Council to Vote on Department of Correction Legislative Package

Council will also vote on legislation regulating air use of air conditioning in commercial spaces

City Hall – Today the City Council will vote on a legislative package of eight bills to shed light on important issues facing New York City’s Department of Correction. The Council will also vote on legislation regulating use of air conditioning systems in commercial spaces. Additionally, the Council will vote on the nomination of several appointees to the Board of Standards and Appeals, the Equal Employment Practices Commission, and the Health and Hospitals Corporation Board.

Department of Correction Transparency

The Council has been active in its oversight of the Department of Correction and has developed a package of legislation to address a wide variety of pressing issues. These bills will mandate greater transparency with regard to activities in the city’s jails.

“No matter why someone is incarcerated, no one deserves inhumane treatment in our city’s jails,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “It is our moral obligation to ensure people in our jails are treated decently and humanely. These bills will mandate greater transparency regarding conditions in our city jails so the nature and extent of problems can be more readily assessed and addressed.”

Introduction 766-A, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, will require the DOC to report on the demographic population of its inmates for both its average daily population and inmate admissions. The demographic factors include: age, gender, race, the borough where the inmate was arrested, educational background, and whether the inmate has been identified as a security risk.

Another bill, Introduction 767-A, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, will require the Department to publicly post its rules regarding the use of force by staff on inmates.

Additionally, Introduction 768-A, also sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, will require the DOC to include inmates in the new Enhanced Segregation Housing units as part of the quarterly reports already required regarding inmate conditions in punitive segregation housing.

“The need for reforms at Rikers is obvious,” said Council Member Garodnick. “We need much more transparency about what happens behind those walls — from segregated housing to the use of force. A civilized society must be able to keep its inmates safe,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick.

Introduction 643-A, sponsored by Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, will require the DOC to report on the number of inmates who have committed infractions and have been sentenced to a segregated housing unit but are on a waiting list for such unit, including separate categories for those units that house mentally ill inmates. The bill will require public reporting every 60 days and such reporting will break down how long inmates have been waiting for placement.

This bill will also require the DOC to report on the number of inmates who have been found unfit to stand trial and are awaiting placement by the New York State Department of Health or Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, and the housing unit in which such inmates are placed.

Introduction 784-A, also sponsored by Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, will require the DOC to provide every new inmate admitted into a facility with a document that describes all their rights and responsibilities in plain language. The DOC will also be required to read a summary of those rights and responsibilities to every inmate in their primary language. It also requires that inmates be given the option of receiving the “Crossroads” handbook for re-entry. The “Crossroads” handbook is a comprehensive guide to social services available for inmates who are released from custody that is freely published by the New York City Library.

“Building a sense of safety and security in our city jails is a high priority. Adopting a Bill of Rights and Code of Conduct would help improve communication between inmates and DOC staff by conveying and enforcing the rights of each individual. It is my hope this goes a long way in curbing violence on Rikers Island,” said Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.

Introduction 758-A, sponsored by Council Member Inez Barron, addresses the DOC’s inmate grievance system. The system is utilized by inmates to report on jail conditions or services, and is not used for complaints about violence or abuse. Reports from advocates have indicated this system is underutilized.

This bill will require the DOC to report on the number of grievances filed, disaggregated by the facility and housing area type in which it was filed, and also disaggregated by the grievance category and the method by which the grievance was filed. The DOC will also be required to report about the various stages of the grievance process, the number of grievances resolved at each stage of the process, and the reasons any grievance was dismissed.

“The hearings held by the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services this year, highlighted that there are many areas involving inmate life that need to be more closely scrutinized. The Department of Corrections was unable to produce hard data about many of the circumstances regarding inmates. Intro 758 will require DOC to post quarterly reports regarding inmates’ grievances, status of their grievance and the resolution or dismissal of their grievance. The report will also require that this information be disaggregated by various categories throughout individual facilities,” said Council Member Inez Barron

Introduction 753-A, sponsored by Council Member Rosenthal, will require the office of criminal justice to publish a report on issues surrounding the use of jail in the criminal justice system. This report will include the following information both in total and on average:
• how many people are in jail
• what they are charged with
• how severe their charges are
• their bail amounts
• how long they are incarcerated pre-trial
• how many are sentenced and how long are their sentences
• how often bail is set
• what amounts of bail are set
• how often bail is posted
• how often those who post bail miss court dates
• how often those who are released without bail miss court dates
• how bail affects the outcome of cases, and
• how the use of bail correlates with crime rates by borough.

