Perhaps Mark Soler has a future in soothsaying.
The executive director with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy last week said that a bombshell summer report by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on juvenile justice on Rikers Island would spur real reform at the nation’s largest jail system.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte announced the end of punitive segregation for adolescents in city jails.
As of Dec. 4, the DOC had moved all 16- and 17 year-old inmates out of punitive segregation and ended the practice as a form of punishment for the youngest inmates at the nine operational jails on Rikers Island.
“This reform will promote better behavior, psychological health and emotional well-being among our youngest inmates while lessening violence,” Ponte said. “It represents best practices and the least restrictive environment, allowing us to respond more appropriately to the special needs of this troubled population, and help them re-integrate into the community when they leave our care and custody.”
According to Bharara’s report, “there is a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates.” He went on to say that “adolescent inmates at Rikers are not adequately protected from harm, including serious physical harm from the rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force” by correction officers.
“Indeed, we find that a deep-seated culture of violence is pervasive throughout the adolescent facilities at Rikers, and DOC staff routinely utilize force not as a last resort, but instead as a means to control the adolescent population and punish disorderly or disrespectful behavior,” Bharara said. “Moreover, DOC relies far too heavily on punitive segregation as a disciplinary measure, placing adolescent inmates—many of whom are mentally ill—in what amounts to solitary confinement at an alarming rate and for excessive periods of time.”
Soler, who said it was unusual for a U.S. Attorney to conduct this kind of investigation, characterized the resulting report as shining a spotlight on routine violence by staff against juveniles being held, many pre-trial, on Rikers Island.
“The culture of violence described in the U.S. Attorney’s report is shocking to the conscience,” Soler said.”There is no question there needs to be very strong measures taken to stop those abuses from going forward.”
It would seem that the de Blasio administration paid close attention to Bharara’s findings, and this week took the first of those “very strong measures” Soler mentioned.
By Michael V. Cusenza and Forum Wire Services