Wall Street Journal: Use of Pepper Spray in Rikers Island Classrooms Sparks Concerns

City council members raise objections, but correction officials say spray is needed to break up fights involving young inmates


Councilman Daniel Dromm, wearing tie, at a City Hall meeting in 2014. He has expressed concern about the use of pepper spray in classrooms for young inmates at Rikers Island. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Councilman Daniel Dromm, wearing tie, at a City Hall meeting in 2014. He has expressed concern about the use of pepper spray in classrooms for young inmates at Rikers Island. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL



International Business Times: Kalief Browder Suicide: Did Solitary Confinement Kill Him? Advocates On The ‘Torture’ Of Juvenile Detainees At Rikers Island


By Barbara Herman

When New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm first visited Rikers Island three years ago, he entered a cell to get a sense of what it was like to be detained there. It was the same kind of jail cell Kalief Browder was thrown into in 2010, at age 16, after being accused of stealing a backpack.

Although Browder was never convicted, and maintained until the end that he didn’t do it, he spent three years at the notorious New York jail, two in solitary confinement, awaiting trial because his parents couldn’t afford his bail. He attempted suicide several times there. His charges were dismissed — without a trial — and he was released on May 29, 2013, by a judge known for dismissing cases that had been backlogged for years. And even though he was beginning to get his life back together at age 22 and had celebrity advocates including Jay Z and Rosie O’Donnell, Browder committed suicide on Saturday, a tragic coda to a life whose story was powerfully reported by Jennifer Gonnerman of the New Yorker.

It’s hard not to connect his suicide directly with the psychological fallout of being incarcerated for three years in an adult facility, with regular beatings caught on surveillance video by guards and other inmates, and spending two years in solitary confinement. Juan Méndez, of the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, has said unequivocally that juvenile solitary confinement is torture.

“For adolescent inmates, Rikers Island is broken,” U.S. attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara said at a news conference after looking into the conditions for male detainees at Rikers in August. “It is a place where brute force is the first impulse rather than the last resort, a place where verbal insults are repaid with physical injuries, where beatings are routine while accountability is rare.”

After the Justice Department gave a scathing review of what they called a “culture of violence” there, Dromm was able to get a bill passed he’d failed to with the Bloomberg administration which called for transparency at Rikers. Last August, the New York City Council approved the bill, which requires corrections officials to publish regular reports posted on the Department of Corrections website about who is in solitary confinement in city jails and at Rikers Island.

And in September, Rikers Island announced it was eliminating solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-old detainees. Many questions remain about whether or not the system should be incarcerating 16-year-olds at all, often for minor crimes, or if solitary confinement has a place in the U.S. in the 21st century.

Charles Dickens Meets Guantanamo Bay

“It was horrible,” Dromm told International Business Times regarding his brief jail cell visit at Rikers Island. “I still get emotional when I think about what I saw. The conditions Kalief must have endured is hard to describe.”

“It was claustrophobic. It smelled like urine. There was graffiti on the walls and the paint was peeling,” said Dromm. “The bed was filled with dirt, grease, grime, and the blanket was covered with mildew and mold. And this was what they were willing to show me! With one small window and locked doors — I couldn’t imagine spending 23 hours a day there. Imagine being stuck in your bathroom alone for 23 hours a day.”

Although the official word is that detainees can leave their cell for one hour a day, Dromm said 24 hours a day is often the reality for juvenile detainees in solitary confinement. According to Dromm, corrections officers often try to wake detainees at 4 a.m. for their one hour of recreation time, and they often choose to continue sleeping instead. Dromm said he would rather use “detainee” than “inmate,” since Browder, like many other juveniles at Rikers, was there awaiting trial and should have been considered innocent until proven guilty.

The effects of solitary confinement on the human mind have been studied extensively.

Dr. Rami Kaminski, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, has worked with those housed in solitary confinement. “It’s a form of sensory deprivation,” he told IBTimes. “There’s noise, but no interaction with a human voice. That can be extremely scary. We get our reality check from other people.”

