WSJ: Union Fights to Keep Solitary Confinement in New York City Jails

By: 
CORINNE RAMEY

The local union for jail officers took legal action Friday to reverse New York City’s decision to end solitary confinement for 19- to 21-year-olds at Rikers Island.

The action, a petition filed with the Office of Collective Bargaining, starts down the road to a lawsuit and argues that eliminating solitary confinement for these inmates without negotiating with the union violates city collective-bargaining law.

Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city had ended solitary confinement for inmates ages 19 to 21.

The union said it opposes the new policy because it puts its members at risk.

“Basically anything that is going to jeopardize the safety of my members is something they have to talk to us about,” said Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association. “At the end of the day they have to come to the table.”

More than 600 officers were assaulted by inmates since January, according to the union.

A City Hall spokeswoman said the complaint had been received and was being reviewed.

The Department of Correction has said it created housing alternatives for violent or difficult inmates who had been held in solitary confinement, which it calls “punitive segregation.”

Additionally, Mr. de Blasio announced several measures this summer designed to increase officer safety, including the use of Tasers by jail supervisors.

The city’s Department of Correction and the union have often been at odds. Typically, the city has seen the union as a roadblock to change at the jails, and the union has accused the city of putting inmates before officers.

Over the past two years, the city has reduced the number of inmates in solitary confinement from about 600 in April 2014 to 123 as of Oct. 6.

In December 2014, the correction department eliminated solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds. In June, it stopped solitary confinement for 18-year-olds.

Mr. Husamudeen described the young adults as “the worst inmates in the system.”

Inmates ages 18 to 21 make up from 10% to 12% of the city jail population but commit about 30% of the violence, according to the correction department.

Slashings and stabbings at city jails increased 21.3% from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2016. During that time, inmate assaults on staff declined slightly after spiking in 2015, city data show.