Union, former DOC official oppose ending solitary confinement of young inmates

Gloria Pazmino and Colby Hamilton

10/10/2016 06:10 PM EDT

Eliminating the use of solitary confinement at Rikers Island for inmates 21 and younger is a bad idea that may pose safety risks for correction officers at the city jail, the Department of Correction's former first deputy commissioner will tell the Board of Correction on Tuesday.

Mark Cranston, who served as acting DOC commissioner and became the first deputy when Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Joseph Ponte to the top job in March 2014, will join Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, at Tuesday's meeting to voice their opposition to Ponte's punitive segregation plan.

"We want to make the point to board on behalf of the officers who work at Rikers, that by eliminating punitive segregation for 19- to 21-year-olds - which has not been done anywhere else in the country - given the fact that Rikers is pretty much in chaos and the foundation of it is completely broken, this is not the place to be a test bed," Cranston, who is now warden at the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center in New Jersey, told POLITICO New York. "They should not be testing out unproven procedures at Rikers when the underlying safety is not there."

Cranston, a 25-year corrections veteran, said he will tell the board the use of solitary confinement should be maintained, but used only when "absolutely necessary," in the least restrictive manner and for the shortest duration possible. In the meantime, he said, the DOC should make headway in other areas like improving the infrastructure of the jail, ensuring that officers are not working extended overtime hours and reducing the number of assaults on officers.

The former deputy said the union does not necessarily oppose ending the practice completely, but takes issue with what appears to be a rush to meet a deadline rather than ensuring the new protocols can be safely carried out.

"We're not saying that we never want to do it. We're just saying that if you do it now, when you don't have fundamental safety, is irresponsible," Cranston said. "It's pompous to say that we are going to be the leader in this when we don't have a baseline of safety."

Two years after announcing the policy, the DOC has struggled to meet its self-imposed deadlines to move young inmates to different secured facilities at Rikers. On Tuesday, Ponte will tell the board that inmates will be moved to enhanced supervision housing (ESH) units temporarily as the department looks to create an ESH unit specifically for younger inmates.

The city's plan to move young inmates from solitary confinement is part of de Blasio's overall plan to reform the city jail.

A spokesperson for DOC did not respond to a request for comment.

The Board of Correction meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday at 125 Worth St.