Symptoms, some of which show up within hours, include: visual and auditory hallucinations; paranoid thought; regressive breakdowns that cause detainees to throw feces or lay in a fetal position. “It can leave people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They develop panic disorders, claustrophobia,” said Kaminski. “Solitary confinement should not exist. Crowd control doesn’t have to be brutal force. In general, our penal system needs to find cues on how to handle inmates with behavioral psychologists rather than the Spanish Inquisition.”

“Being home is way better than being in jail,” Browder told Gonnerman when she saw him last. “But in my mind right now, I feel like I’m still in jail, because I’m still feeling the side effects from what happened in there.”

Raise The Age

Any day now, a bill might pass in the assembly in Albany, New York that ends the automatic prosecution of 16-to-17-year-olds, raising the age someone can be considered an adult to 18.

New York and North Carolina are the only states that prosecute all youth as adults when they’re 16 years old. In 2013, over 33,000 16-and 17-year-olds were arrested as adults in New York State. And young people housed in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than if they’re housed in juvenile detention centers, according to Raise the Age, which raises awareness about the issue of the incarceration of young people in adult facilities.

For Angelo Pinto of Correctional Association of New York , founded in 1844, who advocates for juveniles in the system, being “tough on crime” doesn’t always yield the intended results.

“Years of research shows that putting a young person in an adult system increases their chances exponentially of ‘recidivating’ or reentering the system,” Pinto told IBTimes. “Brain development research has indicated that the brain doesn’t reach significant development until the age of 25. They’re still in the formative stages. What we’re saying when we put a 16-year-olds in with adults, is: We’re going to take you out of the community and put you in a hyperviolent, restrictive environment, and we expect you not to commit any crimes when you get out.”

For Browder, solitary confinement punctuated by hyperviolence, indefinitely imposed, made him turn violence against himself long after he got out, in spite of all the support he got after his case made headlines.

“Rikers should be shut down completely,” said Dromm. “But 16 – to-18-year-olds, they shouldn’t be there. It’s an easy first step for the administration to take. The torture Kalief endured could have an impact if it’s imprinted in people’s minds. Here’s a 16 year-old-kid, accused of a crime he insisted to his own detriment he didn’t commit. The government didn’t even have a witness against him. I say all New Yorkers are responsible for Kalief’s death. We have a moral obligation to speak up.”

Read more here.

Center For Investigative Reporting: Rikers Island is eliminating juvenile solitary confinement. Now what?

By Trey Bundy and Daffodil Altan

rikers impact photo

Rikers Island in New York, the second-largest jail in the U.S., is eliminating solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-old inmates.


For years, New York City’s Department of Correction has worked to conceal its practice of putting adolescent inmates in solitary confinement. But this week, the agency announced plans to eliminate such confinement for 16- and 17-year-old inmates.

The swift action indicates that juvenile solitary confinement has become a human rights issue that officials nationwide can no longer ignore.

The changes come after several months of media scrutiny and a critical U.S. Department of Justice investigation calling on the agency to revamp its treatment of adolescents. The Center for Investigative Reporting was the first to report on the issue earlier this year. Here are some key things to understand about juvenile solitary confinement in the U.S. and the efforts to reform it.

Most youth detention facilities in the United States use some form of prolonged isolation for teens.

Solitary confinement often is the default intervention used for teenagers in lieu of adequate staff training and supervision and mental health services for inmates.

While correction officers say solitary confinement is needed to control violent young inmates, our reporting found that teens are routinely sent for minor infractions. At Rikers Island, guards are permitted to isolate inmates for days or weeks for talking back, horseplay and possession of “unauthorized amounts” of clothing or art supplies.

We know little about how many young inmates get placed in solitary, why and for how long.

This is what Juan Méndez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, called “a chaos of information.” Juvenile solitary confinement is torture, he said, and no one knows how common it is.

