Expanded Prisoner ‘Bill of Rights’, Other Reforms, Urged Before Rikers Vote

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Photo by David Etheridge-Bartow.

New York City lawmakers presented an expanded inmates’ bill of rights and other reforms ahead of a critical vote to replace the jail complex on Rikers Island, the Wall Street Journal reports.

City Council Criminal Justice Committee Chair Keith Powers proposed measures that would require staff to provide inmates with a written bill of rights when they enter jail, including policies of nondiscriminatory treatment, recreation, visitation, phone calls and more, consistent with state and federal laws.

Powers’ proposal would add to the inmates’ existing bill of rights by requiring jail staff to call inmates by their names and allow them to decorate their cells. They also would set minimum standards for the design of jails slated to replace Rikers.

The Powers plan is designed to follow an Oct. 17 vote on a land-use plan to replace Rikers with four smaller jails in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Powers said he is confident the City Council will pass the land-use plan allowing the city to move ahead with its proposal to replace Rikers, estimated to cost $9 billion.

The measures presented Wednesday, which include a bill creating a commission to make recommendations on reinvestments in communities affected by Rikers, seek to ensure that the sweeping criminal-justice reforms undertaken by city officials are fully realized, Powers said. City officials and reform advocates expressed some support for the bills, but they were criticized by the city’s jail-workers union.

“None of these proposals have anything to do with safety and security—the two most important elements involved when building a correction facility,” said Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.

Additional Reading: Rikers Closing Imperiled by High Number of Parole Violators, The Crime Report, June 20, 2019

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