On August 18th, 2011, a class of prisoners filed this lawsuit in the District Court for the Southern District of New York under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for cruel and unusual punishment against the New York City Department of Corrections. The plaintiffs, represented by the Legal Aid Society and pro bono private counsel, asked the court for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages, claiming that the Department's officers routinely inflict wanton physical violence on prisoners and deliberately falsify records to prevent discovery of their illegal actions.
Claims against the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) have been numerous and often successful over the past twenty-five years (Fisher v. Koehler, Reynolds v. Ward, Jackson v. Montemango, Sheppard v. Phoenix, Ingles v. Toro). The plaintiffs claimed that former policies were reinstituted as soon as the injunctions expired, or that the injunctions were interpreted narrowly enough to provide room for explicit cruelty. The plaintiffs claimed that officers frequently took prisoners to areas without video cameras or other witnesses, and then beat them. The plaintiffs claimed to have suffered multiple injuries as a result of these abuses, including broken bones, concussions, and other emergency conditions requiring hospitalization and surgery. Finally, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants routinely falsified documents or fabricated disciplinary charges to cover up their own unlawful conduct or that of their colleagues. The city then would promote the worst offenders.
On January 7th, 2013, the Court (Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV) granted class certification to the plaintiffs.
Meanwhile, on January 12, 2012, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York informed the city that they were undertaking an investigation of the prison conditions on Rikers Island under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. The DOJ issued a findings letter in that matter, reporting the frequent use of excessive force, inadequate systematic supervision, and prolonged punitive solitary confinement on August 4, 2014. That is discussed in case JC-NY-0062
in this Clearinghouse.
On December 18, 2014, the Department of Justice filed a motion seeking permission to intervene in this case, to pursue its action under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. The Court (Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV) granted the unopposed motion to intervene on December 23, 2014. Settlement negotiations were immediately initiated.
On July 1, 2015, the plaintiffs filed a motion to approve of the consent settlement. The DOJ issued a statement on their website
the same day. The consent settlement included provisions completely prohibiting certain types of force. The DOC also agreed to report all incidents where the staff used force on a prisoner. All Use of Force incidents resulting in major injuries to the prisoner will have a mandatory video recorded interview of the injured prisoner and other witnesses, and be referred to for an investigation by the Investigation Division of the DOC. The DOC agreed to install 7,800 wall-mounted cameras and at least 100 body-worn or hand held cameras to facilitate the investigations. Staff that violate the use of force guidelines will be disciplined, up to termination. Staff cannot be promoted if they have a poor disciplinary use of force record or a pending disciplinary investigation.
The DOC agreed to no longer put prisoners under 18 in any punitive isolation. Prisons housing youth are required to have certain staffing levels and routine examination of the premises to ensure security and safety of the prisoners. The DOC also agreed to begin searching for an alternative location, off Rikers Island, for prisoners under 18.
Finally, the parties agreed to a monitor, who will visit the prisons and write a progress report every four months.
On October 21, 2015, the Court (Judge Laura Taylor Swain) approved the consent judgment. Kya Henley - 04/07/2014
Kathryn DeLong - 09/24/2014
Kathryn DeLong - 10/27/2015