Because most U.S. facilities are not required to track or report their use of isolation for juveniles, the practice has flourished in the shadows. And because no federal laws prohibit isolating teenagers indefinitely for 23 hours a day, young inmates can spend months alone in their cells without anyone outside their facilities noticing.

Many facilities suppress information and close their doors to scrutiny.

New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm sponsored a recently passed bill requiring corrections officials to report detailed data about who is held in solitary, why and for how long, after officials refused to provide him with data he requested. His legislation could be a model for other jurisdictions seeking the access and information required to understand what is happening to teenagers in local facilities.

Read full article here.

DNAinfo: Street to Be Renamed for Musician Who Inspired Hitchcock’s ‘The Wrong Man’

By Katie Honan

The man who inspired the Alfred Hitchcock suspense film “The Wrong Man” will have a street co-named for him in the neighborhood that served as the backdrop for the classic 1956 flick.

Manny Balestrero, an Elmhurst father, husband and musician who was cast into the spotlight after he was falsely accused of a robbery in 1953, will be honored with Manny “The Wrong Man” Balestrero Way at 73rd Street and 41st Avenue.

According to Balestrero’s youngest son Greg, the renaming on Saturday, Sept. 27 is a great honor, and will serve to further exonerate him from the decades-old crime.

Balestrero lived with his wife and two children on 73rd Street in the 1950s and played the bull fiddle at the famed Stork Club in Manhattan, according to his son.

He was arrested on Jan. 14, 1953 for a robbery of the Prudential Insurance Company office on 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, which he had visited to borrow money from his wife’s insurance policy, according to a Life Magazine article.

The teller thought she recognized him as a man who had robbed them twice before, and two other witnesses identified him.

But the police and the witnesses had the wrong man.

Balestrero, who was played in the film by Henry Fonda, was later exonerated when the real robber, Charles Daniell, was arrested during an attempted robbery of an Astoria deli.

At the precinct Daniell reportedly told officers “name any stickup in Jackson Heights, and I did it.”

wrong man

The renaming was proposed by Councilman Danny Dromm, who said he wanted to highlight some of Elmhurst’s history while also bringing attention to the plight of those wrongfully convicted.

“It’s kind of a way to make up for the pain and suffering they went through,” he said.

Read more here.

Ny1: Touring Daniel Dromm’s District

NY1 VIDEO: The Road to City Hall’s Errol Louis visited City Councilman Daniel Dromm’s 25th city council district in Queens.

WPIX: Report: Rampant bullying against Asian students in NYC schools

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 11.21.29 AM

(JACKSON HEIGHTS, QUEENS) – Sikh Coalition director Amardeep Singh’s did not hold back when expressing his reaction to a report released Thursday detailing a greater than 20% increase of Asian-American students getting bullied inside of city schools, “The situation in our school with regards to our children is absolutely unacceptable.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm described the report as, “shocking.”  Dromm, a former city school teacher, not only does he represents Jackson Heights and its robust diversity, but he also sits on the City Council’s education committee.  He’s seen cases of bullying in the classroom and has learned of others by constituents showing up at his office.  When asked how often show up with stories of bias bullying involving their children, he says, “It happens very often that people come into my office and they will say to me that my child has been bullied for one reason or another.”   He adds that those impacted coms from all different backgrounds.

The report is described as a small sampling by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund along with the Sikh Coalition.  It takes dead aim at Regulation A-832 established in 2008, which details how to respond to bullying.  According to the report, only 16% of those who reported bullying said they received a required written report from their school.  Less than 1% of those bullied said their parents were notified, which is also a requirement of Regulation A-832.

Read more: http://pix11.com/2013/09/05/report-rampant-bullying-against-asian-students-in-nyc-schools-2/#ixzz2fRkPArBS

Amsterdam News: Rally against solitary confinement in city jails

On Tuesday morning, New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm introduced two new bills addressing the issue of solitary confinement in New York City jails. Joined by advocates from the Jails Action Coalition and parents of people currently incarcerated, the group called on the Board of Correction to adopt rules regulating the use of solitary confinement.

