NYC Agrees to Reform Jail Practices to End Abuse

by TChris

The City of New York finally agreed to widespread reforms designed to end the abuse of jail inmates by prison guards.

Settling a 2002 lawsuit by the Legal Aid Society, the city agreed to revise its guidelines on when and how guards may use force, post hundreds of new video cameras in the jails, overhaul its procedures for investigating violent episodes and provide more training for guards in how to restrain inmates.

The city will also pay a total of $2.2 million to 22 inmates who were injured in clashes with guards. Inmates in the suit had suffered shattered cheekbones, ruptured eyeballs and split eardrums after officers threw punches at their heads instead of using less damaging control methods.

This may be the first time video cameras will be used to monitor the behavior of jailers, not just inmates.

To save face, the City "hailed the settlement as a legal victory and a harbinger of their new, more aggressive approach to legal challenges that try to force change through the courts." Paying $2.2 million doesn't seem like much of a victory, and agreeing to implement needed reforms doesn't square with the City's claim that it's aggressively defending lawsuits aimed at improving jail conditions.

The settlement "preserves the good name of the City of New York," said Martin F. Horn, the city's correction commissioner, because "there is no finding that confirms the most damning and critical allegation of a pattern of brutality."

Yeah, because the City settled to avoid a trial that would have resulted in those findings. And the City's claim that it would have reformed itself without the lawsuit rings hollow, given the City's resistence to change over the years.

If the city complies, the agreement "is likely to yield significant changes that will improve the security of the prisoners," said Jonathan Chasan, a veteran Legal Aid lawyer. He pointed to a steep decline in violent encounters in a dangerous center, the Central Punitive Segregation Unit, following a 1998 court order stemming from an earlier Legal Aid case.

"Where we brought suit and were successful, there was an enormous reduction in the violence perpetrated on our clients," said John Boston, the director of the Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project. But he said city officials "didn't get the hint" -- until now -- that the reforms should be extended to the whole system. Legal Aid was assisted in the case by two private firms, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady and Sullivan & Cromwell.

Congratulations to all the lawyers who worked to curb the abuse of the incarcerated.

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