After years of struggling to curb brutality by guards at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, city’s Correction Department announced a substantial drop in the use of physical force on inmates resulting in serious injuries in the first half of the year, the New York Times reports. The agency said that in the first six months of 2016, there were 39 uses of force by correction officers resulting in serious inmate injuries, compared with 72 during the same period in 2015. Inmate assaults on staff members dropped 20 percent, to 394 episodes from 494 during the first half of the year. Overall, episodes involving the use of force fell 2 percent, to 2,223 from 2,268, the first decrease since 2011.
The signs of progress come more than a year after federal monitors were named to oversee the city’s jails under a settlement meant to end widespread violence and dysfunction. In May, monitors cited significant reforms as well as problems of deep concern, including officers’ continued use of physical force against inmates.
City officials credited the apparent decline in violence to Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte’s push to make Rikers safer for the staff and inmates, adding training for officers in how to defuse tensions among inmates and how to interact with adolescent inmates and those with mental illness. Mary Lynne Werlwas, a Legal Aid Society lawyer for the plaintiffs in the class-action suit that led to the federal settlement, said the data were misleading and had been “cherry-picked.” She said it would be more accurate to compare all of the 2016 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, with all of the 2015 fiscal year. That comparison, she said, shows an increase in all uses of forces.