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Advocates and Experts Protest Board's Proposed Rikers Rule Changes

By Rosa Goldensohn | October 16, 2015 7:30pm
 BOC chair Stanley Brezehoff heard testimony Friday.
BOC chair Stanley Brezehoff heard testimony Friday.
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DNAinfo/Rosa Goldensohn

KIPS BAY — The Board of Correction, the agency that makes the rules for Rikers Island, heard hours of testimony Friday from health care providers, defense lawyers and people who have been locked in city jails, all asking the board not to lessen the minimum standards for inmate treatment at the jail.

The board is considering expanding solitary confinement and tightening rules for families visiting Rikers and sending packages. An amendment to rules would allow the Department of Correction to punish inmates by putting them in solitary for up to four-month stretches without breaks.

“The proposed amendment would decimate the reforms that were adopted just in January,” Sarah Kerr of Legal Aid testified.

Candie Hailey, 32, spent more than three years at Rikers, much of it in solitary, awaiting trial for a crime of which she was later acquitted.

“It’s an absolute miracle that I stand before you today,” she said, crying, “because I just knew solitary confinement was going to be the death of me.”

The change would allow corrections staff to deprive inmates in solitary confinement of an otherwise required seven-day break after 30 days in “the Bing.” Such waivers could be issued three times in a row, amounting to a potential uninterrupted 120-day stay in solitary.

Experts and former Rikers inmates also said visits and packages make Rikers safer and should not be limited.

“Those are the little things in the visitations that help keep us calm,” Barry Campbell, who works at The Fortune Society, said. “That gives us something to live for."

Corrections commissioner Joseph Ponte did not attend the hearing, which Board of Correction member Robert Cohen criticized but board chair Stanley Brezenoff defended, calling Cohen’s concern “gratuitous."

Some testifying questioned the board's independence from Ponte.

“Why should he have to come here?”  Jails Action Coalition member Dakem X said. “You’re all going to rubber stamp whatever he said.”

The board will likely vote on the proposals at its next meeting on Nov. 10, according to a board staffer.