Correction Commissioner Argues for Strict Visitation Policy, More Solitary Confinement for Some Inmates

As Mayor Bill de Blasio looks to curb violence on Rikers Island, the city's correction czar was in front of an oversight agency Tuesday, arguing for a strict visitation policy and more solitary confinement for some inmates. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

This summer, there were 44 stabbings on Rikers Island. More than one-third involved young adults.

"Although they account for 12 percent of the population, they account for nearly a third of the violence," said Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte.

That's why the de Blasio administration is moving to separate older inmates from younger ones. Now, 18- to 21-year-olds will not be housed with the entire jail population.

"Our approach here really does set a national precedent on how to handle young adults," Ponte said.

It's just one of the new policies moving forward on Rikers, an attempt to get control of the violence at the scandal-plagued jail complex.

On Tuesday, the board overseeing jail policy gave the OK for the Department of Correction to keep certain violent inmates in solitary confinement for longer. That move comes as the city is attempting to due away with solitary for young adults altogether.

"We're not backing away from what we are doing, but staff safety has to be high on our priority when we do that for a very small number of inmates," Ponte said.

To curb what comes onto the island, the city is also looking to limit inmate visits. The board has moved a proposal forward to prohibit most contact visits, meaning inmates may only be able to hug a family member or friend at the beginning and end of a visit. The proposal could also prohibit inmates from seeing friends or family who have a prior criminal record.

"I think it's going to discourage and impede the meaningful visitation that I think is actually so important to the mental health of the inmates," said Bryanne Hamill of the Board of Correction.

Mere hours after a divided board voted to move the new rules forward, advocates were protesting on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon.

"We are here today to say that yes, the process is open, the hearings will be held. We want to urge people to come out and to say that we don't want these changes and we don't want a rollback," said City Councilman Daniel Dromm of Queens.

The board will hold a public hearing on these proposed changes. It is then expected to approve them sometime this fall.

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