City Limits: Correction Dept. Slows Bid to Restrict Rikers Visits

A move to restrict visiting rights on Rikers Island—billed by the Department of Correction as a necessary step to control violence—that faced opposition from legal rights groups went nowhere Tuesday at a meeting of jail regulators.

The Board of Correction decided to hold off on the proposal pending further study.

The Board is considering whether to again alter the “minimum standards” that govern inmate treatment in city jails. The Department of Correction, which the board oversees, says that since “visits are also a known and repeatedly used entry point for many to introduce contraband of all forms” has said it wants broader rights to deny visits and prevent physical contact during visits.

DOC—reacting to what the Mayor’s Management Report calls “a 52 percent increase in the number of slashings and stabbings during the first four months of Fiscal 2015″—earlier indicated it wished to amend the rule on contact visits from this language:

Physical contact shall be permitted between every prisoner and all of the inmate’s visitors throughout the visiting period, including holding hands, holding young children, and kissing.

… to this:

Physical contact shall be permitted between every inmate and all of the inmate’s visitors. Permitted physical contact shall include a brief embrace and kiss between the inmate and visitor at both the beginning and end of the visitation period, as well as holding young children in the inmate’s family throughout the visitation period.

The DOC’s initial proposal also included new powers for correction officers to deny visits based on things like “the lack of a family or otherwise close or intimate relationship between the inmate and the prospective visitor … the prospective visitor’s current probation or parole status … the nature of the inmate’s or the prospective visitor’s felony convictions or persistent narcotics- or weapons-related misdemeanor convictions, if any, within the past seven years” and more.

The move drew skepticism from several groups, including Children’s Rights, Legal Aid, Brooklyn Defender Services and the Jails Action Coalition.

A letter sent Monday by a coalition of other groups including the Bronx Defenders, the Osborne Association and the Fortune Society began with the critique that “the request for the Department to establish the virtually unfettered ability to limit and deny specific visitors, and separately to restrict visits, including limiting contact between children and their parents is unfounded in fact /data.”

By Jarrett Murphy

To read the original article, including the full letter, click here.