NYC Will Discipline 17 Officers Over Rikers Inmate Death

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New York City corrections officials will discipline 17 officers for conduct surrounding the death of Layleen Polanco, a transgender Rikers Island jail inmate being housed in solitary confinement, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The decision comes after the New York City Board of Correction (BOC) released a scathing 16-page report that documents how both the correction department and Correctional Health Services (CHS), which administers medical aid to inmates, ignored signs that Polanco was not medically fit for solitary confinement. Polanco, 27, who had schizophrenia and frequent epileptic seizures, died in her cell in June 2019. She had been arrested for allegedly attempting to bite a taxi driver and was being held on $500 bail. She was unattended for nearly two hours before staff tried to assist her, according to the report.

Despite a policy not to house inmates with medical conditions in solitary confinement, the report charges medical staff cleared her for the unit anyway. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann said, “Even one death in our custody is one too many and this swift and fair determination on internal discipline makes clear that the safety and well-being of people in our custody remains our top priority.” Despite claims by the department that facilities are humane, policy surrounding transgender inmates is not always clear, even to department officials. David Shaines, an attorney for Polanco’s family in a federal lawsuit against the city, said that while the announced disciplining of the 17 is a good first step, more should be done. Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark declined to prosecute any of staff who came into contact with Polanco.

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