In a recent article in the Daily News, The Prisoners We Should Put on Rikers, Pace Law Professor and nationally recognized expert on prisoners’ rights Michael B. Mushlin writes that although Mayor de Blasio’s announcement endorsing the recommendation of an independent commission to close the Rikers Island jail complex is a step in the right direction, the better solution might be to keep Rikers operational to house prisoners from the five boroughs who would otherwise be sent upstate.
Prof. Mushlin points out:
For example, 58% of incarcerated individuals from the city’s metropolitan region are in prisons more than 200 miles from their homes. And remarkably, 27% of the entire state prison population is more than 300 miles from the county of commitment.
The location of New York prisons so far away makes maintaining meaningful family ties almost impossible. These ties are strongly associated with successful reintegration, lower recidivism rates and improved behavior while incarcerated.
In response to the growing controversy over detaining arrestees simply because they do not have the money to post bail, NYC has acted to eliminate bail for some low level offenders. For more details, see Rick Rojas, New York City Introduces Bail Reform Plan for Low-Level Offenders, New York Times (Jul 8, 2015).
POST WRITTEN BY: Michael B. Mushlin, Professor of Law at Pace Law School, Scholar, and Renowned Expert on Prisoners’ Rights.
Continuing a national trend the New York City Board of Correction yesterday unanimously voted sweeping changes to the use of solitary confinement in New York City Jails. The reforms eliminate the use of solitary confinement entirely for anyone under the age of 18, for anyone 18 to 21 years old (this goes into effect in 2016), and for anyone with serious mental or serious physical disabilities or conditions. Terms in solitary for all others cannot exceed 30 consecutive days for a single infraction, and more than 60 days in any six month period. Due process protections are also expanded under these rule changes which will help limit the imposition of solitary on persons who did not break rules.
The changes voted by the Board of Correction address the major justification offered by opponents of solitary reform who have argued that solitary is necessary to contain the “worst of the worst,” inmates who are so violent that they cannot be safely confined in the general prison population. To deal with inmates who have acted in violent ways and who might pose a threat, the rules adopted by the Board of Correction allow for the creation of “Enhanced security Housing.” This housing allows the department to separate inmates who are violent without imposing solitary confinement on them. In these units inmates will be given services including psychological and mental health treatment to help them cope with violent tendencies and will not be locked into their cells 23 hours a day.
In the words of the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union the changes approved yesterday demonstrates that
New York City has taken an important stand for basic human rights and reaffirmed its commitment to the safety of prisoners, prison staff and our communities.
The reforms are a critical step in the national movement to end the shameful practice of solitary confinement in our nations penal institutions.
- Jasmine Garsd, New Solitary Confinement Plan For Younger Inmates at Rikers, NPR News (Jan. 14, 2015).
- ACLU, New Rules Make Rikers a Leader in Solitary Confinement Reform (Jan. 13, 2015).
- Michael Winerip & Michael Schwirtz, Rikers to Ban Isolation for Inmates 21 and Younger, The New York Times (Jan. 13, 2015).
- Mark Berman, New York City Will No Longer Put Its Youngest Prison Inmates In Solitary Confinement, The Washington Post (Jan. 13, 2015).
It has been quite a summer. Having been involved in the criminal justice system for more than forty years, I feel as if there has never been a summer with so much going on – and so much attention being paid to it. Ferguson, Missouri, is the most recent and most alarming event, following so closely on the Staten Island chokehold case. These cases have focused serious attention on the police-citizen relationship that was front and center last year in the stop-and-frisk decision and the settlement of that lawsuit by the new New York City mayor.
We have been witness to the unprecedented actions of the Brooklyn, New York Conviction Integrity Unit in the District Attorney’s office, and to the dismissal of erroneous convictions in that county. These dismissals have been followed by substantial financial settlements by New York City. The New York Times ran a series of editorials urging the decriminalization of marijuana possession in some circumstances, and another editorial calling for revisions in the virtually-non-existent clemency process. Four state governors are either being tried, charged, or investigated.
Rampant prisoner abuse has been exposed just as claims made by prisoners has spiked, and there is now dialogue about the excessive use and destructive results of solitary confinement. The entire capital punishment process has come under scrutiny because the drug companies who provide the lethal drugs to accomplish our executions are no longer willing to do so. There is increasing focus on our entire system of punishment because of international attention on our disgracefully large prison population.
On an international level, we have also been witness to mass executions in Egypt and a long-awaited English investigation of the poisoning of a Russian journalist in London. Scotland abolished its long-standing and unique corroboration requirement. We were witness to an historic event: a Black, South African, and female judge presiding at the trial of a young white male, who happened to be an internationally acclaimed athlete.
Having been raised on a September to September calendar, and having continued with that conception of the “year” as a law professor, I am pausing to wonder what we will witness in the next twelve months.
For now, the staff of the PCJI are taking a two-week break. We will resume our blog after Labor Day, on September 4.
By: Hanna Shoshany
This past election day, New Yorkers approved the Casino Ballot Referendum. Being the first state to legalize commercial gambling since 1994, New York is the nineteenth state to say “yes” to full service commercial casinos. With plans of opening up seven casinos in the course of seven years, four of which will begin bidding in the upstate areas as early as January 1st, the economic projections are promising. The goal is to keep hundreds of millions of dollars currently spent in neighboring states such as New Jersey and Connecticut right here in our backyard. The generated revenues will be allocated to public schools and to lower property taxes. The government is also hopeful that this new law will minimize civilian involvement in illegal underground gambling rings. The government, however, ignores the fact that all of the eighteen states that host commercial casinos also have the highest rates of underground gambling rings. As a society, we are more likely to get involved in illegal gambling when we live in an atmosphere that supports gambling as a whole.
Most of the underground gambling rings in New York are owned and operated by crime families. These gambling rings offer high stakes poker games and sports betting whose proceeds are wired to Costa Rica. Additionally, these gambling rings create an atmosphere of drugs and prostitution that is not present in Vegas-style casinos. The government’s crackdown on these underground operations has led to high profile cases, usually involving over twenty defendants per “ring bust.” These cases generate lucrative business for attorneys in the tri-state area who specialize in defeating RICO charges. For instance, this past April, the FBI busted an illegal gambling ring that involved 33 co-conspirators and was orchestrated by Russian Underworld Bosses Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and Helly Nahmad, owner of the most lucrative art gallery in the city. Prior to accepting a plea bargain, these defendants faced 92 years on racketeering, money laundering, gambling, and fraud charges. These types of operations are miniscule in comparison to the Genovese Family’s involvement in New Jersey gambling rings, despite the accessibility of casinos in Atlantic City. The Russian gambling ring also feigns in comparison to the online betting schemes such as Pinnacle Sports, in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world.
Therefore, although the economic incentives of being the nineteenth state to legalize commercial gambling are highly attractive, the likelihood that it will minimize, as opposed to facilitate, the prevalence of underground illegal gambling rings, is farfetched.