NYC Jails Action Coalition to protest proposed changes to jail visitation policies

A coalition of criminal justice reformers is holding a news conference on the steps of City Hall Tuesdayto protest proposed changes to the visiting programs at city jails that they claim will disproportionately penalize poor prisoners, prisoners of color, and their children.

In an effort to reduce contraband smuggling and violence in the city’s jails, the city’s Board of Correction has proposed screening visitors based on their “criminal records, visit patterns and trends, and visitor and inmate contraband history.” New visitor rules are part of the 14-point plan Mayor Bill de Blasio and Correction Commissioner Joe Ponte announced in March to stem escalating jail violence and the flow of drugs and weapons into the city’s detention centers.

But “there’s no data or evidence that backs visit restrictions as responsible for lower rates of violence,” said Tanya Krupat, a program director for The Osborne Association. “Most contraband comes in through correctional staff,” Krupat added.

The NYC Jails Action Coalition, holding the event Tuesday at 1:30, supports many of the proposed reforms, but believes that banning visitors based on background checks and previous criminal history is unfair, potentially arbitrary and likely to disrupt family and community ties — an important variable in rehabilitation, Krupat explained. City officials have said that screening visitors is necessary to fix a “toxic” culture of escalating violence inside city jails.

“From Nov. 14 to Jan. 31, DOC seized 10 weapons and 69 contraband drugs from 26 visitors who were trying to enter jails to visit gang members,” according to a posting on nyc.gov. In a May letter to the DOC board chair Stanley Brezenoff, Ponte wrote that there were 37 stabbings and slashings in the first three months of this year, the highest total for the first three months of any year since 1998.