“I agree with the experts that [say] solitary confinement should rarely, if ever, be used,” stated Dromm. “When I toured Rikers Island last year, I saw the conditions under which inmates are exposed. It is not a surprise that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has highlighted the inefficacy and inhumanity of solitary confinement and called for its end.”

The first bill requires comprehensive reporting of data on “punitive segregation,” as the Department of Correction (DOC) refers to solitary confinement. The second bill is a resolution calling for the end to the practice of placing individuals returning to jail into punitive segregation to complete time owed from the previous period of incarceration.

The DOC expanded its punitive segregation capacity 27 percent in 2011 and 44 percent in 2012. New York City currently has one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in history, and the DOC has more punitive segregation cells than it did in the 1990s.

Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project, called punitive segregation a threat due to the damage it inflicts on inmates.

“Punitive segregation, the involuntary confinement of incarcerated people in cells for 22 to 24 hours a day, causes serious physical, psychological and developmental harm and cannot be justified,” said Parish. “Punitive segregation fosters violence in DOC facilities and exacerbates threats to institutional security. The Board must act quickly to end the harmful effects of punitive segregation and to reduce current endemic violence in DOC facilities.”

Sarah Kerr, staff attorney at the Prisoner’s Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, agreed.

“Punitive segregation is recognized as being extremely damaging,” Kerr said.

The coalition presented studies that showed the impact being thrown into solitary confinement has on people’s mental health and presented statements from inmates in solitary confinement. One letter, written by “M.L.,” detailed the effects solitary confinement had on him.

“They would put the handcuffs on my wrists too tight, and then they’d pull us down the stairs using the cuffs,” said M.L. “Our housing had two tiers, and I was on the upper tier. They’d tighten the cuffs so your wrists hurt more and then pull you using the cuffs. I had bruises on my wrists for a while. The guards would also curse you out. Once I saw the extraction team beat up a guy.”

Stephanie Reyes, 39, whose 17-year-old son is currently at Rikers Island, talked to the AmNews about what her son has experienced.

“They’re not good experiences,” she said. “He’s stressed out. He did something wrong, and he’s paying for that now. But I can help him with this because that’s abuse. You don’t use your name and title to do whatever you want to these inmates, because at the end of the day, they’re still kids. They’ve done their crimes and stuff, but they lose sight that they’re kids.

“He can’t fight, but I can fight for him,” Reyes said.

NY Post: Apple schools go ‘bust’

Readin’, writin’, robberies.

On the average school day last fall, five city students were arrested and nine hit with summonses, shocking new police data show.

Black and Hispanic students were most likely to leave school in handcuffs — accounting for 93 percent of the 279 arrests at city schools between Oct. 1 and the Christmas break.

More students were arrested in The Bronx than any other borough — with 78 middle- and high-schoolers busted by cops for crimes such as assault, larceny and robbery.

Brooklyn students logged 73 arrests, Manhattan had 55, Queens had 41 and Staten Island had 32.

On average, six of every 10,000 middle- and high-school students were busted last fall, the data show.

Another 19 out of every 10,000 high-school students were issued summonses last fall for minor offenses such as disorderly conduct, marijuana possession and violations of parking and motor-vehicle laws.

In all, cops and school-safety officers issued 532 summonses.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said that while arrests are up, the number of felonies has dropped from 1,577 in 2001 to 801 last year.

At a demonstration yesterday outside Police Headquarters in lower Manhattan, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens) complained that the police presence in schools is too heavy handed.

“There are twice as many school-safety officers as guidance counselors,” said Dromm, a former teacher. “Are we preparing our students for jail or for college?”

But city schools need cops and school-safety officers to maintain a safe environment, said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.

“When parents leave their kids in the custody of the Department of Education eight hours a day, their Number 1 concern is that their children are kept safe,” said Vallone (D-Queens).

The data contain a shocker for Staten Islanders — middle- and high-school students were arrested in public schools there at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the city.

Cops and school-safety officers made 32 arrests in Staten Island schools, or 11 busts per 10,000 students.