Last year, Rikers Island ended the use of solitary confinement for young adults, though the alternative is not much better. A report released last week revealed young inmates were to remain in their cells for 17 hours a day and are chained to desks with irons wrapped around their ankles for the other 7 hours.
Bryanne Hamill of the board of corrections told NY1, “The young adults, at this point, would prefer to be in solitary confinement than in this protracted restraint, which is harmful, harsh, and humiliating.”
Hamill presented images of the inmates to the administration, but Correctional Commissioner Joseph Ponte simply walked out of the meeting, along with other Rikers staffers.
Hamill said she came forward with the information because, “I did not think the department of correction would cease this practice, and I thought the public had a right to know.” Just a week after the initial report, Ponte came forward to defend the practice.
He told NY1, “Inmates are in restraints while they are at a restraint desk in level 1 because of safety concerns for staff and other inmates. They typically are very violent. They have either slashed or seriously assaulted others.”
The New York Department of Corrections noted that inmates were allowed an hour of recreation time and were not chained while in the shower. However, Zachary Katznelson of the Legal Aid Society argued the practice is punitive.
Katznelson said, “People are actually chained to a desk. They can’t get up, they can’t walk around. You are either in your cell or you are chained to a desk.”
Sarah Kerr, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society called the practice “appalling, frightening and wholly inappropriate to our standards of decency and humanity.”
According to NY1, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also backed the practice. “It’s something that they have done recently, and a reason why they needed that extra protection in that situation — or why the people around them needed that extra protection,” he said. “But it is, from everything I understand, far superior to a solitary confinement situation.”
Ponte added, “You can earn your way out of that status … if your behavior improves.”