City's Jail Oversight Board Says DOC Can Continue to Put Inmates in Restraint Desks on Rikers

Last month, NY1 brought you a story showing some controversial images of young inmates chained to desks on Rikers Island. On Tuesday, the city's jail oversight board said it would allow the Department of Correction to continue to use them. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

Rikers Island officials will tell you that chaining an inmate to a desk is the only way to get some of the jail's most violent inmates to take the classes they need. 

"I think we clearly want to educate the board the best we can on the use of restraint desks," said Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte.

Last month, NY1 obtained images showing young inmates in restraint desks. They were unveiled by one member of the city's jail oversight board, the Board of Correction. 

The desks are used in a restrictive housing unit that's meant to replace solitary confinement for young inmates.

Critics say these inmates are chained by the ankle for hours at a time. They have called it torture.

"We did not approve putting adolescents into a unit where they would be shackled by their feet," said Dr. Bobby Cohen of the Board of Correction.

On Tuesday, correction department officials brought their own evidence. Instead of static images of young men changed to a desk for hours, they showed internal videos of these men sitting getting "programming," like classes or therapy. They said they could get up and choose to go back to their cells if they wanted.

They also showed surveillance video of a slashing and inmates allegedly taking scalpels out of their rectums, evidence of how dangerous a place Rikers can be and why the desks are needed. 

"Again, this is for very violent acts," Ponte said.

Ultimately, the board agreed. It's allowing the unit to operate until mid-August.

"I am looking to find the the least evil of of two situations. And so when I look at ESH, I look at it as there being no other option at this particular point," said Jennifer Jones Austin of the Board of Correction.

This may be just the beginning of the fight. The board is slated to come up with an overarching policy for all types of restrictive housing on Rikers Island. That policy will cover restraint desks. 

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