Boerum Hill

Use of force by staff has tripled at Brooklyn jail since 2015, despite reforms

October 30, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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With violent incidents on the rise throughout New York City’s jails, nowhere has the four-year spike been more pronounced than at the Brooklyn Detention Complex, according to a new report by the federal monitor of the city’s jails.

The rate of use of force by Department of Correction staff against incarcerated individuals has more than tripled at the Boerum Hill jail since the federal monitor began tracking the statistics in 2015, even as the incarcerated population has plummeted citywide from about 9,900 people to just over 7,000.

“The culture of violence within DOC is systemwide, and though the largest increase in the rate of use of force occurred at the Brooklyn Detention Complex, this new report only reaffirms the need for a wholesale overhaul of the department,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of the Brooklyn Defender Services. Schreibersdorf said that a lack of accountability among the staff and the humiliation to which incarcerated individuals are subjected is a recipe for brutality.

While use-of-force rates are on the rise, the federal monitor could not determine exactly why they were particularly up in Brooklyn.

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“The [Manhattan Detention Complex] and [Brooklyn Detention Complex] have increasing rates of [use of force], for reasons that are not immediately obvious, but are nonetheless concerning,” the report reads.

Despite seeing the most significant rise in rate of use of force, the Brooklyn Detention Complex did not have the highest rate overall of use of force in the city. The highest rate of use-of-force incidents occurs at the Robert N. Davoren Center, a jail on Rikers Island that houses most of the 18-year-old detainees in the city.

The independent monitor was mandated in 2015 after incarcerated New Yorkers filed a class-action lawsuit against DOC in 2011, alleging a “pattern and practice of unnecessary and excessive force.

But after four years and reforms, the independent monitor’s eighth report was not promising.

The [DOC’s] use of force rates during the eighth monitoring period reached their highest levels since the consent judgment went into effect,” the report reads. 

DOC has not been able to implement reforms throughout its staff, according to the report, including its “Use of Force Directive” issued in 2017, which sought to resolve “potential physical confrontations between staff and inmates through methods other than the use of force whenever possible.”

The most serious use-of-force incidents did fall 14 percent from 2018 to 2019,  a DOC spokesperson pointed out in an email.

“The safety and wellbeing of the people who work and live in our facilities is our top priority and this latest monitor’s report makes clear there are no easy solutions and we have hard work ahead of us when it comes to reducing violence and the inappropriate use of force,” said DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann in a statement. “Meaningful reform and culture change take time and we will not be satisfied until we see substantial improvement across the board.”

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