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Rikers Report: Top Sign of NY Juvenile Justice Progress in 2014

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Thursday, December 11, 2014   

NEW YORK - A national expert says the culture of lawlessness on Rikers Island ranks as the worst he has seen in 30 years of study, but he ranks a recent report on the facility as one of the best developments for New York juvenile justice in 2014.

Mark Soler, executive director with the Center for Children's Law and Policy, says it's unusual for a U.S. Attorney to conduct this kind of investigation. He says the report by Preet Bharara shines a spotlight on routine violence by staff against juveniles being held, many pre-trial, on Rikers Island.

"The culture of violence described in the U.S. Attorney's report is shocking to the conscience," says Soler. "There is no question there needs to be very strong measures taken to stop those abuses from going forward."

The report issued in August found, of the 700 teenagers currently housed at Rikers, as many as four in 10 were exposed to use of force by guards on at least one occasion.

One reform recommended in the report is phasing out solitary confinement for juveniles at Rikers. Soler says guards do sometimes need to separate violent teens from others, but he says that separation should be temporary.

"There's nothing wrong with staff putting a child in their room for a brief period of time when the child is out of control," Soler says. "The issue is when the facility starts assigning extremely long periods of time; it's cruel and unusual treatment of the young people."

Soler says there is good reason to believe the lawlessness at Rikers detailed in the report will see corrective action.

"Where staff were regularly abusing young people who were there the U.S. Attorney seems determined to make sure that stops in Rikers," says Soler.

He adds, Mayor Bill de Blasio also appears to be fully behind making the changes needed.



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