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New York City jail officers union mobilizes against City Council plan to ban solitary confinement

19 Dec 2023, Jail News, by

A New York City jail officers union mobilizes against a City Council bill seeking to prohibit solitary confinement, citing safety concerns.

New York City jail officers union mobilizes against City Council plan to ban solitary confinement - Inmate Lookup

The union that represents New York City jail officers has protested against the City Council’s proposed ban on solitary confinement. The union, Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), has trucks that display billboards for the cause.

COBA initiated a last-minute campaign, urging council members to reject the legislation, which they claim would compromise the safety of both guards and inmates. Billboards accusing Public Advocate Jumaane Williams of prioritizing violent offenders over the general safety of jails are on display.

Williams, who is sponsoring the bill, which is expected to be passed on Wednesday, has drawn criticism from COBA.

One billboard asserts, “Jumaane Williams advocates to protect violent offenders instead of making our jails safer for everyone.” Another billboard questions, “In New York City jails, who pays the price?”

Additionally, the union asserts that 6,500 New York City Department of Correction (DOC) employees had suffered assaults at Rikers Island and other facilities over the previous three years.

COBA argues that eliminating solitary confinement for violent offenders could increase the likelihood of attacks on both inmates and guards and exacerbate conditions at the problematic Rikers Island jail complex.

Mayor Eric Adams and the Department of Correction oppose the measure, contending that solitary confinement is not currently employed at Rikers.

A mayoral spokesman argues that the Council’s bill would foster fear and instability instead of promoting a humane environment within jails. The spokesman emphasizes the potential difficulty in safeguarding individuals in custody and the predominantly black and brown workers responsible for their safety from violent individuals.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams is a bill sponsor, and if the legislation is approved, there may be enough votes to override a potential mayoral veto.

A spokesperson for Williams stated to a news outlet on Monday that COBA had ample opportunities to collaborate on ending solitary confinement, a practice the UN designates as torture and which continues in the city today.

The spokesperson expressed disappointment, noting that the New York City jail officers union ignored repeated outreach and disseminated misinformation about the bill.

The spokesperson added that Williams believes that solitary confinement makes jails and the city less safe, and he advocates for its ban as a measure beneficial to public safety. He expressed a willingness to engage in communication about improving safety at Rikers, preferably through a more effective medium than billboards.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Williams defended the measure, referring to instances of harm to families like Layleen Polanco, Tamara Carter, and the Browders, whose loved ones died after being placed in solitary.

Williams also emphasized the suffering these families were going through by highlighting the harm that came from depriving people of a fundamental human right.

The public advocate also mentioned that the bill had support from other unions, such as hospital workers’ Service Employees International Union Local 1199.