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Overseer of jails: NY CO training facility severely lacking

The Queens training facility has only 12 windowless rooms that fit just 20 students and a mat space in the basement gym


(AP Image)

By Jake Pearson
Associated Press

NEW YORK — The training academy for thousands of jail guards — a cramped space occupying two floors of an office building — is “severely lacking,” especially compared with other big city correctional training facilities, a court-appointed monitor wrote Tuesday.

Steve J. Martin, who was appointed last year to oversee the city’s troubled jail system, said in his first report detailing its efforts to improve its lockups that the meager Queens training facility has only 12 windowless rooms that fit just 20 students each and a mat space in the basement gym that’s so small it can’t safely accommodate all the trainees.

Martin’s staff “is familiar with training facilities used by correctional systems around the nation and found this space and location to be severely lacking in comparison with facilities maintained by peer institutions and systems,” he wrote.

The conditions, he said, “send a troubling message to staff about the importance of their training and level of professionalism, and the value of their public service.”

City officials are determined to find new space for an improved training academy, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

De Blasio, a Democrat serving his first term as mayor, and his jails commissioner, Joe Ponte, have vowed to overhaul the city’s jails, which for years have been plagued by a culture of violence and corruption.

A lawsuit, filed by lawyers for inmates who were beaten by jail guards and joined by federal prosecutors who investigated brutality against 16- to 18-year-old inmates, resulted last year in a consent decree mandating the city implement a series of wide-ranging reforms.

Martin’s report found that overall the city had made progress in doing so, pointing to beefed-up internal investigation units and an updated use-of-force policy as evidence.

But the new use-of-force policy and corresponding new disciplinary rules, which were supposed to go into effect in February, won’t be implemented until next fall in part because officials can’t train the more than 9,000 uniformed guards in time given their current capacity.

“Quality training is fundamental to transforming and enhancing practices by staff and supervisors regarding the use of force,” Martin wrote. “Without it, they do not develop into professionals equipped with the necessary academic and tactical knowledge to conduct their duties safely and responsibly.”

Norman Seabrook, who represents rank-and-file correction officers, said Martin’s analysis matched his own. He said jail guards deserve state-of-the-art training facilities such as those used by firefighters and police officers.

Martin also found that guards’ use of force resulting in serious injuries is down, though statistics show the overall use of force has risen as the inmate population has declined in recent years.

Guards’ use of force is at the center of a criminal prosecution in the Bronx against nine correction officers charged with gang assault and other crimes. Prosecutors allege the officers beat an inmate at the Rikers Island jail complex in 2012 in an unprovoked attack. Lawyers for the officers have argued the inmate hurt himself after resisting when officers found him with a weapon during a strip search.

Closing arguments in that case are scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press