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Rikers to End Solitary Confinement for Young Inmates, City Says

By Eddie Small | September 29, 2014 2:23pm
 A view of the entrance to the Rikers Island prison complex.
A view of the entrance to the Rikers Island prison complex.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

RIKERS ISLAND — The Department of Correction plans to end solitary confinement for adolescent inmates by the end of the year, according to a memo from DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The document describes the reform as part of a "comprehensive plan" concerning its treatment of adolescents (16- and 17-year-olds) that includes "intermediate consequences for misbehavior, and steps designed to pre-empt incidents from occurring."

It is not clear what solitary will be replaced with, but DOC pledged to come up with a specific code of discipline for its young inmates by the end of the year that will be better suited to their developmental needs, the memo, first reported by the New York Times, said.

In addition, the DOC is looking to create new young adult housing for 18- to 21-year-olds to "reduce idleness, minimize incidents, and generate better long-term inmate outcomes."

The changes come at a time when Rikers is under intense scrutiny for its treatment of adolescents.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara criticized the facility for subjecting teenagers to a "systematic culture of violence," and he recently signaled that the city could face a federal lawsuit over reforms.

The memo highlights five main areas that DOC has been focusing on regarding its adolescent inmates: staff recruitment and training, education, family, program and reentry services and the overall incarceration experience.

Several reforms have been made already, such as developing a screening tool to determine which employees are best suited to working with adolescent inmates, reducing the staff-to-inmate ratio and holding focus groups with parents of inmates to develop a "toolkit" that will help families who have incarcerated adolescents, the memo says.

"I can assures you that further reforms are being planned as we continue to seek to meet our shared commitment to a safe, just and age-appropriate correctional setting for these young men and women," Ponte wrote in the memo.