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U.S. News

Federal monitor to oversee reforms at New York's Rikers Island: source

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal monitor will oversee reforms at New York’s Rikers Island jail complex as part of a settlement between the city and the U.S. Justice Department of a lawsuit over systemic civil rights violations against teenage inmates, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

Jail cells are seen in the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit at the Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York March 12, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for New York’s southern district, joined a class action suit in December against the city after an investigation into the treatment of teenage male inmates.

The source, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly, said the agreement would call for the appointment of a federal monitor but did not confirm any other details of the settlement.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that, among other provisions, the deal would also bar corrections officers from striking inmates in the head and would introduce body cameras for guards.

Bharara said at a public event earlier on Thursday he was “very confident” a settlement would be reached by Monday.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office also said an agreement had been reached and that reforms were already underway. Specific details were not provided.

“Our goal remains to reduce violence that impacts both inmates and staff, and this agreement will be a major step towards the achievement of that vision,” his office said in a statement.

The lawsuit followed a report last August describing a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16-18 by guards and others held at Rikers.

Only a handful of the country’s thousands of jails, prisons and mental hospitals have problems serious enough to draw the Justice Department’s attention each year under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

The statute empowers the department to carry out a civil investigation into broader systemic problems of inmate abuse, as opposed to a more narrow criminal investigation into misconduct by individual employees.

The Justice Department began investigating Rikers in 2012. The department says the city had allowed guards to routinely batter inmates, sometimes even after inmates had been cuffed, deliberately dragging them out of view of security cameras.

Its report also criticized the heavy use of solitary confinement and poor management oversight.

A former supervising guard at Rikers Island was sentenced to five years in federal prison on Thursday for refusing to help a mentally ill inmate who died in 2012 after swallowing powdered detergent.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Writing by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Paul Tait

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