New York City, U.S. agree to reforms for Rikers jail complex

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City has agreed to carry out reforms at its Rikers Island jail complex to resolve U.S. Justice Department claims that guards regularly used unnecessary force against inmates, U.S. officials said on Monday.

In a letter filed in federal court in New York, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office said the deal included appointing a federal monitor to oversee the reforms at Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country.

“This comprehensive framework requires the city to implement sweeping operational changes to fix a broken system and dismantle a decades-long culture of violence,” Bharara said in a statement.

Rikers, which houses around 9,800 prisoners, has come under scrutiny for a culture of violence that included officer attacks on prisoners and several inmate deaths.

Under the agreement, the city will install 7,800 surveillance cameras throughout Rikers and, as part of pilot program, have some guards wear body cameras.

The city will also develop an early warning system to identify guards who may warrant corrective actions and a computerized system to track use-of-force incidents.

The agreement also calls for improved training, recruitment and promotion practices and changes to how teenage inmates are treated, something the city had already begun tackling.

The proposed agreement requires approval by the court as well as the Justice Department’s civil rights division and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has vowed to improve inmate safety at Rikers.

“Today’s agreement represents another strong step toward our goal of reversing the decades of abuse on Rikers and building a culture of safety for officers and inmates alike,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The deal came after the Justice Department in August issued a report that described a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16 to 18 by jail staff.

The Justice Department subsequently in December intervened in a broader class action lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society in 2011 accusing the New York City Department of Correction of a pattern of using excessive force against inmates.

Compliance with the agreement will be overseen by a monitor, Steve Martin, a corrections expert who has served as a consultant for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

The deal followed other actions taken by Bharara’s office targeting problems at Rikers. Bharara earlier this month announced charges against three guards in connection with a 2012 assault that led to an inmate’s death. (Additional reporting by Joseph Ax)