Advocates Speak Out at Hearing on Visitation Rules at Rikers

Reforms that the de Blasio administration are pushing at Rikers Island are being opposed by some advocates, who spoke out Friday at a public hearing. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

A plea to the board overseeing Rikers Island.

"What they're trying here today, you're isolating them further. You're dehumanizing them," said Xena Grandichelli, a former inmate at Rikers.

The Board of Correction sat for hours on Friday listening to advocates and former inmates slam a new proposal attempting to curtail violence at the city's sprawling jail complex.

To do that, it is considering limiting contact visits for inmates, a proposal from City Hall that hopes to stop contraband from coming into the jail.

It is also considering allowing the Department of Correction to keep violent inmates in solitary confinement for longer if they assault staff. Right now, there is a 30-day maximum.

"In essential, you're locking up human beings and you're releasing animals, and that's due to the treatment that they get while they're incarcerated," said Barry Campbel of The Fortune Society.

The new visitation rules would limit contact between inmates and family or friends to a brief embrace at the start and end of a visit. Inmates would be allowed to hold small children. However, it would also allow officials to ban visitors if they have previous criminal records or lack a close relationship with the inmate.

Those proposals prompted a strong response from major criminal justice organizations.

"The board must not make these changes," said one speaker at the hearing.

"I'm just concerned about the proposal," said another.

This hearing was not the only criticism of Rikers on Friday. A new report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer showed that City Hall is pumping money to the jail, with the cost per inmate skyrocketing. At the same time, violence on the island has continued to climb.

Violence, they say here, that is not the visitors' fault.

"Showing support and love through physical touch is not a bad thing," said Melissa Tanis, whose father was incarcerated. "It is a basic human need, and it needs to be encouraged, not be regulated."

The board's intent is to balance inmates' rights and address this rise in violence. It is expected to vote on these new rules in November.

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