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Pepper spray temporarily allowed at Bronx juvenile facility after brawls

Union hails seven-day waiver after two large fights injured correction officers.

Correction officers are temporarily allowed to use pepper

Correction officers are temporarily allowed to use pepper spray at the Horizon Juvenile Facility in the Bronx.

Correction officers inside the Horizon Juvenile Center, which has been the scene of several violent interactions between the officers and the minors housed there, will be allowed to use pepper spray for a seven-day period, the officers' union said on Wednesday. 

The temporary waiver was granted after several large fights erupted at the Bronx facility after the Raise the Age legislation was implemented at the beginning of the month and all 16- and 17-year-old inmates were moved there from Rikers. At least two large fights had broken out since the move, injuring more than three dozen officers. 

"We are working now to operationalize this tool," Department of Correction press secretary Jason Kersten said. 

The union had blamed the correction officers' inability to use pepper spray, which they can use at Rikers, as a reason fights had turned so violent.

"Correction officers at Horizon have been basically working with their hands tied behind their backs by not being able to use pepper spray to terminate inmate fights,” Correction Officers' Benevolent Association (COBA) President Elias Husamudeen said in a statement. “Every day that goes by without the use of this invaluable tool increases the chances for correction officers to be seriously injured, if not killed by assaultive inmates at Horizon. We’re hopeful that this temporary waiver will be extended and made a permanent part of our equipment once it is clear that it has helped reduce assaults.”

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office said in an email that the use of pepper spray during this temporary period will only be allowed for specific minors "where all other methods of de-escalation have been exhausted and there is imminent threat of danger to youth or staff." The city can reapply for permission to continue to use the pepper spray once the seven-day trial period is over.

The age of juvenile delinquency was raised to 17 throughout New York on Oct. 1. It will be raised again to 18 on Oct. 1, 2019, according to the governor’s office. Newly arrested 16-year-olds will be housed at the city’s other juvenile detention center, Crossroads, in Brooklyn, according to ACS, which operates the facilities.

ACS representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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