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Judge approves plan to reform Rikers Island and protect inmates civil rights

New York federal judge Laura Taylor Swain approved a plan to reform New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex on Wednesday.

Rikers Island consists of ten jails and holds local offenders awaiting trial that cannot afford bail, or were denied bail; those serving sentences of a year or less; and those there temporarily awaiting transfer to another facility. The jail houses over 10,000 inmates daily.

Rikers Island has become notorious for prisoner brutality, neglect, violating inmates’ civil rights and constantly using unnecessary excessive force by correction officers.

This plan was reached amongst a settlement between the city, the U.S. Justice Department and a group of inmates claiming unnecessary force from correction officers. Under the settlement, New York City will pay $6.5 million to cover the plaintiffs' lawyers' fees and costs.

In efforts to reform the jail complex, 7,800 surveillance cameras will be installed throughout Rikers, some officers will wear body cameras, and an early warning system in place to identify officers who may require corrective actions for their behavior. There will also be a computerized system to track “use-of-force” incidents.

The agreement also calls for improved training, recruitment and promotion practices and changes to how teenage inmates are treated, particularly when it comes to solitary confinement.

In June of this year, 22 year old Kalief Browder committed suicide after spending three years at Rikers awaiting trial on robbery charges that were later dismissed.

Browder was 16 when he was arrested and placed in Rikers. He was starved, physically abused by officers, and assaulted by fellow inmates. He also spent a total of two horrific years in solitary confinement. Although he was released in 2013, he never quite recovered from the tumultuous time he spent at the jail.

Many are calling for Rikers Island to be closed permanently, claiming its history and notorious reputation render it beyond redemption. Others are hoping that these plans for reform actually occur and bring about positive change to protect inmates civil rights.


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