental Health, which uses the jail as a dumping ground for mentally ill people. There is no mention of reform when it comes to placing low-level criminals in prisons or of dumping homeless people in Rikers Island."

Seabrook said he believes Martin will find that the city's top correction administrators are responsible for the vast majority of the problems at Rikers, not corrections officers.

The Rikers complex encompasses 10 separate jails and has a daily inmate population of about 14,000.

According to a letter to the Southern District court announcing the agreement for Rikers reforms and on Martin as monitor, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Powell and Emily Daughtry said Martin will have "broad access" to the New York City Department of Correction's "records, facilities, and staff, and may hire or consult with other qualified experts as is reasonably necessary to fulfill his duties."

The Department of Correction will supply him with periodic compliance reports that track the city's progress toward meeting the goals set under the agreement, according to the U.S. attorneys' letter. Martin, in turn, will submit regular reports to the Southern District court about the compliance process.

The case is under the supervision of Southern District Judge Laura Taylor Swain. The letter announcing the tentative agreement and Martin's appointment was directed to U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis IV, who also has been assigned to the case.

It was unclear Tuesday how much Martin would be paid or how long it would take to complete the monitor assignment.

Martin has worked as a corrections consultant in more than 30 states and inspected more than 500 prisons and jails. He has developed use-of-force policies for jails in major metropolitan areas, such as Nassau County, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale.

He was hired by Prisoners Legal Services of New York between 1987 and 1993 to advise state prisons in Attica and Elmira. His first experience in New York City litigation came in 1992, when he prepared a report on behalf of the plaintiffs in Benjamin v. Abate about conditions at Rikers.

In Sheppard v. Phoenix, 91-cv-4148, a federal case which began the following year, Martin again examined conditions at Rikers for the plaintiffs, this time the jail's Central Punitive Segregation Unit, which was the subject of an excessive use-of-force challenge filed by the Legal Aid Society.

In 1998, the plaintiffs and the corrections department agreed to name Martin and Norman Carlson, the former director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, as co-monitors. For the next four years, the pair reviewed the operation of a revamped segregation unit, with the goal of eliminating instances of excessive use of force against inmates.

In a 2002 opinion and order, Southern District Judge Robert Patterson Jr. said the goals of the consent decree in Sheppard had been fulfilled and described Martin and Carlson's work as "crucial" to bringing a successful conclusion.

"The inmates of the [segregation unit] have also benefitted," Patterson wrote. "Not only are they the objects of fewer acts of force, they now have the benefits of greater access to medical and mental health care professionals and a full-time counselor. Furthermore, they can utilize the progressive incentive program to get rewards, including possible transfer to general population, for good behavior."

Martin also was a witness for the plaintiffs in another federal suit against New York City jail administrators, Ingles v. Toro, 01-cv-8279, in which he reported on at times excessive use of force by personnel at city detention facilities in 2004.

He co-authored the book "Texas Prisons: The Walls Came Tumbling Down" with Sheldon Ekland-Olson in 1987.

Martin did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The Legal Aid Society attorneys most directly involved in Nunez, Jonathan Chasan and Mary Lynn Werlwas, declined to comment on Martin's appointment. New York City's Corporation Counsel's office also declined to comment.

On Monday, Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter, who was involved in the negotiations leading to the settlement, said all the parties were working toward reforms that "support the city goal of making Rikers Island the safest possible environment" for staff and prisoners.

Attorneys from Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady and Ropes and Gray have been assisting the plaintiffs since the Legal Aid Society filed the suit.



Ending the Rikers Nightmare
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
JUNE 24, 2015

Brutality is a decades-old problem in Rikers Island jail complex in New York City. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, was on the mark last year when he said that ending it would require new policies that would be monitored and enforced by a federal court instead of being allowed to fade when public attention inevitably waned after the latest lawsuit or headline. Mr. Bharara delivered on that promise on Monday, when the city agreed to sweeping policy changes to settle a long-running legal battle over abuses at the jail.

Mr. Bharara documented some of the mistreatment of adolescents at Rikers in a report last summer that depicted a deep-seated culture of violence in which inmates were battered for minor infractions and often seriously injured by poorly trained and supervised officers who routinely used force for the purpose of inflicting pain — and got away with it because other officers covered up for them. The report also noted that correction officers bent on vengeance against inmates were able to carry out the beatings in areas of the complex they knew were free of security cameras.

Beyond that, the investigation found that regulations requiring officers to promptly report either using force or witnessing its use by others were routinely ignored. Mr. Bharara’s office pointed to a horrific instance of this problem when it charged one current and two former correction officers this month in connection with the 2012 beating death of an inmate and a conspiracy to make it seem that the violence used against the inmate was justified.

Instead of suing the city itself, the federal Justice Department last year joined a pending class action that charged the Department of Correction with failing to supervise officers who committed acts of brutality. The suit, Nunez v. City of New York, was well along in the litigation process, having been filed in 2011 by the Legal Aid Society and two law firms, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady and Ropes & Gray.

After months of negotiations with the city, the parties announced on Monday that they had reached a settlement agreement containing a broad package of reforms that will be overseen by an independent monitor who will closely assess compliance and submit periodic reports to the court. Among other things, the agreement requires the jail system to develop new policies for how force is used, reported and investigated; install thousands of new surveillance cameras; and improve staff recruitment and screening.

The agreement pays special attention to adolescents on Rikers Island, who were shown to be especially poorly treated in last summer’s Justice Department report. For example, the officers who work with adolescents will need to be better trained to handle this age group. The disciplinary procedures used with them will need to be revamped from top to bottom — and solitary confinement, which is particularly harmful for the young, will no longer be allowed for inmates under the age of 18.

The need for such a policy was underscored this month when a young former inmate who had spent nearly two years in solitary confinement at Rikers hanged himself at his family’s home. Most important, the city, with the help of the monitor, will try to find a place away from Rikers Island to house young inmates.

The settlement agreement is an important first step. But given the city’s past inability to stay focused on this problem, the courts and the Justice Department will need to stay involved until the reform job is done.