Mary Lynne Werlwas, Director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society, released the below statement today responding to a report from Steve J. Martin, independent federal court-appointed Monitor in Nunez v. City of New York et. al., concerning misuse of force in New York City jails. The independent Monitor was appointed by the Court after Legal Aid, private firms and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York settled a lawsuit against the City demanding that the Department of Correction meaningfully address the scourge of excessive force that has long been entrenched in Rikers Island and other City jails:
“New York City appears unable to reduce the rampant misuse of force in its jails, despite two and a half years under a federal consent decree mandating reform. The patterns of misuse of force continue: illegal head strikes, misuse of chemical agents, and staff provocation and escalation of conflicts that should never amount to force.
At this point, there is no excuse for the City’s longstanding failure to hold supervisory staff -- wardens, deputy wardens and captains -- responsible for the misuse of force, unprofessionalism, and inept and biased investigations on their watches. If the Department does not demand competence from its supervisors, and replace those who have shown they cannot meet the task with competent leadership, it will not change the culture of violence in this Department.
Most urgently, the abysmal facts depicted in the Report highlight the challenges the City leadership must tackle head-on as it moves the youngest people off Rikers to an adolescent-only facility, as required by the Raise the Age legislation passed in Albany last year. DOC staff will still run the teenagers’ housing units in their new facility, just as they do now at Rikers. But DOC has yet show a substantial or sustained decrease in the rate of violence against, and among, these teenagers.
It is imperative that City leadership treat this violence as the public health crisis that it is, and act immediately to prevent this crisis from being exported from Rikers to the new adolescent facilities.”