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New York City Considers Strict Limits on Jail Mail And Visitation

After a request by the city’s Department of Corrections (DOC) for greater control over the flow of contraband, the New York City’s Board of Correction (BOC) is considering strict new mail and visitation rules [PDF] for its jails. The request comes after a recent increase in violence due to the proliferation of dangerous contraband such as scalpels and razor blades.

The rules also call for exceptions to the 30 day solitary confinement time limit and removing due process requirements for inmates who are returned to the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit (ESHU) within 45 days of being released.

The Board was supposed to vote on the proposed rules at its October 16 meeting, but extended the public comment period to October 23 instead.

Under the proposed visitation rules, inmates will be allowed a “brief embrace and kiss […] at both the beginning and end of the visitation period and holding children ages nine and younger in the inmate’s family throughout the visitation period.”

Inmates will still be allowed to hold hands with their guests throughout the visit, although the Department of Correction (DOC) may limit this experience to holding hands over a six-inch partition.

Under the new rules, the DOC would be allowed to consider the visitor’s criminal records, probation or parole status, pending criminal or civil cases, and lack of family relationships in denying visitation.

The BOC is considering stricter rules on sending and receiving packages as well. Before January 1, 2016, inmates would be allowed to send packages to any person “except when there a reasonable belief that limitation is necessary to protect public safety or maintain facility order and security.”

After January 1, the DOC “may limit packages received by inmates to those mailed by and containing only items purchased from a pre-approved company whose ordinary business includes sale and shipping of such items. Such limitation on incoming packages may only be imposed by the Department if uniforms are made available to all inmates.”

An inmate may only receive a package from an individual if the package contains nothing more than court clothing.

The BOC is also considering exceptions to limits on the use of long-term isolation. The rule change would remove the requirement that inmates receive a placement hearing before being returned to the ESHU within 45 days of being released from it.

There would be an exception to the rule that inmates who have been in punitive segregation for thirty consecutive days be released for at least seven days before being returned to isolation as well. The exception would apply “in the highly exceptional circumstances” in which an inmates release would endanger staff and other inmates, or if the inmate committed a violent infraction during their seven days out of solitary.

In these instances, the Chief of Department must, in writing, state why they are keeping the inmate in isolation, and why it is necessary to do so to ensure safety in the facility. This ‘waiver’ must then be provided to the BOC.

In November 2016, the DOC will be required to report to the BOC on their plans to “reduce persistent violence” committed by inmates in punitive segregation using means other than isolation. The BOC will then decide whether to allow the DOC to continue to write these waivers.

While the city clamps down on inmates in an effort to curb violence, an analysis of the city’s jails by the city’s comptroller Scott Stringer found despite a declining inmate population, a bigger DOC budget and a higher officer-to-inmate ratio, violent incidents between staff and inmates are on the rise. Overtime costs for officers have exploded as well. The combination made NYC’s cost-per-inmate more than two times higher than other large cities, like LA and Chicago.

DNAinfo has also reported that the Department of Health and Mental Hygeine “alerted the Department of Correction of 116 total inmate allegations of sexual abuse in 2014 — 28 of which were allegations of rape — but the DOC only passed along two misdemeanor sex assaults to the NYPD, according to court documents filed by Public Advocate Letitia James.” Sixty one of those 116 sexual abuse complaints were allegedly committed by officers.

In this August 19, 2010 photo, an Israeli soldier with an automatic weapon and a K-9 unit can be seen in silhouette. (Flickr / Israel Defense Forces)
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.