A sweeping set of reforms is coming to Rikers Island under an agreement being finalized between the city, federal prosecutors and plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit. However, not everyone is convinced the right problems are being addressed. NY1 political reporter Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Body cameras for correction officers, thousands of new surveillance cameras to capture their interactions with inmates and new policies on the use of force, including a ban on striking prisoners in the head - these are among the reforms coming to Rikers Island. But the head of the correction officers union isn’t completely sold.
“Correction officers cannot be made the scapegoat,” said Norman Seabrook.
Seabrook says while he favors reforms, they should also target management, arguing there is no proper supervision or training for correction officers, who he notes come under frequent assault.
“We’re the new dumping ground," said Seabrook. "We have the homeless, we have the mental health, we have the innocent, we have the guilty. And yet the New York City Department of Correction is the scapegoat. Where’s the justice in reform when an inmate strikes a correction officer, how come he or she is not re-arrested immediately?”
The reforms are part of a settlement being hammered out between city officials, plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, a leading critic of Rikers who just last week announced charges in the beating death of an inmate. The deal will include a federal monitor to oversee reforms.
“We are impatient about it, because I think anybody who sees what has been going on and the kinds of activities that have been uncovered in the past, including this week, would be impatient," said Preet Bharara. "Wanting to make sure that every day that goes by where you don’t have enforceable and enduring reform at Rikers Island is one day too many.”
“It’s only the correction officer that’s the subject of all these different disciplinary actions taken on by the Department of Correction," said Seabrook. "And if the Department of Correction at the top of it would do their job, we wouldn’t have these problems.”
All sides told the judge presiding over the case they expect to have an agreement by Monday, the mayor’s office on Thursday confirmed it expects a successful conclusion within days.