Federal Monitor Reports That “Iron Fist” Culture of Staff Brutality Continues on Rikers Island With Impunity
MONDAY, APRIL 03, 2017

Statement of Mary Lynne Werlwas, Director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project and counsel for Nunez Plaintiff Class.

Today, the Monitor evaluating implementation of the federal court order requiring New York City to reform its longstanding practice of brutality against persons held in the City jails issued a report finding the pervasive, devastating level of abuse is actually getting worse, and officers who collude to cover up abuses are not disciplined.

In a 249 page report, the Monitor expressed concern about “the frequency with which use of force incidents that appear to be unnecessary, excessive and/or malicious continue to occur and concluded that, “it is not hyperbole to suggest that the Department has a deeply entrenched culture of managing troublesome and/or often potentially dangerous Inmates with an `iron fist.’ Such a culture impedes development and implementation of alternatives to Staff use of force.”

The findings reveal that poor performance by career supervisors of the jails and Investigation Division is the primary obstacle to reform. While management teams at some facilities were able to make impressive strides, many supervisors appear unable to implement changes competently and unwilling to supervise staff and hold them accountable for even the most egregious violations and attempts to lie and cover up abuse.

The Third Monitor Report analyzed performance over the five-months between August 1 through December 31, 2016. Among the Report’s observations were:

  • Use of Force rates have actually increased, rather than decreased, since the settlement was entered, and there is an average of 390 uses of force every month. The overall number and rate of use of force incidents during this Monitoring Period, by any standard with which the Monitoring Team has had experience, is high.”
  • Hard impact force continues at an alarming rate in the form of head strikes, wall slams, and violent takedowns often involving chokeholds. People in restraints have been dragged or lifted by their restraints and even kicked while prone in restraints.
  • Staff are filing false reports about use of force and colluding in their reports.
  • Not a single incident taking place since the Effective Date resulted in formal discipline for Staff misconduct.
  • Internal investigations into serious use of force incidents are often biased, incomplete and inadequate.
  • Since November 2015, 29 16, 17 and 18 year-olds held in City jails have reported they were sexually abused, including 18 by Staff. The Department has yet to timely investigate any of the allegations.
  • Even when internal investigators find UOFs were excessive and recommend formal charges, dozens of these cases languish for months and even years, meaning there are few immediate consequences for beatings and other excessive.

These findings are deeply disappointing at this juncture, well over a year and a half after the City agreed to the reforms intended to halt these harmful practices. Progress will require many City agencies to work together to cut through the bureaucratic obstacles to providing the full resources required for this undertaking, such as adequate training facilities and hiring full complements of qualified investigators. But on a deeper level, progress requires a fundamental shift in the culture of impunity for misconduct and mismanagement. It is that culture that will remain long after Rikers Island is shuttered if it is not faced squarely and robustly right now.




Wall Street Journal
Rikers Island Staff Overuse Force, Report Says
Jail complex’s independent monitor says hard-impact force continues at ‘alarming rate’
By Corinne Ramey
April 3, 2017

Staff at Rikers Island continue using force like head strikes and chokeholds against inmates in an “unabated fashion” and aren’t disciplined promptly for such incidents, according to a report released Monday by the jail complex’s independent monitor.

The report is the third released by the monitor, who is tasked with overseeing various changes to the jail complex as part of a settlement to a federal civil-rights lawsuit. The lawsuit was joined by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

“Hard-impact force likewise continues at an alarming rate in the form of head strikes, wall slams, and violent takedowns often involving neck/chokeholds,” the report says, adding that in some cases these incidents aren’t reported and in others they aren’t reported accurately.

One prevalent use of force involves the overuse of pepper spray, according to the report. The report gives several examples, including one where a partially clad female inmate accused of being “disruptive” was pinned to a wall with a shield. One officer put her in a chokehold and pulled her hair while a captain repeatedly sprayed her, it says. A video of the incident shows the inmate bleeding on the floor, and the report says she wasn’t treated until five hours later.

Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte said in a statement that the department was moving quickly to fix the issues identified by the monitor. But he said the department had made “great strides” at the facilities that housed the system’s youngest inmates, and uses of force at those facilities were the lowest in years.

He said the department had set reforms beyond those required by the settlement “in order to create a culture of safety for officers and inmates across city jails.”

Mary Lynne Werlwas, a Legal Aid Society lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in the class-action suit, called the findings deeply disappointing. “But on a deeper level, progress requires a fundamental shift in the culture of impunity for misconduct and mismanagement,” she said in statement. “It is that culture that will remain long after Rikers Island is shuttered if it is not faced squarely and robustly right now.”

The union representing correction officers didn’t respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, a separate panel issued a report calling for the closure of Rikers Island and building smaller, borough-based jails in its place. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, also said Friday he is in favor of closing the complex.




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