Rikers Island To Eliminate Solitary Confinement For 16- And 17-Year-Old Inmates

September 29, 2014 | Marina Galperina

According to an internal memo, the New York City Correction Department will stop putting 16- and 17-year-old inmates into solitary confinement by the end of 2014, the New York Times reports. There are currently 51 adolescents in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, where it is used as “a primary form of punishment” of teens.

In the memo dated September 25th, the correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, tells Mayor Bill de Blasio that this decision illustrates the department’s “commitment to a safe, just and age-appropriate correctional setting.”

The latest incremental improvement to the inhumane practice of solitary confinement follows a critical report, filed by the United States attorney’s office in August. It uncovered a “deep-seated culture of violence” aimed at Rikers Island’s youngest inmates. There are also continuing, recorded instances of its officials’ deadly neglect and unpunished violence against the adolescent and the mentally ill.

Last month, the city passed a bill requiring Rikers Island to report on its solitary confinement practices, assaults and suicides. However, last week, the New York Times uncovered massive bureaucratic cover-ups that demonstrated “pervasive dysfunction” at the highest levels of the city’s Correction Department. 

In particular, the investigation showed that William Clemons (current chief of Department of Correction) and Turhan Gumusdere (current lead warden of the largest jail at Rikers) distorted data on fights, stabbings and assaults at Rikers since 2011. Both were appointed and promoted to high positions by Joseph Ponte, the author of the aforementioned internal memo.

In a public statement made on September 24th, the day before the memo was issued, de Blasio called for a change to civil service laws “to allow his administration to use uniformed officers from outside the Correction Department to help fix the system.”

Speaking in reference to the data-distortion scandal, de Blasio said that the current state of Rikers was “unacceptable” and had to be “changed to the foundations,” which is why outside help and supervision is required. “One thing we’ll always do is tell you bluntly just how bad it is,” he said. “It’s a very bad situation.” (Image: @sheriffaj)