NY Law Journal: Social Justice Champions Debate

The Fortune Society’s Reentry Debate Team was joined by members of the New York State Legislature, The City Council, and the Mayor’s Office, for a parliamentary debate held on Dec. 19 at the Ford Foundation on ending pretrial detention and the cash bail system in New York state.


Photo courtesy of The Fortune Society.

By NYLJ Staff

Originally published by the New York Law Journal on December 21, 2017

The Fortune Society’s Reentry Debate Team was joined by members of the New York State Legislature, The City Council, and the Mayor’s Office, for a parliamentary debate held on Dec. 19 at the Ford Foundation on ending pretrial detention and the cash bail system in New York state. Pictured left to right from the winning team, which argued in favor of eliminating cash bail, were City Council member Daniel Dromm (District 25) and Fortune debater Felix Guzman, joined by Khalil Cumberbatch, Associate Vice President of Policy, David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at The Fortune Society. The Fortune Society is a nonprofit social service and advocacy organization supporting successful reentry from prison and promoting alternatives to incarceration. The group and The Rikers Debate Project have been collaborating since August to host weekly workshops that help Fortune clients learn the art of debate while discussing issues critical to criminal justice system reform.

Read more here.

WNYC – New York Funds New Anti-Bullying Measures After Fatal School Stabbing

New York City is expanding anti-bullying programs, following a fatal stabbing and reports of bullying at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx.

By Mara Silvers and Yasmeen Khan

Originally published by WNYC on October 30, 2017

New York City education officials said on Monday they would commit $8 million system-wide to expand anti-bullying measures and create new programs, including devising an online complaint portal for families and providing targeted support for 300 schools with high rates of bullying.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced the initiatives at a City Council oversight hearing on bullying, harassment and discrimination in the public schools. The issue of safety and bullying, specifically, came under scrutiny since a student was fatally stabbed in a classroom at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation last month.

“Today’s hearing was prompted in part by the tragic incident,” said City Council Member Daniel Dromm, “in which one student lost his life, another was seriously injured, and a third had his life forever altered.”

Dromm chairs the Committee on Education, and called specifically for better anti-bullying programs that protects LGBTQ students.

“Anti-bullying education is worth nothing unless the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer words are used at every grade level,” Dromm said in his opening remarks. “Not to do so actually contributes to the problem by sending the message that being LGBTQ is so bad that it can only be discussed at certain times.”

The City Council voted to advance legislation that would require the Department of Education to provide additional support for LGBTQ students, as well as release data about bullying and which schools maintain Gender and Sexuality Alliances.

Other new programs announced by the department Monday included more anti-bias and anti-bullying training for all school-based staff; workshops in mental health support for students, school staff and parents alike; and a new protocol that requires schools to create an action plan for a student who is accused repeatedly of bullying (and when those claims are substantiated).

“We also recognize that all members of a school community have vital roles to play in preventing bullying,” said Fariña. “We are seeking greater input from parents, and building robust accountability systems.”

Starting in 2019, families will be able to file complaints about student bullying or discrimination through an online portal, officials said. The tool will also help the city track which schools need additional help.

The chancellor came under an intense line of questioning in regard to the specific high school where the stabbing occurred last month. Council Members Rafael Salamanca and Ritchie Torres said they spoke to the former principal of the Urban Assembly School For Wildlife Conservation after the attack, who alleged that the department did not provide the school with help in the months proceeding the stabbing.

“She said that she made various requests to increase the amount of school safety agents and she also made a request for scanning, and that request was denied,” said Salamanca.

“That principal did get an additional school safety agent,” countered Fariña. “She got them last spring.”

Superintendent Fred Walsh announced Friday that Astrid Jacobo would no longer be principal of the Urban Assembly School For Wildlife Conservation, citing the need for a “new leader to stabilize the school.”

Council Member Torres pressed Fariña to say that the Urban Assembly School For Wildlife Conservation was facing a “systemic problem” of bullying.

“There is obviously a problem, we’re going to get to the bottom of it. But systemic is a very big word and I think right now until the investigation is complete, I really want to reserve judgment on it,” said Fariña.

Torres countered that a 2016-17 schools survey, 92 percent of the teachers at the Urban Assembly School For Wildlife Conservation said that students were bullied, intimidated and harassed either “most of the time or some of the time.”

“And so even though the D.O.E. cannot acknowledge that there might be a systemic problem, your own teachers claim otherwise,” Torres said.

The family of 15-year-old Matthew McCree, who was fatally stabbed by 18-year-old Abel Cedeno, has said they will sue the city for his death. Cedeno’s lawyers and family have said he was bullied. McCree’s mother has said her son never bullied anyone.

The Department of Education said it is conducting a thorough investigation of the incident.

In addition to the anti-bullying measures, department officials released suspension data from the 2016-17 school year. The report shows total number of suspensions declined 6.4 percent, compared to previous school year. There were also fewer school arrests and summonses issued by school safety agents.

Read more here.

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