Corrections department lays out reform for city jails

Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte wants to eliminate solitary confinement for adolescents.

The city’s Department of Corrections announced reform proposals for Rikers Island and other city jails Tuesday in light of the recent reports of violence and use of solitary confinement at the facilities.

Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte urged the city’s Board of Correction to adopt his recommendations that would eliminate “punitive segregation” for adolescents and certain inmates and decrease the amount of maximum time for the punishment from 90 days to 30.

Ponte, who was criitized by elected officials for the increase of violence at Rikers during a City Council hearing last month, said the overuse of solitary confinement comes from the “small number” of inmates who commit infractions while in jail. He proposed a new housing wing on Rikers for more dangerous inmates.

“By enabling the department to manage its most dangerous inmates more securely, [the facility] will create substantial opportunities for more meaningful reform and reduce the use of punitive segregation,” he said in a statement.

The Board of Correction is the body that has to approve changes to policies in city jails

The new wing would include several cameras, a larger staff-to-inmate ratio, a law library andreligious services, and require inmates to have at least seven hours of out of cell time.

Civil rights groups reported that hundreds of inmates are put in isolation each day, sometimes before they get a court appearance.

In April 2013, Andy Henriquez, a 19-year-old inmate, died while in a solitary cell from a tear in his aorta despite allegedly begging for help.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has pushed for jail reform , said the proposals were a step in the right direction.

“We cannot continue on a path where violence is commonplace and inmates are treated in a manner that leaves them more broke than when they came in,” he said in a statement.

In addition to the proposals, the corrections department opened a new wing at Rikers Island North Infirmary Command Tuesday for transgender women. Inmates will be voluntarily placed in the 30-bed unit, which was created with the assistance of LGBT advocacy groups.

“We are taking extra precautions to ensure these individuals are safe and receive appropriate support,” assistant chief Yolanda Canty, who oversees the facility, said in a statement.

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