Yesterday, I testified at a hearing at the City Council on the subject of violence in city jails. We haven’t posted yet about the condition of jails in our city, but I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear they’re abysmal.
The Department of Correction publishes the numbers for violence in the jails. They post inmate on inmate violence. They post inmate on correction officer violence. They even breakdown all of this type of violence by showing whether it leads to serious injury, and what, if any weapons were used.
What they do not provide to the public, however, is how many times correction officers assault detainees. That number DOC hides from public view. Now of course, we know that any number they would provide would vastly understate the number of correction officer assaults on detainees. Correction officers always cover up the brutality of their fellow officers, and DOC too often sweeps these incidents under the rug. Still, we know that a certain number of Correction Officers are prosecuted criminally or disciplined internally for assaulting detainees. Why don’t we get to see these numbers?
We asked that very question yesterday, and received no satisfactory response. New Yorkers, so many of whom have had friends, relatives, and loved ones pass through the system, have a basic right to know. Beyond that, the lack of information about correction officer violence speaks to the cover up mentality that pervades the Department of Correction from the very top to the correction officers on the intake floor. It sends the message: “if you assault an inmate, we will protect you from the consequences.”
The leaders of the Correction Officers Union testified. When they talked about how a correction officer was assaulted by an inmate, they were not challenged. But every time anyone said something about a correction officer assaulting a detainee, it was emphasized by the committee chair that it was just an allegation. Unproven. The arrogance and disrespect of the union leaders was truly stunning. Norman Seabrook, the Union chief, actually referred to the people there to testify about prison conditions as “riff-raff.” When Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez subjected the DOC to some tough questions about correction officer misconduct, they stood up as a group and walked out of the room. One of them even yelled out “we’ll see you in November!”, saying that the union would be able to get him replaced in the next election.
You can find our testimony on our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/sgblaw?ref=hl
or here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/134263668/What-Happens-on-Rikers-Island-Stays-on-Rikers-Island