By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City is proposing to reduce violence among inmates at its troubled Rikers Island jail by limiting visitors, adding security cameras and separating rival gangs, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday.
Rikers, one of the world's largest jails which can hold as many as 15,000 inmates, has come under intense scrutiny recently over issues of safety and security.
So far this year, more than 700 acts of violence were reported, and last year 71 percent of the violent acts at Rikers involved one inmate attacking another, the mayor said in a statement.
“Today we are taking aggressive steps to move Rikers Island from a culture of violence to a culture of safety," de Blasio said.
De Blasio and Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte proposed a violence prevention plan, subject to approval by the department's oversight board, to be phased in by the end of 2018.
Under the plan, inmates would have less contact with visitors and stricter guidelines on visitors would be imposed. Those restrictions are intended to cut down on contraband smuggled past jail officials, who seized weapons and narcotics from 26 visitors in one recent 10-week period.
Inmate housing also would change, with the most violent prisoners kept separate from the less violent and inmates with gang affiliations kept away from rival gangs.
Currently, inmates are often jailed together without regard to their offenses or gang affiliation.
Other proposed changes include the addition of surveillance cameras at all Rikers' facilities. There is currently full camera coverage only in the adolescent facilities and in some facilities for inmates aged 18 to 21.
De Blasio and Ponte, who was hired last year to improve conditions at Rikers, already have launched other changes, including banning solitary confinement for inmates under age 21.
City investigations have led to guards being charged with smuggling contraband and using excessive force.
In addition, the U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against New York City over allegations of violent abuse of teenage inmates.
The city also has been the subject of lawsuits filed by families of inmates who died at Rikers, including one inmate allegedly beaten to death by guards, a mentally ill inmate who died after drinking a corrosive disinfectant and a schizophrenic inmate who died in an overheated cell.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Beech)