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Mayor Unveils Reforms He Wants to Institute on Rikers Island

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Saying the city's jail system needs a massive overhaul, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday unveiled a wave of reforms he wants to institute on troubled Rikers Island.

After a probe by the U.S. attorney, stories of excessive force and abuse and an uptick in violence on Rikers Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is committed to change in the city's sprawling jail complex, where almost 12,000 inmates are held on a daily basis.

"The plan that we are putting in place is bold. It is comprehensive. It's the kind of thing that can actually turn around those years of neglect," the mayor said.

"In 40 years in corrections, I never thought I would be running a mental health hospital," said Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Pone.

That's because the inmates on Rikers are changing. Forty percent now have a mental health issue. In the last year, use of force, stabbing and injuries are all climbing.

So the administration is tripling the number of security cameras, is ending punitive segregation for 16- and 17-year-olds by the end of the year and is getting more training for correction officers.

Another part of the mayor's solution is a new unit for the most violent offenders. In that special housing, up to 250 inmates would be locked into their cells for 17 hours a day, have restricted visits, and services would be brought to them. It's a unit that needs approval from the city's independent Board of Correction.

"I believe these are the reforms we need. I believe we'll win that vote in the end," de Blasio said.

"Clearly, something has to be done to identify those subset of inmates who are clearly prone to violence," said Gordon Campbell, chair of the Board of Correction.

However, as the administration moves to limit solitary confinement in other parts of the city's jail system, advocates fear this new unit will simply be another way to irrationally isolate inmates.

"You will not be able to hug your family member. You will not be able to touch your child when they come to see you," said Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center. "No matter how well you behave, you can't get out."

De Blasio will be making his first visit to Rikers Island next month to check in on how these reforms are going.

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