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.

1010 WINS: Civil Liberties Groups Charge Over-Policing In NYC Schools

Numbers released by the New York Police Department show that about five public school students were arrested every school day during the last three months of 2011.

Civil liberties groups say the 279 student arrests from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 were excessive. Summonses were issued to another 532 students, largely for disorderly conduct.

Outside 1 Police Plaza, teenage demonstrators chanted slogans and carried signs that read “Dignity For All Students” and “More Books, No Cops” on Wednesday, 1010 WINS’ Stan Brooks reported.

“You have wonder what is the number going to be for the whole school year and we need to ask ourselves ‘Is this school safety? Is this the NYPD showing us that they’re keeping us safe by arresting us and giving us court summons for the most minor things?” one student asked.

Most of those cited and arrested were black and Hispanic. Councilman Daniel Dromm calls the situation shocking.

“This is unacceptable. These numbers figures are totally out of line with what the Department of Education’s mission is,” he said.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said Wednesday that too many schoolchildren are being treated as criminals. She says many of the infractions should have been handled by the school principals.

The City Council passed a law requiring the NYPD to release the school arrest statistics every three months. This is the second time the department has released the quarterly statistics.

In response to the controversy, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne released the following statement:

“The NYCLU talks about arrests in schools but, conveniently, not crimes. There were 801 felonies in the schools last year, compared to 1,577 in 2001 before the current administration took office.“

Brown says the reduction was made “through the good work of dedicated school safety officers and police officers.”

NY1: Council Members Approve New Resolution In Push For Juvenile Justice System Reform

From NY1: By Dean Meminger

Sixteen and 17-year-olds are sent to criminal court for minor crimes every day. On Tuesday, the City Council said that’s unacceptable.

“Our young people get caught up in a juvenile justice system that treats them as adults and they get lost. They come out worse off than when they went in,” said City Council Member Daniel Dromm.

New York and North Carolina are the only states that send 16 and 17-year-olds to adult court for minor offenses.

In a symbolic move, the council approved a resolution that would require anyone under 18 accused of a non-violent misdemeanor to appear in family court.

“You want to make sure that if they do make a mistake, they have the chance to correct it, and that is what will happen in family court. Alternatives to incarceration,” said City Council Member Sara Gonzalez.

City Council can’t change this law: That’s up to state legislators. However, the push to reform the juvenile justice system has a strong advocate in the state’s top judge.

“45,000 to 50,000 kids, 16 and 17-year-olds who get into the adult criminal justice system that would not,” said Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York State Court of Appeals. “It is incredible, and we are taking these kids and mixing them with hardened criminals in adult prisons.”

Judge Lippman said studies show that often turns teens into criminals. He said in family court, they have a better chance at changing their lives.

“In family court, you are charged with delinquency, not a crime, and that one word makes all the difference in the world. You don’t have a record,” said Judge Lippman.

Some who support the reform say the family court system has its own major problems and that it would be difficult to handle the thousands of new cases.

“If you put more cases in family court, you need to put additional resources in the system so that there are more judges, more attorneys, more support staff to process those cases expeditiously and fairly,” said Robert Gangi of the Urban Justice Center.

Supporters of the reform hope to get the state to pass a new law next year.

Queens Tribune: Dromm Aims to Fix Broken Juvenile Justice System

From Queens Tribune: By Jessica Ablamsky

About a year and a half ago, three corrections officers at Rikers Island were charged with turning a teenage wing of the jail into a fight club they called “The Program,” where inmates who took part were allowed to extort commissary money, and other privileges, from other inmates.

The abuse came to light after they beat to death 18-year-old Christopher Robinson – incarcerated for a minor parole violation, missing curfew – while guards allegedly stood by and did nothing.

The incident prompted legislation, recently passed by City Council, which is the first step towards fixing a broken juvenile justice system, said Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), a member of the Committee on Juvenile Justice.

“We’ve received a lot of complaints about violence in some of these juvenile detention facilities,” said Dromm. “We don’t have the data to understand what’s going on.”

The DJJ each year admits about 5,500 youths ages 7-15 into three secure and 16 non-secure detention facilities in the city. All teenagers in the city ages 16 and up are charged as adults. In 2009, about 850 were admitted to Rikers.

Though the Department of Juvenile Justice, now under the auspices of the Administration for Children’s Services, publishes some data about detained youth, the information is of limited use and not legally mandated, according to a report from the City Council Committee on Juvenile Justice.

Some City Council members, particularly the Committee on Juvenile Justice, would like to move away from a detention model.

“We should be keeping kids in their neighborhood, with their families, but with support services to keep them on a straight and narrow path,” Dromm said.

Queens Chronicle: Dromm Gets Top Committee Assignments

From Queens Chronicle: By Michael Lanza

City Council Member Daniel Dromm was elected to serve as Chair of the Immigration Committee. Dromm will also serve on these committees: Education; Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations; Juvenile Justice; Parks; and Veterans.