This bill will also change the term “Criminal Justice Coordinator” to refer to the “Office of Criminal Justice”, the current name of the office.

“753-A allows all of us as policy makers to get answers to crucial questions that, amazingly, we cannot answer right now: of the ~ 10,000 inmates we are housing right now, what charges are they facing, how long have they been locked up, and for what bail amounts? How many are sentenced? Simple questions, but crucial questions to understanding the system. In other words, we’re spending over $2.2 billion on this system, and this bill tries to answer the question of why. Transparency is the first step to securing fair treatment for these individuals,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

Introduction 766-A, sponsored by Council Member Dromm, will require the DOC to report on the number of visits inmates in city jails receive, both in total and individually. The report will list visits both in total and by differentiating between facilities on Rikers Island and those outside the Island, and will also differentiate between visitors who provide professional services, such as attorneys, and those who do not, such as family and friends. It will also require the DOC to report on any reason a visit is denied.

The bill will require quarterly reports and requires the DOC to report the same statistics for the four quarters prior to its enactment, to the extent such information is available, for purposes of comparison.

“Incarcerated people have a right to see their family in jail,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “This bill would bring much needed transparency to the visitation process, making it easier for these families–many of whom travel great distances with young children and seniors–to reunite with their loved ones. Intro 706 is part of the greater effort to bring justice and reform to Rikers Island. I will continue to work with my colleagues to achieve this goal.”

Regulation of Air Conditioning in Commercial Spaces

Existing law requires that commercial buildings keep their doors closed while running an air conditioner or central cooling system, but contains an exemption for small stores which occupy less than 4000 square feet. This exemption, however, has resulted in wasted energy, unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, and various enforcement issues.

Introduction 850-A, sponsored by Council Member Costa Constantinides, will eliminate the exemption for small stores and require all businesses to keep their doors and windows shut while running an air conditioner or central cooling system. The bill will also increase penalties for violations and require chain stores to post a notice on each door informing the public that violations may be reported to 311.

“Shutting the front doors of businesses so that air-conditioning doesn’t escape can help reduce carbon emissions by thousands of tons. There is no evidence that shows leaving doors open during hot days helps business owners increase sales. In fact, this practice of saving power will see business owners reap real savings in their energy bills. This commonsense policy will help us reach our goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. It will take the cooperation of everyone to make our city greener and save energy,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Council Environmental Protection Committee.

Appointments

Today, the Council will vote on the following appointees who have been recommended by the Council Rules Committee.

• Shampa Chanda, a resident of Queens, for appointment as a member of the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals. She will fill a vacancy and serve for a six-year term that will begin on October 7, 2015 and expires on October 6, 2021.
• Helen Arteaga, a resident of Queens, Council candidate for designation and subsequent appointment by the Mayor to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Board of Directors. Ms. Arteaga will serve for the remainder of a five-year term that will expire on March 20, 2020.
• Arva R. Rice, a resident of Manhattan, candidate for re-appointment by the Council to the New York City Equal Employment Practices Commission. Ms. Rice will be eligible to serve for the remainder of a four-year term that expires on June 30, 2019.

“Today the City Council will approve the nominations of three highly qualified individuals — all women-of-color, with relevant expertise and perspectives that reflect NYC’s diversity. Shampa Chanda’s strong work at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of City Planning has given her a deep understanding of our city’s neighborhoods, which she will bring to the Board of Standards and Appeals. Helen Arteaga has founded and led the award-winning Plaza del Sol health center, delivering quality care to immigrant families in Corona; her experience will add critical insights to the leadership of the Health and Hospitals Corporation. Finally, we are fortunate to re-appoint civil rights champion Avra Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League, to serve on the New York City Equal Employment Practices Commission and help make this a city where all New Yorkers have a fair shot at good-paying jobs,” said Council Member Brad Lander.

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