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Plan to restrict Rikers visits hits poor and minorities harder, advocates say

Correction boss wants visitors prescreened and possible partitions at Rikers Island.

The mayor at a recent visit with Rikers inmaste,

Reuters


Prisoner-rights groups will take to the steps of City Hall Tuesday to speak out against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for sweeping new restrictions on visits to inmates at the notorious Rikers Island jail.

The NYC Jails Action Coalition (JAC) argues that the changes will inordinately target minorities and the impoverished.

RELATED:Feds push city into sweeping jail reforms.

"Limiting visits will disproportionately impact Black, Hispanic and poor familieswho can't make bail,” the Reverend. Que English told Metro.

“These communities already suffer from an overly punitive criminal justice system that is focused on retribution instead of rehabilitation,” said the minister, who will be one of several prisoner advocates and politicians at the 1:30 p.m.news conference and rally. “That's why members of New York City's clergy community are mobilizing to fight this regressive proposal."

A surge of violence and gang activity is behind the measures that would have to be okayed by the New York City Board of Correction, city officials said.

RELATED:City plans to cut cash bail requirements.

“We are fundamentally dissatisfied with a culture of violence and will not allow it to continue,” de Blasio said in March in a visit to the jail, where inmate-on-inmate violence is out of hand.
Joseph Ponte detailed the plan in a recent Op-Ed.

“Under our new policy, visitors could register in advance and be screened, we could limit physical contact and hold visits at a table with a 6-inch high plexiglass partition — all so that suspicious movements are easier to detect,” Ponte wrote in The Daily News. “These policies would bring the department closer into line with other large jail systems like those in L.A., Chicago and Philadelphia.”

RELATED:Correction officer arrested for smuggling tobacco,

The background checks would likely mean those with felony convictions or known gang ties cannot visit anyone at the jail -- a move that would help reduce the smuggling of contraband, officials said.

Here are JAC’s arguments against the plan:

  • The primary source of contraband is Department of Correction staff, not visitors. Moreover, the vast majority of violent incidents at Rikers do not involve smuggled contraband.
  • Visitors provide support, important community connections and facilitate reentry.
  • The plan unfairly discriminates against visitors based on prior criminal record or pending chargers.
  • The background checks are intimidating.

“There is no evidence that the proposed visiting restrictions will reduce violence at all, and every reason to believe they will delay and discourage visits, including to the thousands on Rikers awaiting trial and unable to pay bail, and for the thousands of NYC children who need to see their incarcerated parent,” said Tanya Krupat, program director for the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents.

John A. Oswald is editor-at-large at Metro and can be found on Twitter@nyc_oz.
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