Settlement Agreement Calls For Widespread Reform at Rikers

The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, together with co-counsel Ropes & Gray and Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady, today filed in federal court a signed agreement with the City of New York and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to reform the widespread abuse of prisoners by correction staff in the New York City jails.

The plaintiffs and DOJ asked the court for preliminary approval of the agreement to settle Nunez v. New York, a class action we brought to redress systematic excessive force in the City jails.

A few of the numerous 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.

The agreement would become an enforceable federal consent decree, monitored by correctional expert Mr. Steve J. Martin of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. It 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.

The Court is expected to hold a hearing to address whether the settlement is fair and adequate in the fall, after a statutory 90-day period for comment on the settlement has concluded.

“This agreement requires the City to make deeply important changes to the supervision of staff on Rikers Island, and reflects our view of the best path to reform,” said Jonathan Chasan, a supervising attorney at the Prisoners’ Rights Project.  Mary Lynne Werlwas, an attorney at the Prisoners’ Rights Project, said,  These reforms, if implemented, will make the jails safer for inmates and staff, and reduce the number of serious injuries New Yorkers sustain while incarcerated.”