After a string of fights between inmates at a Bronx teenage detention facility resulted in more than three dozen correction officers getting hurt, the state is allowing for correction officers to be temporarily armed with pepper spray.
The state on Wednesday granted officers a seven-day trial period after at least 38 officers were hurt breaking up fights between teenage inmates at the Horizon Juvenile Center on Brook Avenue in Mott Haven the span of six days.
According to sources:
- The city must reapply for permission to use pepper spray after the trial period is over.
- Correction officers can only use the spray on youth inmates who the state has pre-cleared. In addition, the inmates, along with their parents, guardians, and attorneys, must be notified when they are cleared.
- The spray cannot be used on people with mental or health issues.
A state spokesperson said the spray can be used only when officers have exhausted all other methods of restraining an inmate, and when other inmates are in immediate danger. The state is also mandating that the city report any pepper spray use.
The officers' union, the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, has repeatedly asked to be allowed to carry pepper spray at the facility, arguing the inmates are violent and officers should use the spray to help restrain them.
The union's president, Elias Husamudeen, said in a statement that he's hopeful the temporary waiver will become permanent.
Correction officers were allowed to use pepper spray on teenage inmates at Rikers Island, but they were barred from doing so at the facility now meant to house young inmates brought from Rikers a little more than a week ago.
Late in September, teenage inmates were transferred from Rikers Island to the center. All Rikers Island inmates who were under the age of 18 had to be transferred by Monday to the Horizon facility as part of a new policy under the "Raise the Age" law, which means people under 18 will no longer be prosecuted as adults in New York state. As a result, the city was required to transfer more than 90 inmates from the Rikers jail to the Horizon facility by that deadline.
The correction officers' union has railed against that move and pointed to the brawls as examples the city rushed the transfer of the inmates.
The union said 16 officers and two captains were transported to a local hospital after they intervened in a fight between teens in a mess hall at the Horizon Juvenile Center. In addition, 21 correction officers were hurt breaking up a fight last Wednesday, and two days before that scrum, emergency crews responded to a call that four officers were hurt in a fight with some teen inmates, although paramedics left without any patients. None of the injuries resulting from the brawls were considered life-threatening.
The union has staged several protests at the Horizon center, saying the facility was not prepared to house the inmates. The union said they are violent, and said it fears the teens will kill an officer one day. Some advocates, however, have said that the officers are violent.
The correction officers' union has for months slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying he is not taking the dangers the officers face from inmates seriously.
Correction officers asked a state judge last week to stop the city from forcing them work at Horizon and are waiting on that decision.
De Blasio said last Wednesday that centers like the Horizon facility would be beneficial for young detainees in the long run, but added that those who act violently will face consequences.
Main story image above: The Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, as seen last Wednesday.